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An Innovator’s ‘Big Chicken Agenda’ for Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Increasing the quantity and quality of food in Africa will be critical to improving the continent’s human development. And a key element in giving Africa a more secure food supply will be boosting science and knowledge on the continent and making sure it is focused on Africa’s needs and situation.

One pioneering scientist is looking to the humble chicken to tackle two big problems in Africa: food security and household incomes. By pumping up the weight and productivity of African chickens, she hopes to eradicate hunger and boost household incomes.

Kenyan scientist Sheila Ommeh (http://www.awardfellowships.org/participants/success-stories/108-sheilaommeh.html ) is showing how local knowledge can give farmers the edge when it comes to improving Africa’s animal stock. An animal geneticist, she is trying to create a disease-resistant African chicken that can also produce plenty of eggs.

Her pioneering work is about trailblazing “a big chicken agenda in Africa,” she explained to TrustLaw, a global hub for free legal assistance and information on good governance and women’s rights.  She grew up in an area – Mount Elgon in western Kenya – where raising chickens was the primary source of both income and food. Her family raised chickens and the income from this helped to pay for her schooling.

Raising chickens is common in rural Kenya, and many of the people doing it are women.

Based on her experience, she saw how virulent diseases kill chicken flocks and destroy family incomes and disrupt lives – diseases like Newcastle (http://www.avianbiotech.com/diseases/newcastle.htm) and Gumboro (gumboro.com).

She works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ilri.org) based in Nairobi, Kenya. The ILRI “works at the crossroads of livestock and poverty, bringing high-quality science and capacity-building to bear on poverty reduction and sustainable development” and conducts research in Africa, South and Southeast Asia and China.

“I’m really passionate about giving back to the community an improved chicken that will really help their lives,” she explains.

Another project she is working on is the development of a drought-tolerant chicken. This chicken could prove very helpful in parts of Africa suffering from drought and hunger, like in the Horn of Africa.

Women are considered to be the majority producers of food in Africa yet just one in four people working in agricultural research in Africa is a woman, according to TrustLaw.

Ommeh has a PhD in chicken genetics and is a staunch believer in seeking out solutions to Africa’s problems within Africa: “In my view = it’s about time Africa looked for solutions in Africa for Africa,” she told a group of British Members of Parliament.

She will continue her research by looking at native African chickens. She is worried indigenous African chickens are being wiped out by cross-breeding and the introduction into the continent of exotic breeds, which are making African chickens more susceptible to viruses.

Her goal is to produce a disease-resistant breed of chicken weighing four kilograms and laying 250 eggs a year. This would be a big increase on current average weights, and a trebling of the yield.

“Definitely the incomes of these households will increase and that will (create) a rippling effect that will trickle up … And we hope that in 10 to 15 years the poverty issue in Africa will not be so serious,” Ommeh said.

“Chicken is a small livestock but I believe it has the capacity to have a big impact.”

For female scientists working in agriculture, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) (http://awardfellowships.org/) is seeking researchers looking to boost their technical and leadership skills. It is hoped that supporting more women researchers will have the effect of turning research priorities towards the needs of smallholder farmers, who make up the majority of  farmers in Africa.

Published: May 2012

Resources

1) Artificial chicken: The contest to create artificial chicken meat offers a US $1 million prize. Website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jan/21/artificial-chicken-food-prize

2) Poultry Hub: “Poultry Hub can help you learn more about the amazing world of poultry and your place in it. Poultry is one of the world’s most technically advanced agricultural industries, offering rewarding career paths to talented young people in hundreds of countries.” The Hub includes the excellent “anatomy of the chicken” learning resource. Website: http://www.poultryhub.org/organisations/rural-industries-research-anddevelopment-corporation-rirdc-chicken-meat-program/

3) Poultry Research Centre: From the University of Alberta, the website offers resources and contacts on poultry sciences. Website: http://www.poultryresearchcentre.com/

4) Chickens: Basic information on chickens and their origins. Website: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Chicken.aspx

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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African Innovation Helps Make Banking Transactions Safer

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

As economies grow in Africa, more and more people are conducting their financial transactions electronically. This can be either through mobile phones and digital devices, or through the hole-in-the-wall of the automatic teller machine, or ATM.

These short cuts mean many people no longer have to endure long line-ups at banks to conduct day-to-day financial transactions. This convenience is revolutionizing banking for many millions of people, but there is a risk: fraud and theft. Both are rising, and are costing customers and banks, both in cash and in damage to the reputation of electronic banking.

Criminal gangs and lone individuals alike are behind this crime. Most notorious are the “carding” and “skimming” gangs, who plant devices on ATMs to read plastic bank cards and steal victims’ money. Mobile devices can also be “hacked” by sophisticated criminal gangs and the data stolen and used to plunder bank accounts. Lone thieves also take people hostage and force them to use their card to withdraw money. A crime victim is usually forced to give over his or her Personal Identification Number (PIN), which the thief then uses to withdraw cash from the ATM.

But just as thieves have become cleverer about the new opportunities created by digital financial transactions, enterprising start-ups are developing innovations to improve financial security.

One Kenyan start-up is hoping to be a pioneer in innovative financial safety software for mobile devices and ATMs.
Usalama Innovative Systems, LTD. (http://usalama.biz/), co-owned by graduate student and lead programmer Denis Karema (deniskarema.com), has already been singled out for a CIO magazine’s CIO100 Award in Enterprise Innovation in 2011 (http://www.cio.com/cio-awards/cio100).

Karema has been working in information technology since 2008 and has a background in computer science. He has built his experience while working on various information technology projects in East Africa.

The ambitious company says it wants to be “the leading provider of innovative solutions to financial entities in Africa by 2015.”
Usalama has developed various systems pending patents and copyrights and has built up experience in deploying enterprise information technology.

Usalama is seeking additional funding from investors for multiple innovations to protect customer financial transactions. One of them is an ATM solution, which the company claims can reduce theft by over 90 per cent. Speaking with the Business Daily Africa website, Karema explained the anti-fraud application, dubbed Safety Pin.

“When someone approaches you or when you are involved in a carjacking, or one of those unfortunate incidences, you give them your card or PIN as they ask for it, but when they get to the machine it does not treat them the same way as it does you,” Karema said.

The thief is presented with what looks like the victim’s bank account but actually only has 10 per cent of their cash on display. The thief will then withdraw this cash and think they have cleaned out the victim’s bank account.

It is a clever solution which doesn’t entirely block the thief from receiving money from the ATM, but just gives them a small portion of the amount in the account. The idea is to fulfil the psychological need of the thief to get some cash in the robbery attempt, so they will then release the hostage and go away.

“We are working on reducing the amounts that can be lost by up to 90 per cent, so it means if I have 100,000 shillings in my account, only 10,000 shillings can be lost through fraud,” Karema said.

The amount that is stolen can be covered by bank insurance policies so that the customer does not suffer a serious financial loss.

“(The) good thing about this application, first of all, is this hasn’t been done before,” Karema said. “People have come close to creating ATM anti-fraud measures, like asking you to put your PIN in reverse. But they don’t seem to work. For each of them, you are ending up having your money stolen and then following up with the fraudster. So our application prevents the money from being stolen in the first place. So our preventative measure is better than a curative one when money is involved. And also the application is applicable globally.

“We intend to have this implemented in each and every commercial bank, not only in Africa, but the rest of the world.

“A bank can recoup investment in our application within the first year [by avoiding the loss of clients and funds from fraud]. Aside from that, the bank is also able to receive complete and detailed reports each and every time a fraud occurs and so it makes it easier for the bank to monitor trends and also to know which of their outlets are having more and more fraud-related cases.”

Other innovations Usalama has been developing include Usalama Pin, which helps commercial banks monitor fraud in real time; Usalama Spy, which gives more detailed fraud reports and analyzes the information; Home Bank, a way to offer 24/7 banking to customers so they can deposit the money directly into savings accounts without delay; and Usalama Mobile, a mobile banking and money service solution.

Usalama believes the suite of solutions will help banks to retain current customers and make their financial transactions safer, attracting so-called “high net worth” clients. Usalama believes this will help banks in Africa grow their number of customers and cash reserves.

“We are always thinking about innovation because we feel that innovation is the key thing to developing sustainable enterprises,” Karema believes.

Resources

1) Sinapis: Sinapis’ mission is to empower aspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world with innovative, scalable business ideas by providing them with a rigorous business education, world-class consulting and mentoring services and access to seed capital. Website:http://www.sinapisgroup.org/entrepreneurs.php

2) DarkMarket: How Hackers Became the New Mafia: We live our lives online – banking, shopping, working, dating – but have we become complacent? Website:http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/darkmarket-how-hackers-became-the-new-mafia/9780099546559

3) Usalama is seeking investors via the Venture Capital for Africa platform. Website:http://vc4africa.biz/members/254innovative/

4) University Student Launches Startup Kenya, A Crowdmap Of All Startups In Kenya. Website:http://techmoran.com/2013/01/22/university-student-launches-startup-kenya-a-crowdmap-of-all-startups-in-kenya/

5) Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology. Website:http://www.scribd.com/doc/95410448/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-1-Mobile-Phones-and-Information-Technology

Southern Innovator logo

London Edit

31 July 2013

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Citing Southern Innovator: Books And Papers | 29 November 2015

Southern Innovator was initially launched in 2011 with the goal of – hopefully – inspiring others (just as we had been so inspired by the innovators we contacted and met). The magazine seeks to profile stories, trends, ideas, innovations and innovators overlooked by other media. The magazine grew from the monthly e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions published by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) since 2006. A selection of books and papers citing stories from the magazine are featured below to aid researchers, in particular those interested in health and human development and the role of innovators in international development. 

The first five issues of Southern Innovator from 2011 to 2014. Called a “Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation.”

Books

Innovation Africa: Emerging Hubs of Excellence edited by Olugbenga Adesida, Geci Karuri-Sebina and João Resende-Santos (Emerald Group Publishing: 2016)

“Innovation is critical to growth and development in Africa. In the context of a continent characterized by fast growing economies as well as an array of socioeconomic challenges, such as high levels of poverty and inequality, innovation in Africa must be understood in an encompassing manner. Africa needs to support the emergence of its own Silicon Valleys, but it must also foster the invention and adoption of cleaner technologies that limit respiratory illnesses, deforestation and combat climate change. This book contains a number of analytical case studies that examine the nature and origins of emerging high-end innovation hubs in Africa. These “hubs” or ecosystems are both understudied and little known inside and outside the continent. With this analysis, the book highlights and draws lessons from some of the most promising and successful innovation cases in Africa today, exploring the key factors driving their successful emergence, growth and future prospects. Relevant for scholars, policymakers, and business leaders, the book provides both inspiration and useful policy advice that can inform strategies and concrete measures to speed up the pace of innovation in Africa today.”

Innovation Africa: Emerging Hubs of Excellence.

Beyond Gated Communities edited by Samer Bagaeen and Ola Uduku (Routledge: 2015)

“Research on gated communities is moving away from the hard concept of a ‘gated community’ to the more fluid one of urban gating. The latter allows communities to be viewed through a new lens of soft boundaries, modern communication and networks of influence.

The book, written by an international team of experts, builds on the research of Bagaeen and Uduku’s previous edited publication, Gated Communities (Routledge 2010) and relates recent events to trends in urban research, showing how the discussion has moved from privatised to newly collectivised spaces, which have been the focal point for events such as the Occupy London movement and the Arab Spring.

Communities are now more mobilised and connected than ever, and Beyond Gated Communities shows how neighbourhoods can become part of a global network beyond their own gates. With chapters on Australia, Canada, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, this is a truly international resource for scholars and students of urban studies interested in this dynamic, growing area of research.”

Chile in Transition: Prospects and Challenges for Latin America’s Forerunner of Development by Roland Benedikter and Katja Siepmann (Springer: 2015)

“The economic, political and social situation in Chile shows a country in transition. Some observers anticipate a broad “reboot” of the nation. While Chile is still seen by many as an example of progress in South America and of developmental potential in the global South, it faces a complex political constellation, particularly in the aftermath of the re-election of Michelle Bachelet. Many wonder how social and institutional innovations can be incepted without interrupting the country’s remarkable success over the past decades.

This book provides an interdisciplinary analysis of Chile’s situation and perspectives. In particular, it addresses the questions:

  • What is Chile’s real socio-political situation behind the curtains, irrespective of simplifications?
  • What are the nation’s main opportunities and problems?
  • What future strategies will be concretely applicable to improve social balance and mitigate ideological divisions?

The result is a provocative examination of a nation in search of identity and its role on the global stage.

Roland Benedikter, Dr., is Research Scholar at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, Senior Research Scholar of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington D.C., Trustee of the Toynbee Prize Foundation Boston and Full Member of the Club of Rome.

Katja Siepmann, MA, is Senior Research Fellow of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington D.C., Member of the German Council on Foreign Relations, and Lecturer at the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Cultural Sciences of the European University Frankfurt/Oder.

The volume features a Foreword by Ned Strong, Executive Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University, and a Preface by Larry Birns, Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Washington D.C., and Former Senior Public Affairs Officer of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America (Santiago, Chile).”

A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants by Toni Schofield (Cambridge University Press: 2015)

“A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants investigates how the social works in determining health and health inequity. Taking a global perspective, the book shines a light on how experiences of health, illness and health care are shaped by a variety of complex social dynamics. Informed primarily by sociology, the book engages with the WHO’s social determinants of health approach and draws on contributions from history, political economy and policy analysis to examine issues such as class, gender, ethnicity and indigeneity, and the impact they have on health. A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants is a comprehensive resource that provides a new perspective on the influence of social structures on health, and how our understanding of the social can ensure improved health outcomes for people all over the globe. Toni Schofield is Associate Professor at the University of Sydney. She specialises in research and teaching in sociology, and public policy and administration.”

New Directions in Children’s and Adolescents’ Information Behavior Research edited by Dania Bilal and Jamshid Beheshti (Emerald Group Publishing: 2014)”This book comprises innovative research on the information behavior of various age groups. It also looks at special populations such as ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and users with disabilities. The book presents research and reflections on designing systems that help the new generation cope with a complex knowledge society.

Papers and Reports

Afro-futurism and the aesthetics of hope in Bekolo’s Les Saignantes and Kahiu’s Pumzi by Mich Nyawalo, Journal of the African Literature Association, Volume 10, 2016, Issue 2

Autonomous Systems in the Intelligence Community: Many Possibilities and Challenges by Jenny R. Holzer, PhD, and Franklin L. Moses, PhD, Studies in Intelligence Vol 59, No. 1 (Extracts, March 2015)

Autonomous Systems in the Intelligence Community: Many Possibilities and Challenges by Jenny R. Holzer, PhD, and Franklin L. Moses, PhD, Studies in Intelligence Vol 59, No. 1 (Extracts, March 2015).

Decoding the Brand DNA: A Design Methodology Applied to Favela Fashion by Magali Olhats, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina Florianopolis, 2012

Economy Reports for APEC Economies on demographics, policies & ICT applications for people with Special Needs (Seniors and People with Disabilities), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group, January 2013

Edible Insects and the Future of Food: A Foresight Scenario Exercise on Entomophagy and Global Food Security by Dominic Glover and Alexandra Sexton, Institute of Development Studies, King’s College London, Evidence Report No 149, September 2015

Evaluation of Kenyan Film Industry: Historical Perspective by Edwin Ngure Nyutho, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Nairobi, 2015

Evaluation of the Regional Programme for Africa (2008-2013), UNDP Independent Evaluation Office, 2013

Evaluation of the Regional Programme for Africa (2008-2013), UNDP Independent Evaluation Office, 2013.

Evaluation of UNDP Contribution to South-South and Triangular Cooperation (2008-2011), Evaluation Office, UNDP 2013

Exploring the Concept of QR Code and the Benefits of Using QR Code for Companies, Ji Qianyu, School of Business and Culture Degree Programme in Business Information Technology, Lapin AMK Lapland University of Applied Sciences, 2014

Fashion: Tyranny and Revelation, Editor: Damayanthie Eluwawalage, Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2016

Financing Renewable Energy in Developing Countries: Analysis of Business Models and Best Practices, Resources Future Publication, Pakistan Office, July 2018

Gastrodiplomacy: foreign experience and potential of the republic of Uzbekistan by M. Abduazimov, International Relations: Politics, Economics, Law, 2017 

High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation Seventeenth Session: Framework of operational guidelines on United Nations support to South-South and triangular cooperation: Note by the Secretary-General22-25 May 2012, New York

The Leapfrogging opportunity: role of education in sustainable development and climate change mitigation, Background paper prepared for the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report: Education for people and planet: Creating sustainable futures for all, 2016

Milk Production Potential and Major Browse Species Consumed by Dromedary Camels in Tshabong by Katsane Kgaudi, Eyassu Seifu and Demel Teketay, A Special Issue on Botswana Notes and Records’ Golden Jubilee Volume in Honour of Sir Ketumile Masire, Volume 50, 2018

Mobilising Finance for Infrastructure: A Study for the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Cambridge Economic Policy Associates Ltd., August 2015

Modelo de Negocio para la Visibilizacion de Atributos Culturales Y Ambientales de Sistemas de Produccion Indigena. Caso de Estudio: Municipio de Puerto Narino – Amazonas (Colombia) by Juan Sebastian Romero Berbeo, Universidad Piloto de Colombia, Facultad de Ciencias Ambientales Programa en Administracion y Gestion Ambiental, 2016

The New Middle Class and Urban Transformation in Africa: A Case Study of Accra, Ghana by Komiete Tetteh, The University of British Colombia, 2016

Problems and Prospects of Development of Apitourism in Kazakhstan, Zh. N. Aliyeva, R. M. Baiburiyev, David D. Lorant, A. S. Shagyrbay, Z. K. Kaliaskarova, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary, Bulletin of National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan, ISSN 1991-3494, Volume 6, Number 382 (2019), 45-53 (https://doi.org/10.32014/2019.2518-1467.144)

Propagating Gender Struggles Through Nollywood: Towards a Transformative Approach by Nita Byack George Iruobe, Geonita Initiative for Women and Child Development, 17 July 2015

Reberberation: Musicians and the Mobilization of Tradition in the Berber Culture Movement by TMG Wiedenkenner et al, The University of Arizona,  2013

Recasting ‘truisms’ of low carbon technology cooperation through innovation systems: insights from the developing world by Alexandra Mallett, Innovation and Development, 5:2, 297-311, DOI: 10.1080/2157930X.2015.1049851, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2015

“Slam the Slums”: Understanding architecture through the poor by Malini Foobalan, November 26th, 2009

Song Lines: Mapping the South African Live Performance Landscape: Report of the CSA 2013 Live Mapping Project Compiled by Concerts South Africa, Samro Foundation, 2013 

Strategic Framework of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, 2014-2017Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services, 27 to 31 January 2014, New York

Wearing Your Map on Your Sleeve: Practices of Identification in the Creation and Consumption of Philippine Map T-shirts 
by Pamela Gloria Cajilig, paper presented at the 6th Global Conference (2014): Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues, Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom, 15th to 18th September 2014

Young Girls’ Affective Responses to Access and Use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Information-Poor Societies by Dania Bilal et al, New Directions in Children’s and Adolescents’ Information Behavior Research, Library and Information Science, Volume 10, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2014

Youth Empowered as Catalysts for Sustainable Human Development: UNDP Youth Strategy 2014-2017United Nations Development Programme, Bureau for Development Policy

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Growing A Southern Brand To Global Success: The Olam Story

Most people haven’t heard of Olam International, but they know the brands they work for and they more than likely eat their produce. The story of Olam (http://www.olamonline.com) – a global food supply company in ‘agri-products’ that got its start in Nigeria – shows how a Southern brand can grow and go global, and overcome the difficulties of cross-border trade.

Olam supplies well-known global food brands including Cadbury (chocolate), Nestle, Lavazza (coffee), Mars (chocolate), Tchibo and Planters (peanuts).

Olam not only survived its startup in Nigeria, it has thrived, trading around Africa and across the globe, becoming a major supplier to the world’s top food brands.

The quantity of agri-products harvested in the world is 5.2 billion metric tonnes. In that market, Olam is a significant producer of cashews, peanuts, spices, beans, coffee, cocoa, sheanuts, packaged foods, rice, wheat, barley, sugar, cotton, wood, and rubber. It is already the world’s largest supplier of cashew nuts and sesame nuts and in the top three for peanuts. Olam’s cashew business in Africa provides work for 17,000 people, 95 percent of whom are women.

Olam also uses its success to play a critical role in securing the world’s food supply and has specialized in meeting the food needs of the world’s rapidly growing population, especially in China and India. Between 2001 and 2007, annual increases in the global consumption of agricultural commodities were larger than during the 1980s and 1990s. Higher incomes are leading to higher consumption of proteins like meat. And as meat demand rises, so does the demand for grain and protein feeds to produce the meat. It takes two kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of chicken, four kilograms of produce for one kilogram of pork, and eight kilograms of produce for one kilogram of beef.

Chris Brett, Olam’s senior vice president and head of corporate social responsibility and sustainability, said the company tries to blend business success with wider social goals.

“We are one of the few businesses investing in rural environments and am tackling the problem of urbanization,” said Brett in Olam’s London office – the company’s global headquarters is in Singapore.

In 2008, it won the World Business Development Award for its contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/).

Olam also has been recognized for its contribution to global food security. By providing farmers with credit to help build their communities, it has also been able to revive declining rural economies and help stem the outflow of farmers to the big cities and urban slums.

“Many countries are afraid to lend to farmers,” Brett said. “We gather the farmers together in groups of 500 and Olam manages the loan while a local bank receives the money. Defaults have been low and farmers are building up a credit rating. In this way, farming becomes a business not just a subsistence existence.”

The dramatic changes taking place in African countries – especially rapid urbanization that has made the continent home to 25 of the world’s fastest growing cities (International Institute for Environment and Development) – means there is an urgent need to increase food production and stabilize rural economies to support farming.

Olam International, started in 1989 in Nigeria by its India-born CEO Sonny George Verghese has many lessons for any Southern entrepreneurs who have their sights set high.

After developing its skills in exporting cashew nuts from Nigeria, Olam moved into cotton, cocoa and sheanuts. From 1993 to 1995, the company explored ways of taking their skills into other countries and different products. It was a period of rapid expansion into other African countries including Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Olam now operates in 26 African countries.

There has been a renaissance in South-South trade in recent years before the current economic crisis, growing by an average of 13 percent per year between 1995 and 2007. By 2007, South-South trade made up 20 percent of world trade.

Olam started with one product, got its supply right, and then started looking around and seeing what other products and services it could offer, applying already-tested expertise and supply skills – what the company calls the ‘Olam DNA’.

Olam claims its success has come from building strong relationships with farmers to guarantee high standards for the food products. The company does this by tightly tracking its stock and its quality. Olam then uses the information to analyze risks to the supply network. The company also keeps both warehouses and field managers close to the farmers. Olam estimates 65 percent of its profit comes from managing the journey from farmer’s field to factory gate.

Its selling point to customers is the ability to guarantee the entire journey from farmer’s field to factory gate, taking on all the risk and stress for ensuring the product is of the right standard and delivered on time.

Its niche is to provide the food products required by some of the world’s top food brands. The company has grown from just one product in Nigeria and two employees in 1989, to directly employing over 10,000 people worldwide and supplying 20 products in 60 countries, according to Brett. He says the company, which had a total 2008 turnover of US $5.75 billion, was “born out of Africa.”

Brett says the company is now “investing heavily in Africa in processing and distribution centres” – proof that a success story feeds back into more success and investment. It has been able to use its profits to go back and buy up failing businesses and former state-run enterprises, and modernize them. Olam now grows the food, processes it, and transports it to market.

Olam actively works with international donors, global NGOs like Technoserve (farmer business development), WWF (environmental impact of supply chain), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (cocoa and cashew farmers).

Olam, however, has received criticisms for its past practices. The global environmental group Greenpeace attacked its logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/tags/olam), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) divested its holdings from Olam for it trading illegally cut timber.

Olam and the Gates Foundation project are working with 200,000 cocoa farmers in West Africa to double their incomes. In Ghana, cocoa farming has become synonymous with poverty and perceived as an occupation of last resort. The work force is rapidly aging and the industry will die out if it doesn’t become more profitable and attractive to young people.

“We want the farmers to be profitable, the transporters to be profitable,” Brett said. “We believe a supply chain does not work if one player takes too much.”

And what advice does Olam have for budding food producers and growers? “Catchy, simple brands work. Our Mama Mia pasta caught the wave of the Abba revival.”

“Our Tasty Tom brand became very popular in Africa so we extended the brand into other products than just tomato paste. You reduce the cost of advertising by extending the brand name.”

“We feel SMEs (small, medium enterprises) growth is critical because it would give us more support. If more people invested in SMEs, we would have more people to do business with. We want to be able to make deals: they could be entrepreneurs.

“If you can add extra value it costs nothing but time.”

Brett advises budding SMEs: “It’s all about quality: trust and shared business ethics like formal contracts. When you have those, the bigger brands will give you support.”

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: October 2009

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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