A biscuit factory shipped from Italy in seven containers and assembled in Afghanistan is now churning out nutrient-rich cookies for victims of humanitarian emergencies. At the same time, it is giving local farmers, millers and businessmen a chance of a brighter economic future.
KABUL -- Two years ago, WFP spotted a unique opportunity in Afghanistan. If we could find a way to produce High Energy Biscuits (HEBs) locally to supply our school meals programme, rather than importing them, then it might possible to introduce these fortified biscuits to the market commercially as well. This, in turn, could help tackle the country’s chronic micronutrient deficiencies.
There was clear enthusiasm from local businessmen, but little food-production capacity inside Afghanistan. So the idea emerged of bringing in a containerized factory to produce the biscuits.
In 2013, the mobile factory arrived from Verona, Italy, in a series of seven shipping containers. The idea – developed in consultation with the government – was to bring it to Afghanistan and install it the eastern province of Jalalabad, where it was to be run by a local company.
A straightforward plan – but not so simple to implement. First, transportation problems delayed the factory’s arrival in Afghanistan. Then, when it was installed, several hiccups delayed the start of production. A food technologist had to be called in and several adjustments had to be made to the machinery, but in April 2014 the first biscuits rolled off the production line.
Since then, about 250 metric tons of biscuits have been produced, using wheat flour and other local ingredients. Packaging materials are also sourced in Afghanistan, and plans are underway to include locally-produced soya flour as well.
The factory proved its value just months after production started. When heavy floods affected thousands of families across the entire north of the country, including a devastating landslide in Badakhshan province. WFP was able to quickly deliver HEBs from the Jalalabad factory to those in need. Before, we would have had to embark on the long and costly process of importing emergency food supplies.
“At the very heart of this project is WFP’s commitment to helping Afghans achieve food security by building local capacity,” explains Djordje Vdovic, who manages the project for WFP. “The factory provides a stable income for 25 employees, and we have worked with the factory owner to introduce quality control measures that will have a knock-on effect on the production of other food. And all of it is helping to combat micronutrient deficiencies in the country. It’s a win-win proposition.”
Factory manager Dildar Khan Shinwari agrees. “My team is learning valuable skills which they can retain and pass on to others.” He explains that the high quality standards expected from WFP are helping him build a commercially viable business for the local market. “We are learning a lot from WFP, and we are beginning to see the return on our investment.”
WFP implements this project under its Purchase For Progress programme, which aims to harness the power of local economies to achieve food security. The project is generously funded by the Government of Korea, GAIN and the Government of Canada.