Buying from farmers, baking nutritious biscuits

In Afghanistan, P4P has introduced a mobile factory to produce High Energy Biscuits (HEB) to reduce malnutrition, boost the local economy and provide smallholder farmers with a sustainable market. Though the new technology faced challenges in the start-up phase, it is now producing nutritious biscuits for sale on the local market and use in WFP emergency response.

In Afghanistan, P4P has emphasized linking local agricultural production with efforts to improve nutrition. A variety of efforts are being undertaken to accomplish this goal, including the introduction of Afghanistan’s first mobile biscuit factory composed of seven containers shipped from Italy. The factory was assembled and installed in Jalalabad, and is sourcing wheat for biscuit production from Afghani smallholder farmers. WFP is collaborating with a local company which manages the factory through a commercially-based joint venture.

Improving local economies

Due to a lack of infrastructure to produce biscuits, the Afghan market is dominated by imported products. The mobile biscuit factory was introduced in an area where no capacity to produce biscuits existed previously. The initiative aims to develop the local economy and increase the availability of locally-produced fortified food both for sale on the market and WFP’s needs. The factory is sourcing part of the soy and wheat used to make HEB from smallholder farmers participating in P4P, providing them with a sustainable market for their produce. Micronutrient-fortified flour is sourced from national mills. The mobile biscuit factory also provides job opportunities for 30 people.

Factory manager Dildar Khan Shinwari says: “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.”

So far, US$ 670,000-worth (400 metric tons) of biscuits have been produced in the mobile biscuit factory. WFP purchased US$ 607,000-worth (370 metric tons) for use in emergency response. A communication campaign is planned to be undertaken in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health to promote the benefits of consuming fortified nutritious foods, including HEB.

An innovative solution to improve nutrition

The pioneering design of the mobile biscuit factory is a step towards creating a more sustainable supply of locally-produced nutritious food. The containerized design allows them to be used in a variety of rural or conflict environments, where lack of infrastructure might otherwise make it difficult to produce fortified foods locally. The factories are designed to take up minimal space and be installed quickly. They can be implemented in regions for medium to long term, or can be deployed to different regions of the country as needed. These containerized factories can be installed and operated by WFP, or, as is the case in Afghanistan, in joint venture with a commercial operator.

Lessons learned from a difficult task

Upon the arrival of the factory in Jalalabad, WFP and its private partner faced a number of technical challenges that delayed start-up. Given the lack of available expertise a food technologist worked with the team in-country to resolve these issues. The technologist developed a comprehensive plan to maximise efficiency and production, optimize the nutritional value and maximise profits. The main lesson learned was the need for a monitoring system to put all parts through a detailed evaluation to resolve all technical difficulties before shipping to a remote location.

One of the greatest challenges faced in Afghanistan is a lack of security. Unexpected events may disrupt work schedules, causing difficulties for the biscuit factory and limiting production.

Article by Ranait Feeney

Read more about the mobile biscuit factory and P4P’s efforts to link local agricultural production with nutrition in Afghanistan:

Biscuit Factory-In-A-Box Shows Its Value In Afghanistan

Soya production in Afghanistan supports P4P efforts to improve nutrition