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Bühler pursuing sustainable solutions for food security, safety in South Africa, Africa

An image showing Bühler's Johannesburg operation

The company's local set-up in Johannesburg offers the following services: sales and service, project execution and manufacturing and logistics

Photo by Creamer Media's Tasneem Bulbulia

11th June 2024

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online

     

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Process solutions provider Bühler Southern Africa is looking to leverage the group’s global experience and innovation expertise, as well as its entrenched position in South Africa, to provide customers with sustainable solutions that can contribute to addressing the country’s and region’s food security challenges.

The company is committed to engendering safe and clean processes throughout the entire food value chain.

This was highlighted by Bühler Southern Africa MD Marco Sutter in an exclusive interview with Engineering News last week.

Swiss-headquartered Bühler has been operating in South Africa since 1972 and it employs about 220 people in the country.

Its local set-up in Johannesburg offers the following services: sales and service, project execution and manufacturing and logistics.

The company also has service stations in Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as in Lusaka, Zambia, and Maputo, Mozambique. These stations provide clients with spares and wear parts, as well as roll re-fluting and die refurbishment services.

Sutter highlighted that, aligned to Bühler’s motto of ‘Innovations for a Better World’, the group innovates new ideas, products and ways of learning based on market challenges that it identifies for respective regions.

Bühler spends about 5% of yearly turnover on research and development , which it maintained even during Covid-19, and this will continue, Sutter affirmed.

Bühler claims that around two billion people each day enjoy foods produced on Bühler equipment; and one billion people travel in vehicles manufactured using parts produced with Bühler solutions, meaning there is a huge responsibility to the group to ensure safety and security.

“Bühler aims to support customers with cutting-edge technologies and solutions that can ensure  safe food to everyone. Africa, from a group level, is one of the main focus areas,” Sutter emphasised.

Sutter highlighted that the group’s more than 50-year history in the country has resulted in a deep understanding of the local market and maize processing, as well as a strong connection to the mining industry, with the latter being another industry that the group supplies.

He emphasised that the group has very localised customer service solutions, adapting and adjusting its portfolio to meet local needs and demands.

THE CHALLENGE

Sutter emphasised that food security is a considerable concern for Africa, with statistics showing a burgeoning population and arable land being in short supply to meet the projected demand for agricultural output.

He explained that looking at the global distribution of the population and arable land, Africa is actually the most balanced in the world. The challenge lies, rather, in the loss of grains throughout the entire value chain, he explained.

Sutter pointed out that a significant amount of about 30% is lost, owing to varied factors across the value chain.

For example, farmers can mishandle grains. Losses can also occur during transport from field to silos.

Alternatively, grains that are stored in bags rather than silos are at risk of being eaten by birds and insects. At the manufacturing end of the value chain, inefficient milling processes can cause losses owing to the optimum amount not being extracted from grain kernels.

“We look at the full value chain, from the field to the fork, and see where we can actually close the gap of the loss,” Sutter averred.

He said the Ukraine-Russia war triggered discourse around food security on the continent, with Africa, as a majority importer of wheat, being impacted by a lack of exports from these countries.

This prompted the African Union and the African Development Bank to delve further into food security topics, exploring how the region could become more self-sustainable and even bolster exports.

Sutter emphasised that for Africa to become more self-sufficient, the continent should focus on strengthening its exports rather than increasing imports. He highlighted that Africa is seen as the future of food security owing to its fertile soil.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that we use this capital as an advantage for the African continent on the global scale.”

SEEKING SOLUTIONS

Sutter emphasised that the group’s main responsibility was to find sustainable solutions.

He highlighted the importance of having “state of the art” storage facilities and milling processes that are safe and clean for the staple foods of a country.

Sutter expanded that safety refers, firstly, to food safety, with no cross contamination or instances of foreign materials; and secondly, to operational safety.

He also mentioned the importance of gauging the correct locations for food security projects that cater to population growth and demographics.

Sutter also emphasised the importance of cleaning grains from the beginning of the process, to eliminate toxins from the outset and prevent these from getting into the food chain and posing health hazards.

Digital machinery is also an important trend currently for the food industry, providing transparency, traceability, real-time analysis and enabling calculated business decisions, explained Sutter

He also highlighted the need for efficient process facilities.

Sutter suggested complete food parks as a solution that could offer considerable benefits for Africa, which struggles overall with infrastructure challenges, manifesting in undeveloped roads, power supply issues and accessibility issues.

Food parks, with everything produced in the same location and distributed to different cities, would increase efficiency and makes sense from a business perspective, Sutter averred.

Sutter underlined the importance of education and creating awareness as a pivotal part of such endeavours, through upskilling Bühler’s people and its customers and engaging with various stakeholders.

To this end, the group engages with all relevant stakeholders, from farmers up to those in the fast-moving consumer goods industry, across government and corporate levels.

It also attends workshops and summits to understand what the biggest concerns are to governments and industries.

Bühler also uses its three training centres in Africa (situated in Kenya, Nigeria and Abidjan) to trial more efficient processes with customers.

SUSTAINABILITY

Sutter emphasised the importance of sustainability to the group as it seeks to develop solutions.

As a technology partner for the food, feed, and mobility industries, Bühler has committed to having solutions ready to multiply by 2025 that reduce energy, waste, and water by 50% in the value chains of its customers.

It also proactively collaborates with suppliers to reduce climate impacts throughout the value chain. In its own operations, Bühler has developed a pathway to achieve a 60% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (Greenhouse Gas Protocol Scopes 1 and 2, against a 2019 baseline).

Sutter highlighted that the group could undertake an analysis of the entire supply chain of a product, see how much CO2 is produced, and discern how this can be reduced.

The group’s environmental and social strategy is evident in its local operations. The Johannesburg Sale and Service facility is fully solar powered since last year, following a seven-year plan to reduce energy use. The group is also bolstering solar power at its Cape Town operations.

It also focuses strongly on increasing the number of female engineers, as well as supporting students through a four-year apprenticeship programme in the group’s local operations.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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