By Liliana Caetano Bachelder, FAS International Trade Specialist
It was my first visit to Cameroon and I was filled with immense pride and excitement. I had been asked to speak at the formal opening of the Imperial Foods noodle plant. This public-private partnership tells the story of what USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) is able to accomplish with all its expertise and programs that cannot be replicated by any other entity or government agency.
The seed for this idea was planted in 2003, during a visit to the office of FAS’ trade industry partner, U.S. Wheat Associates (USWA), in Seoul, Korea. The country director, Dr. Won Bang Koh, asked a simple question: “Why are there no Asian noodles in Africa?” American wheat is used throughout the world in Asian-style noodles in markets such as Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America. The question left me stumped.
When I got home, I learned that only two Asian noodle factories existed in Africa. Working with FAS grain analysts, we looked at grain market competition and examined transportation costs. We realized that the United States would have a considerable advantage if noodle production plants existed in West Africa. New products and consumption would mean increased exports of U.S. wheat.
A market feasibility study showed widespread acceptance in our test markets. With this information, Gerry Theus of USWA’s Cape Town office started promoting the idea to African businesses. In Nigeria, the concept took hold and, by 2012, production of Asian-style noodles had increased U.S. wheat sales by 750,000 tons annually.
In addition to promoting exports of U.S. agricultural products, FAS’ mission includes reducing global food insecurity. We wanted to develop a product that addressed nutrition as well; one with more protein and micronutrients. USWA found African businessman Ahmadou Danpuolo Baba, owner of Imperial Foods, who was up for that challenge.
FAS provided Imperial Foods with the names of industry experts we work with: USWA, the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH), International Relief & Development and the Wheat Marketing Center. These contacts and others provided tangible expertise.
Why did FAS do this? We saw it as a win-win situation. FAS would increase U.S. exports, create jobs in rural America and reduce global food insecurity. Imperial Foods would boost its sales, create jobs and expand nutrition in Africa.
While it was a long road from the idea to the ribbon cutting, I could not have been more proud than I was that morning in Douala. Imperial Foods is the first plant of its kind in Africa—a plant with world class equipment, knowledge and training that buys American agricultural products and provide a nutritious new product to African consumers.