Ethiopia relinquished $64 million dollars in 2012 by exporting their sesame seeds raw instead of hulled.

Ethiopia relinquished $64 million dollars in 2012 by exporting their sesame seeds raw instead of hulled.

By Faye Nwafor

Ethiopia is among the top 5 exporters of sesame seeds globally and arguably the largest exporter in Africa but sends 95% of it’s harvest abroad in its raw form. According to a Gro Intelligence infographic, there is a hefty price to pay for countries who export the bulk of their harvest in an unrefined form. Sesame seeds are Ethiopia’s 2nd most important export crop yet due to selling them raw instead of hulled, Ethiopia missed out on $64 million dollars in value add for 2012. The economic returns from hulling the sesame seeds could have been absorbed by the local economy, providing revenue for more jobs, infrastructure and a gain for the tax base.

The missed opportunity for Ethiopia is an example replicated throughout the continent as well-meaning government agricultural programs and zealous tradesmen focus on the importance of raw exports over more sustainable opportunities in the processing of crops into useable finished products for sale both within and outside the country’s borders. Nigeria is a top seven grower of sesame seeds globally and the second largest producer on the continent. It has seen its own government discussions on the potential for export, but here too, the usual discussion of export leads to a conversation on sending bulk goods abroad in their raw form, foregoing the larger financial and employment opportunities in producing for markets within its borders. As is the case with Ethiopia, Nigeria’s agricultural leaders are engaging in conversations to scale up sesame seed production primarily with a focus on export markets.

While exporting agricultural products is a fine goal, doing so without developing a sustainable market for the refined version of the food crop leaves growers at the mercy of external buyers eager to pay the minimum for agricultural commodities in raw form. The question of what becomes the fate of agricultural commodities if and when international buyers choose to seek alternative suppliers has the potential to leave farmers vulnerable and without a market for harvested crops. The results of such a scenario could be disastrous, particularly for farmers whose crops only have export value. When the goals of federal agricultural schemes is to add value to cash crops we need to look beyond purely exporting these crops in raw form and create value for foods within their own borders.

Local fishermen in some West African countries cite smaller catches because of overfishing by factory trawlers.

Local fishermen in some West African countries cite smaller catches because of overfishing by factory trawlers.

Senegal’s Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs isn’t afraid to confront foreign fishing fleets when it comes to safeguarding his country’s fish resources. Minister Haidar El Ali has in recent years canceled the fishing licenses of dozens of foreign trawlers whose illegal fishing activities threaten his nation’s food security. Huge ships hailing from several nations including Russia, Ukraine, Spain and South Korea employ massive ships in Senegal’s waters to trawl small pelagic fish (fish that swim near the surface of the water) that is ground into animal feed. “Small pelagics  are a food staple in the Sahel region. In a single day those ships can trawl what an artisanal crew takes in a year,” El Ali explained. The minister has threatened fines in the range of hundreds of thousands of euros to combat what he sees as an onslaught on his nation’s seafood supply, yet the commercial activities continue. In one of his more aggressive actions, El Ali famously seized the 120-metre Russian trawler, the Oleg Naydenov, which had been carrying 1,000 metric tons of fish. He brought the ship ashore, holding it for several days as the fish sat and rot. There are other foreign factory ships operating in the country’s water, some able to haul 3,000 metric tons of fish at a time, valued at $100,000. As these trawlers can go out 10 times in a day, it is no wonder local fishermen have sounded an alarm on foreign overfishing which effects the catch of the locals.


The small pelagics El Ali is so adamant about protecting are an important food resource across the entire west African coastal region from Sierra Leone to Morrocco. Due to a combination of governmental mismanagement, corruption, heavily subsidized EU fishing fleets and a sovereign nation status for countries like Mauritania, West Africa’s waters are a most attractive option for illegal commercial fishing/ illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, known as IUU. While threatening the food supply, economy and income source of an estimated 2 million workers who are reliant on the sea for their livelihood in Senegal, IUU has some challenges in the works. El Ali is working on drafting new fisheries policy to impose stiffer penalties for illegal commercial fishing and environmental advocacy groups are shining a brighter light on Africa’s marine industry. El Ali is hoping to not just fine law breakers, but legally seize their ships.

By Faye Nwafor



Processing of raw foods into edible products overseen by Healthy Choice MPCS.

Processing of raw foods into edible products overseen by Healthy Choice MPCS.

Conversations about food’s potential to be instrumental to economic growth in Africa are becoming more audible thanks to programs of Healthy Choice MPCS. Recently featured in Africa Business Communities, the continent-wide news tracking media outlet, Healthy Choice MPCS was showcased as an organization on a mission to provide education and tools to the public and especially youth to help maximize the economic value of post-harvest agricultural products in their midst for self employment. In an era where employment opportunities are a hot-button issue in countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, Healthy Choice MPCS serves as a practical voice on what to do with Africa’s agricultural products once they are farmed, fished and harvested. The organization provides education on bringing the continent’s agricultural products to market after processing, preparation and packaging under the direction of its founder, veteran food processor and exporter Christiana Ebisi.


The founder, who began her career as a dietician and nutritionist in the United States after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, started the first food export  business of African foods to the U.S., Caribbean and Europe in the 1980′s and in 1986 helmed the United Nations-sponsored African Foods Research that took her to several countries across West and Central Africa to document Africa’s many foods. In continuing a legacy of adding value to post-harvest agricultural products in Africa for job creation, Ebisi’s Healthy Choice MPCS continues to work with the public and partner organizations to educate on the value and many uses of foods grown on the continent.

Food preservation techniques taught by Healthy Choice MPCS enable entrepreneurial  opportunities for employment seekers.

Food preservation skills.

Healthy Choice MPCS, the food skills training organization founded by international food professionals to help Nigerians maximize use of foods grown by farmers and provide entrepreneurial opportunities to jobseekers in the hospitality and food industry, has expanded its food preservation and training initiative.

The food preservation and training initiative gives free and low-cost instruction in food processing quality control to small-scale food producers looking to raise the value of the food products they bring to market. Christiana Ebisi, founder of Healthy Choice MPCS and a retired American food business owner who operated her business in the U.S. for many years remarked, “As the middle class in this country grows, so too does their taste for a higher quality product. To capture the attention of upscale customers, food producers must have a superior product and we are helping them put superior food products on the market.”

Ebisi knows food very well. She moved to the United States to study the subject at university in the 1970′s and was hired to supervise food programs for the Metropolitan Medical Center in the state of Minnesota. She founded a company exporting African foods and other products internationally in the 1980′s and faced one challenge in the beginning-quality control. “While we received many orders from all across the world, I found that if I was not present when the shipment left the dock, I could not guarantee if sand was in a batch of bitter leaf. I had to be present for everything and train on quality control measures which matched the expectations of buyers overseas,” Ebisi said.

Years later, the customers who require top quality food product are not in foreign countries, but right here. “Customers have many options, including imported foods. We are helping farmers and food producers on ground secure their share of the food industry by providing customers with a superior food product and that comes with education,” Ebisi said. Healthy Choice MPCS is helping job seekers in food and hospitality create winning entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves based on international food industry know-how.

Healthy Choice MPCS is working on a number of exciting initiatives to further job creation in the food and hospitality industry and is expanding relationships with other organizations in the country to do so. “We have received interest from agencies looking to partner with us on training their staff/ their students for entrepreneurial careers in the food industry,” Ebisi mentioned. “We look forward to sharing our technical knowledge through winning skills acquisition programs.”

To learn more about Healthy Choice MPCS and our programs for entrepreneurship and economic development through food, please visit the website

Bettina Luescher, former anchor for CNN and Chief Spokesperson World Food Programme, Faye Nwafor of Healthy Choice MPCS and Jaya Sarkar of Trickle Up on food panel for United Nations Association.

Bettina Luescher, former anchor for CNN and Chief Spokesperson World Food Programme, Faye Nwafor of Healthy Choice MPCS and Jaya Sarkar of Trickle Up on food panel for United Nations Association.

Strengthening consumer and farmer education was one of the key recommendations of the United Nations Association Post-2015 Development Agenda Consultations roundtable on Affordable and Nutritious Food / Sustainable Agriculture, held at The New York Times headquarters in New York at the end of 2013. The consultations were conducted to inform the United Nations Secretary-General’s office of Post 2015 MDG agenda perspectives from civil society and the private sector on issues of anti-poverty and sustainability. Bettina Luescher, former CNN anchor and Chief spokesperson for World Food Programme, joined fellow panelists, Jaya Sarkar of Trickle Up, Jessica Sobel of Unilever, consultant Megan Wiseley, and Faye Nwafor of Healthy Choice MPCS to discuss opportunities for cross-sectoral collaboration, investment and policy priorities to maximize consumer knowledge about and access to affordable and nutritious food in America, Africa and the rest of the world.

The significant role to be played through public-private partnerships was championed by several panelists including Ms. Wiseley and Ms. Nwafor, the latter of whom’s background in surveying comparative food systems for healthier eating and a sustainable farming environment informed discussions on the necessity for crop diversification in meeting both consumer nutritional needs and the economic solvency of smallholder farmers. The panel concluded that an equally important priority necessitating further discussion was the empowerment of smallholder farmers with the aim of strengthening global food sovereignty. The roundtable findings, a program of the United Nations Foundation, will be presented by the Secretary-General in a report to the 68th General Assembly.

R-L: British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF), General Manager, Abimbola Okoya,  The New Partnership For African Development (NEPAD), Assistant Director Partnership, Ibrahim Abdul, Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Deputy Director, Dele Oyeku, NEPAD Business Group Nigeria (NBGN), 1st Vice Chairman,  Chief (Dr.) Nike Akande, 3rd Chairman Planning Committee, Chief (Mrs) Eniola Fadayomi and Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission,  Director General, Ifeyinwa Emelife at the 1st NEPAD Business Group Nigeria  Cassava Investment Forum (NCIF) in Abuja

R-L: British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF), General Manager, Abimbola Okoya, The New Partnership For African Development (NEPAD), Assistant Director Partnership, Ibrahim Abdul, Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Deputy Director, Dele Oyeku, NEPAD Business Group Nigeria (NBGN), 1st Vice Chairman, Chief (Dr.) Nike Akande, 3rd Chairman Planning Committee, Chief (Mrs) Eniola Fadayomi and Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Director General, Ifeyinwa Emelife at the 1st NEPAD Business Group Nigeria Cassava Investment Forum (NCIF) in Abuja

The New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) brought together investors, food industry and policy stakeholders at the 1st. Cassava Investment Forum, a conference held in Abuja to discuss the role of cassava in Nigeria’s economic future. Chairman of NEPAD Business Group Nigeria (NBGN) Chris Ezeh, who was represented by Dr. Nike Akande, emphasized the need to increase cassava yields. “It is a food security crop that can transform the economy,” his statement read. Nigeria grows over 50 million tonnes of cassava annually, with most of the commodity crop earmarked for human consumption. With the aim of strengthening Nigeria’s already premiere position as the world leader in cassava production, NBGN officials urged the federal government to strengthen partnerships with the private sector in order to streamline further development of the cassava value chain. Private firms, represented by executives including Nino Albert Ozara of Honeywell Flour Mills sought to learn about new product potential for their flour while research, policy and product development experts including Christiana Ebisi, Executive Director of Healthy Choice MPCS, assessed strategies to build consumer interest and new product possibilities for a variety of locally grown food crops. “At the end of the day,” Ms. Ebisi said, “success for the food industry is measured by the creation of food products that consumers love to buy, farmers make a good living from growing and the public derives nutrition when eating.” Showing support for the economic growth potential for farmers through cassava production was Abimbola Okoya, General Manager of British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation. Ms. Okoya shared her foundation’s commitment to supporting rural farmers by encouraging their mobilization and group formation as a precursor to qualification for funds set aside for youth and women farmers. Nigeria’s Bank of Agriculture also expressed support in this endeavor, setting aside 900 million Naira for women and youth entrepreneurs interested in the agro-related sector, according to Waziri Ahmadu, Executive Director, Bank of Agriculture.

African corn

GMO foods in Africa increasingly include maize (corn), cassava, soy and imported wheat.

By Faye Nwafor

While Mexico recently joined the ranks of nations across the globe to officially ban genetically modified (GM) foods, along with the European Union (EU), and as the state of Washington attempts to be the first in the USA to require food manufacturers to label food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) through Initiative 522, decisions on whether to follow suit have been split across Africa. Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique have allowed imports of GM food aid in milled form only, to minimize the risk of germination of the whole grains and protect local varieties from contamination. Other African countries have taken more polar positions on the role of GM foods for food security.

Zambia has held up a ban on transgenic food for a decade, with an aim to protect their agricultural environment. The country’s position, in the face of an impending food crisis and potentially looming malnutrition in 2002, was so unpopular in the west that the Washington Post quoted an American State Department employee who remarked in incredulity to the Zambia GM food ban, “beggars cannot be choosers.” Many in the west considered the south-central African nation’s position to be nothing more than political posturing while inexplicably denying its citizens food they desperately needed. Advocates of the country’s food policy saw it as necessary to protect the health of its citizens, environmental biodiversity, and the country’s trade relationship with the European Union, where GM food imports are banned. Zambia eventually weathered the uproar through a reliance on non-GM sustainable farming methods.

The Institute for Responsible Technology released a cautionary review of transgenic foods, joining a chorus of outlets urging consumers and government stakeholders to disallow its use in the global food system. The potential health hazards of GM agriculture cited include the possible transfer of toxic insecticides of GM corn to the blood of pregnant women and fetuses, GM bovine growth hormones used to treat cows resulting in milk with more of the hormone IGF-1, which is linked to cancer, the increased use of environmentally damaging toxic herbicides by farmers because most GM crops are engineered to be herbicide tolerant, including resultant weeds, exacerbating harm to biodiversity, and a 2009 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists’ titled Failure to Yield, which concluded “whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields.”

There are countries in Africa who have welcomed GM crops, seeing benefits for food security, economic growth and development. Egypt introduced GMOs into the national food system, with some controversy. South Africa, the top GM food producer in Africa, commercially cultivates maize (corn), soya, potatoes, and cotton and exports to countries across the continent. Burkina Faso and Sudan also allow GM crops to be grown commercially, with Burkina Faso opting to engage in the growing of GM cotton, but not food for consumption. The Nigerian agricultural minister sees the use of GMOs in farming as an opportunity to boost the economy and be less beholden to imports. The neighboring nation of Ghana moved GM food policy forward by drafting the 2011 Biosafety Act, providing a framework for the introduction of GM foods. Hesitancy from grassroots stakeholders, civil society and academics on the perceived perils of allowing GM food into the African farming and nutritional ecosystem takes the form of concern for smallholder farmers, who are perceived as vulnerable in a GM seed mediated farming landscape, where local farmers may become beholden to foreign seed companies, lose autonomy in selecting the type of seed they would like to plant, have no rights to share or save seeds as they have done for generations, or be forced out of farming and the supply chain altogether by monoculture, an agricultural paradigm which has become emblematic of GM farming. Others cite health concerns including a 2012 study by the Journal of Food and Toxicology whereby mice who were fed GM corn or were exposed to accompanying herbicides developed tumors, liver and kidney damage. Concerns over such agricultural products’ potential to seep into the continent’s food system are historically based.

Recently in Addis Ababa, Comesa, a trade council of east and southern African nations’ ministers, whose regulations are binding above national regulations, approved policy to facilitate free trade in GMO seeds for the commercialization of genetically engineered crops throughout the eastern and southern region of the continent through the Seed Trade Harmonisation Regulations Policy 2013. Comesa members number 20 and include Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Malawi, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Rwanda, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The policy is seen as a challenge to the decade-old Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an international agreement to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of GMOs between countries, with an obligation for each nation to draft its own biosafety laws. Civil society organizations including Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, the Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute, the Zimbabwe Organic Smallholder Farmers Forum and the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum want the Comesa policy reversed and replaced with a process which in their words is a “transparent process that involves small-scale farmers, to discuss appropriate seed laws for Africa, where the obligation of protecting biodiversity, farmers’ rights and overall ecological productivity is entrenched as a primary objective.”

Healthy Choice MPCS chronicles local foods for healthy eating in an increasingly global environment in Africa. Through partnerships with food producers, including smallholder farms, designed to encourage consumer education, environmental sustainability, job development in agriculture and dual gendered empowerment, Healthy Choice MPCS is working to share a world of healthy food knowledge and best practices with consumers and food growers alike.