Olam celebrates its place in Cameroon history
This year marks 25 years since Cameroon became a vital part of the Olam’s international story and its long-term contribution to this country’s economy and food security. Today, Olam Cameroon is a leading business in the country operating cocoa, grains, and rice across all its 10 regions.
Since Olam Cameroon was established in 1995, the company and the country have been working as partners in progress. Domestically, it has been a story of corporate commitment to the economic growth of the country, to creating jobs for its dynamic young workforce, and to delivering quality food products to Cameroonian customers and consumers.
Collectively, Olam’s initiatives in both Cameroon and around the world have reflected the company’s strategy for responding to the many challenges in meeting the needs of a growing global population. While at the same time achieving positive impact for farming communities, for the planet and for all its stakeholders, to deliver on its purpose of ‘Reimagining Global Agriculture and Food Systems”.
As Managing Director and CEO of Africa and Middle East at Olam, Venkatraman Srivathsan reveals,
“We directly employ about 1,000 people permanently and seasonally but our relationship with Cameroon goes much deeper— from advancing smallholder farmers to enabling sustainable sourcing for customers and, in many ways, its entire 26 million people. Over the past 25 years, we have put significant investment into brands and assets to build leading businesses in each of the sectors in which we operate.”
The export of cocoa beans and the importation of grains and rice are the foundations of Olam’s relationship with Cameroon over the past 25 years which has contributed to ensuring food security in the country by providing two of the most important food staples in the country’s diet. Olam supplies in excess of 140,000 metric tonnes of rice per annum to the local market, as one of the top three rice importers in the country. Similarly, its annual supply of over 130,000 metric tonnes of wheat flour make Olam one of the top three sellers of that essential commodity.
Olam Cameroon Country Head, Rahul Mittal says:
“The company recognizes its responsibility towards the community and in ensuring the uninterrupted supply of the two most important food items in Cameroonian dietary habits.”
Conversely, Olam has contributed significantly to Cameroon’s export economy by helping to make cocoa the country’s third largest1 foreign exchange earner, only exceeded by the mining and petroleum sectors. In 2019, Olam Cameroon was recognized by the Cameroon Customs department for achieving the highest growth in volume.
Supporting in Olam’s future growth
With its long-standing role and importance to the company’s global growth, it was almost inevitable that Olam Cameroon’s 25th anniversary should coincide with a bold new business initiative by Olam International.
In January this year, Olam International announced a re-organization which sees the creation of two distinct operating groups – Olam Food Ingredients (OFI) and Olam Global Agri (OGA) – to capitalise on key global consumer food trends and the growth in demand for food, feed and fibre in fast-growing emerging markets. This was a decision aimed at further enhancing the Company’s carefully constructed 2019-2024 Strategic Plan. Within this new structure, Olam Cameroon is well placed to make a major positive contribution to the futures of both OFI and OGA.
Cameroon’s Cocoa – an essential ingredient for success
Olam Food Ingredients (OFI) is focused on offering sustainable, natural, value-added food products and ingredients for the healthy and indulgent products craved by consumers all over the world. It is from Cocoa that Cameroon can make its most significant contribution to OFI’s future success and how OFI will continue to be one of the most important contributors to the country’s exports.
Cameroon’s vibrant and promising cocoa sector was part of what drew Olam here in 1995 and cocoa beans sourcing and export has been the foundation of the company’s local business portfolio. Despite challenges over the past 25 years, Olam has established itself as one of the two key exporters of cocoa beans with a total annual export volume of 65,000 metric tonnes. Olam Cocoa was also the first company in Cameroon to invest in building new ovens to combat the problem of smoky cocoa.
Olam is actively present in all the cocoa producing areas of Cameroon and, in line with its policy, works as close to the “farm gate” as possible and is committed to connecting customers directly to the source of supply. A major initiative in Olam Cameroon’s 25th year will include the launch of Olam’s AtSource platform in the country. AtSource meets multiple social and environmental targets and guarantees traceability by allowing customers worldwide to monitor each stage of a product’s journey.
Olam Cameroon employs more than 400 workers directly in its cocoa business and provides employment indirectly to thousands of others. The Company has a strong focus on its farmer relationships – working closely with them to ensure good agricultural practices, providing transportation support for farm output across difficult terrain, and offering micro loans in times of need.
Feeding Cameroon – playing a critical role in country’s well-being
While the Company’s role cocoa in Cameroon starts with farmers in the “first mile” of the supply chain, Olam has a critical position in the supply chain, particularly import and distribution for wheat flour and rice.
Olam Cameroon’s commitment to the country’s grains requirement saw a 2012 investment of CFA30 billion in a state-of-the-art modern wheat milling facility - with a capacity of 500 metric tonnes per day - on the outskirts of Douala. The highly automated plant was commissioned in March 2015 and
produces wheat flour products that caters to market requirements ranging from beignet, standard baguette and premium baguette or toast bread.
The investment has benefited allied industries and service providers and generated both direct and indirect employment. It has also provided Olam with a platform for further community engagement and social welfare activities.
Olam Cameroon’s rice division has become one of the most important contributors to the food security effort of the country. As one of the nation’s top importers and distributors of rice, it has established an extensive network that helps meet the nutrition needs of communities across all 10 regions. Olam ensures value and availability of rice to 22 million Cameroonian consumers by sourcing from its own South East African counterparts and by meeting the demands of the local consumer premium, medium, parboiled and mass segments.
By focusing on quality and taste, its rice brands – Riz Mémé, Riz Bijou, Royal Feast and Lune d’Afrique – have become some of the most recognizable and trusted in the country. Riz Bijou and Riz Mémé Cassé were awarded as the best rice brands in Cameroon in 2016 and 2018 respectively and continue to be a favorite among premium rice brands consumers.
Olam Cameroon’s own stevedoring company (CREST) which manages the logistics of reception and distribution of 150,000 metric tonnes of rice each year also provides jobs to more than 300 Cameroonians directly and indirectly.
A commitment to the future
As it marks its 25th year in Cameroon, Olam continues to seek new ways of contributing to the economy, to employment and to the well-being of the country and its people. Olam Cocoa rolled out a robust sustainability program in Cameroon in 2017. Its main goals are to help improve farmer livelihoods through improved yield per hectare and better post-harvest practices; to ensure the availability of basic social amenities; to build farmer capacity in basic marketing procedures; and to take steps towards the overall improvement of living standards in farming communities.
Today, the company has already created more than 30 farmers’ cooperatives working with over 7,000 farmers directly. As a result, the UTZ Certification – an industry certification standard for sustainable farming – CFA 150 million sustainability premium was paid to over 2,000 farmers in 2019.
Olam is also working to ensure that its sourcing of cocoa does not involve child labour and that cocoa is not coming from protected forests. In collaboration with the Fair Labor Association, Olam is the first company to roll out a professionally managed child labour monitoring and remediation programme in Cameroon.
It also made tremendous progress in the fight against food waste. By taking a commonsense approach, such as using stronger bags, maintaining pallet quality and re-bagging torn bags as soon as possible, the rice team in Cameroon saved more than 2,500 metric tonnes of edible rice between 2012 and 2016. That’s equivalent to 50 million servings of rice, enough to feed every Cameroonian twice in those five years.
The past 25 years have seen the establishment of an extraordinary relationship between Cameroon and Olam, but it will always be a work in progress. Says Mr. Mittal, “Olam Cameroon is a local company, but our footprint is global. We are very optimistic about the future of food and agri-business in Cameroon and Olam is committed to increasing its investment and involvement in this country. We will continue to look for new opportunities both for Olam and for the people of Cameroon.”