In 2010, nine African countries imported more than 1.2 million tonnes of Canadian wheat. Four years later in 2014, a total of 15 African countries imported almost double that—2.3 million tonnes. Where many other established markets are currently at their respective saturation points, the African agricultural market, and in particular, wheat, is on the rise.
Flash forward to August 2015, when Cigi played host to the Africa Technical Exchange, a program that guided participants through discussion and demonstration, showcasing Canadian product and how it performs optimally under African conditions.
Specifically, we had two representatives from Ghana—Anand Jebaraj Lajabathy Vincent, the chief engineer of a milling company, and Stephen Konotey, a shift miller from the same Ghanaian milling company—excited at the prospect to learn and soak up all they could while they were here in Winnipeg.
In 2013, Ghana only imported 28,000 tonnes of Canadian wheat, but last year, they imported 125,000 tonnes, and since they were at Cigi to learn more about our product, it certainly bodes well for Canada establishing a partnership with an on-the-rise Ghana.
“The best thing is the analytical part. It’s quite interesting to have all the machines in the lab that show you the stress conditions, the resistance, and other things,” says Anand. “That is something which we would love to have in our factory to be able to analyze the CWRS that we import.”
The two men had a few specific questions in mind when they came to Cigi. They import CWRS (No. 1), which they typically use in a blend—40% of CWRS and 60% of a Russian (and sometimes French) wheat import, and this has worked well for them. The CWRS is used to improve the protein quality and gluten strength of their flour which they primarily use to produce various types of bread in Ghana. Lately, they’ve been experimenting with increasing the CWRS to 60%, but the end product never turned out the way they wanted it to, despite the superior quality of the CWRS. In the end, they discovered it was a gluten issue all along!
“I came to find out why it behaves this way because we’d like that bread to look better than the 40% CWRS blend,” says Stephen. “We’ve been adding the same amount of water to both blends in the bakery, but I was told that as the gluten quantity increases, you have to add more water.”
I used to think that baking was as easy as cake, but it really isn’t. I’ve come to respect it as a precise science. The slightest miscalculation can ruin the consistency and integrity of your end product. Stephen has learned that in Ghana they have been sub-optimally proofing the dough, a process where you let the dough rest a specific amount of time before baking, allowing it to properly ferment.
But the learning didn’t stop there. Cigi has so many more areas of technical expertise to offer.
“We are millers, and I know what pasta is, but I don’t know how it’s made, and today, I actually had an opportunity to see how it’s made. Now. I’ve seen the machines and I’ve seen how they’re produced,” says Stephen.
I suppose, there’s only so much you are exposed to when you work in one area of the agricultural/food-production business. As millers, the obvious expectation is that you know how to mill, but not necessarily how a bakery or a pasta plant works.
However, with their time spent at Cigi, they were able to see so much more.
“We buy Canadian wheat, but all we see is what we buy. It’s good to see how it’s cultivated, and how it’s harvested,” says Stephen, referring to the trip to meet Tom Greaves at Pitura Seeds farm in Domain, Manitoba. “We always see it in pictures, but never how it actually looks in the field.”
“It’s the first time we have seen and been able to feel a wheat crop. It’s nice,” adds Anand. “It’s useful for the miller. It’s useful for the engineer like me, to understand what the millers actually require.”
Even in his area of expertise, the shift miller Stephen says that he learned a lot.
“I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot,” says Stephen. “When I get to Ghana, I will try to educate and improve the knowledge of people I work with. Hopefully, a couple things will change now.”
I’d like to copy that sentiment and say that I have also learned a lot with my time spent at Cigi following our participants around and writing these articles. Not only have I learned about an industry that was once so foreign to me but also about the devotion and passion put forth by the people of Cigi to promote Canadian grain in both domestic and international markets. What I’ve come to learn is not necessarily the science behind the agricultural world, but more or less, understand the sheer volume of knowledge that exists—the time spent and the expertise that goes behind every little step along the way, the minutia of information it takes to not perfect but simply advance one step closer to something more ideal. Unfortunately, this is my last Cigi post as I get ready to head back to college, but regardless, I feel honoured and lucky to have worked with both my Cigi colleagues and program participants alike.
Mike Kontzamanis is a Creative Communications student at Red River College in Winnipeg. He worked at Cigi during the summer of 2015.