Malawi: it takes more than a good recipe to export biscuits

Sep 3, 2015

Training of MBS Laboratory Technicians. Photo: UNIDO.

Resting his elbow on a large forklift carrying piles of locally-produced biscuits, Jean Pamkuku, a food technologist for major food manufacturer Universal Industries in Malawi, recounts the challenges of becoming a competitive player in the domestic and international markets.
“We are required to conduct continuous tests and analysis of our products and raw materials,” he says. “But we do not have the capacity to conduct some of the chemical tests or analyses at our premises and have to rely on outsourcing the services from other laboratories.”
The Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) sets and implements standards and conducts conformity tests on selected imports and exports, but it has had limited capacity to certify products for international markets. As such, exporters have been incurring extra high costs as well as delays as they seek certification overseas. 
Strengthening the capacity of the MBS is a government priority, as part of its drive for support to entrepreneurship and poverty reduction, and in the long term, improved protection of consumer rights of Malawian citizens.
A USD 12.7 million programme supported by the European Union (EU), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is working to boost the capacity of the MBS to deliver services, and achieve financial sustainability. 
The programme has helped the MBS to update major standardization, quality assurance, accreditation and metrology (SQAM) laws and regulations, and equipped it with prover tanks and other tools to more accurately measure flows and volumes of products such as oil. This not only reduces costs, but also builds confidence with consumers. 
“Certainty in safety, quality and quantity are essential when conducting business,” says Mia Seppo, UNDP Resident Representative in Malawi. “If the country can build a strong export economy on those bases, as outlined in its National Export Strategy, then the women and men of Malawi will be in a position to participate actively as entrepreneurs.” 
In Blantyre, the commercial hub of Malawi, the MBS is beginning to deliver results, notes Pamkuku. “When we send a sample to South Africa for analysis, we normally pay about USD 400 per sample. Locally, charges for the tests range from USD 100 to 200 per sample depending on what is being analysed.” 

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