Josphat Chidoma on what it takes to succeed in Africa’s milling industry
Joseph Chidoma is the Head Miller at Angola’s Happy Life Industria. In an interview with Milling Middle East & Africa, Joseph shares with us his milling journey spanning two continents highlighting the challenges and what he believes African millers should do to remain competitive in a technologically advanced world.
MMEA: What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a miller?
Chidoma: I have made significant strides in my career within the milling industry, starting as a trainee miller and gradually advancing up the corporate ladder. In Zimbabwe, I progressed from being a trainee miller to becoming a qualified miller. Through hard work and commitment, I was promoted to the position of senior miller and eventually became a head miller.
My career also took me beyond my home country Zimbabwe, giving me the opportunity to gain international experience and exposure in Oman. Working in Oman allowed me to interact with diverse cultures and cutting-edge technologies in the milling industry. It quickly became evident that the technological advancements in Oman surpassed those I had experienced in Africa, making this move a significant step forward for my career.
Later, when I relocated to Malawi, I was promoted to the role of production manager. This promotion placed me at the forefront of operational decision-making meetings, giving me the privilege of contributing ideas to enhance the company’s profitability. These experiences in Malawi marked another significant milestone in my career.
MMEA: What would you say has made you better at working with teams?
Chidoma; I have come to realize that there is a significant distinction between someone who enters a management position fresh out of college and someone who has climbed the corporate ladder from the ground up. My personal journey through various roles within the industry has granted me a deep understanding of every aspect and level of operation.
Starting as a trainee, I was intimately involved in all aspects of the milling process, including mundane tasks like cleaning the floors, and this hands-on experience provided me with a comprehensive perspective of the industry’s inner workings. As I progressed up the ladder, I became acutely aware of the unique pressures that individuals face at different levels of responsibility.
One of the distinct advantages of advancing in the corporate ranks is the ability to bridge the gap between management and the general workforce. I found myself in an intermediary role, facilitating communication between these two critical components of the organization. Having walked in the shoes of those on the shop floor, I could empathize with their challenges and concerns, and I could also communicate the expectations that management had of them. This position allowed me to effectively spot genuine concerns and mediate and address issues raised by employees.
MMEA: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the milling industry currently?
Chidoma: One of the foremost challenges is the scarcity of technical experts. Many individuals and investors pour substantial capital into milling operations without the necessary guidance and expertise to navigate the intricacies of the industry.
Another critical issue that plagues the milling industry revolves around the fluctuating prices of wheat. The global wheat market has been destabilized due to geopolitical conflicts, particularly the Russian-Ukrainian situation. As a result, procuring quality wheat has become a formidable challenge, particularly for African nations that rely heavily on imports. The quality and availability of imported wheat are often compromised, posing a serious dilemma for milling companies striving to maintain consistent production standards.
Furthermore, certain geographical constraints exacerbate the challenges faced by the milling industry. Take, for instance, the case of Malawi, a landlocked country that lacks direct access to ports. This geographical limitation significantly drives up production costs for milling industries.
MMEA: Have you experienced any challenges in grain sourcing in the course of your milling career?
Chidoma: In some cases, yes. Whether a country has access to a port plays a significant role in the ease of sourcing grain. When a country is landlocked, like in Malawi’s case, procuring grain can be a daunting task. We had to source grain from Mozambique and transport it by road, which led to various issues, including theft during transportation.
Additionally, the price of grain is another crucial factor in sourcing. The price often correlates with the quality of the grain, and companies are primarily focused on making a profit. However, when these decisions are made without the input of the miller, there is a risk of procuring grain of the wrong quality, which can lead to performance issues in the milling process.
We should prioritize sending our personnel for training in well-established mills where they can acquire the latest technical skills
Joseph Chidoma – Head Miller at Angola’s Happy Life Industria
MMEA: What role do you envision technology advancements playing in the future of milling?
Chidoma: Technological advancements have ushered in transformative changes within the milling industry. Most notably, they have had a significant influence on our production throughput and the quality of our products. In comparison to the past, our productivity in producing larger quantities of goods per hour has improved.
Secondly, technology has ushered in automation and smart solutions that have streamlined the roles of millers. Automation has significantly reduced human intervention in production processes, thereby decreasing the likelihood of human errors. As a result, we have achieved an impressive level of consistency in the quality of our products. Automated control ensures that every step of the milling process is carried out precisely, minimizing variations in product quality.
Finally, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) offers exciting opportunities. Learning to operate mills remotely from different locations, thanks to AI and automation, is an area where training is essential. This technology opens up new possibilities for millers, who now require specialized training in AI applications.
However, it is crucial to acknowledge that while technological advancements bring numerous benefits, they also pose challenges, particularly in terms of employment. In the past, multiple employees may have been involved in various aspects of milling. Today, with automation, a single miller can oversee everything from intake to milling and packing.
MMEA: What challenges have you encountered in the adoption of these technological advancements? Has there been any resistance, for example, from your staff?
Chidoma: Absolutely. Firstly, embracing these technological advancements can be a capital-intensive endeavor. Implementing automation and cutting-edge technologies often requires substantial financial investments. Not everyone can easily afford these advanced systems, and this financial obstacle can discourage potential investors from unlocking the benefits of automation.
Another significant challenge is resistance to change. When confronted with challenges in automated systems, some individuals may opt to bypass the technology entirely. Rather than addressing the root cause of the issue, individuals may resort to familiar manual processes.
Moreover, the lack of technical skills required to maintain and troubleshoot these automated systems is a pressing concern.
MMEA: What do you think Africa should do to enhance its competitiveness in the global milling industry?
Chidoma: First and foremost, it is essential for us to acknowledge that we are somewhat behind in terms of technology adoption. To bridge this gap, we should prioritize sending our personnel for training to well-established mills where they can acquire the latest technological skills and knowledge.
In addition, capital investment is critical in Africa. Properly investing in new technology can yield significant returns. While we do have the opportunity to provide employment through conventional means, we must also acknowledge the risks associated with excessive human intervention in production. Therefore, a balance must be struck between job creation and maintaining product quality.
In terms of safety and food quality, we have made progress, but there is still room for improvement. Often, some companies overlook certain safety aspects of the production process and it is imperative to address these oversights and enhance our practices, particularly in areas such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). We need to cement a safety culture within our industry.
MMEA: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in the milling industry?
Chidoma: I have no regrets about choosing a career in the milling industry. To me, milling is an art that demands passion, unwavering dedication, and a complete immersion in the process. For anyone considering a career in milling, I would wholeheartedly endorse it. It’s never too late to embark on this path, and it is indeed the right choice for those who have the passion and are willing to put in hard work.
Critical thinking is also an invaluable skill because troubleshooting is a regular occurrence in milling. Each day brings different challenges, and you must be adept at finding solutions.
Moreover, milling is an industry that continues to evolve and innovate, offering new and exciting opportunities for millers to enhance their skills and expand their responsibilities. It is indeed here to stay, with a promising future for those who embrace it.
This feature appeared in the June 2023 issue of Healthcare Middle East & Africa. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE