With two grants totaling $1.9 million, the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) and its partners are creating a new regional training center based in Tunisia to address these issues by providing training for feed production and improved animal nutrition across all sectors of the region’s feed industry.
The Regional Center for Feed Manufacturing for North Africa and the Middle East will be located in Tunisia at the Tunisian National Institute for Agronomy (INAT), which the USGC has worked extensively with in the past. Initially, 10 to 15 Tunisian industry professionals will participate in a two-week training program coordinated by Iowa State University (ISU) and the Northern Crops Institute (NCI). This core group will subsequently train 80 to 100 professionals in the feed industy in Tunisia.
“It’s too much to expect to address all of those issues in three years,” said Kurt Shultz, USGC senior director of global strategies. “What we’ll try to focus on is what it takes to move parts of Africa and parts of the Middle East in a trajectory that will bring them growth and improve their efficiencies.”
The USGC first received a grant of $600,000 from the U.S. Department of State to engage the Tunisian industry in extensive training programs to improve overall feed manufacturing. This spring, USGC received an additional $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will allow the USGC to expand this feed manufacturing training program into 10 additional countries in North Africa, the Middle East and East Africa. That grant has a duration of three years.
Along with training feed millers in the area, the project will help the competitiveness of U.S. exporters who sell corn, dried distiller’s grains and barley into the region, Shultz said.
“This is meant to be a win-win as we help African poultry farmers to improve their production, they win,” he said. “U.S. farmers win in the sense they have more reliable customers with a growing market. We’re exporting around 10 million tons of corn and DDGS into this region. We’re trying to tap into some of that growth, to grow the pie for U.S. producers.”
To select the first 10 to 15 participants for initial training, Shultz said everyone interested will have to first complete a five-week online course. ISU has prepared the materials, which are being translated into French and Arabic.
“It will standardize the feed industry vocabulary across the participants,” Shultz said. “We have some highly qualified individuals who know the material and others with varying areas of background.”
The selected individuals will then go through two weeks of training with ISU and NCI in the U.S. Shultz said the plan is to complete that portion in July with training of Tunisian students starting this fall in Tunis. The target audience includes nutritionists, feed millers, poultry, dairy, beef and aquaculture producers.
“They will help oversee future training programs in Tunisia,” he said. “We are hoping to offer a portfolio of different classes based on the needs. If we need support from outside experts, we can bring them in to help with the training.”
Training through the center will be a lot cheaper and faster, he said, since typically the USGC could bring 15 students from the region per year to the United States for training purposes. In the next three years, the USGC hopes 400 to 500 students will go through training at the center.
“We hope to reach out to young professionals who might be starting careers at feed mills,” he said. “We will provide a base level training and standardize their knowledge of feed production.”
By the end of the third year, the USGC expects the regional training center will be fully self-funded and will continue to serve the region independent of support.
Topics to be addressed through the center include quality control, feed quality, grain storage and handling issues — all aspects of feed manufacturing and grain quality, Shultz said.
The USGC is well acquainted with INAT, which will be providing the building space for the center, having worked with them the last 10 years on various programs.
“The investment on our part is in the equipment,” he said. “They’re donating the physical space to use.”
The USGC is receiving bids for machinery to equip the center, including equipment to measure the quality of feed, pellet durability and batch mixing.
“We are trying to replicate some of the tests you would have at a physical feed mill to ensure the quality of the feed,” he said. “We want to talk about the importance of quality and what helps with animal performance.”
Existing feed industry
Tunisia has an ideal industry to show others in the region because it is an intermediate model between under developed industries in some parts of Africa and the mature feed industries of the U.S. and Europe, Shultz said.
“They can say, ‘Tunisia did this in 15 years. How do we do this?’” he said. “We’re hoping to jump start some of the feed industry in East and West Africa.”
Within the North African feed industry, Tunisia and Morocco are the most sophisticated countries while Egypt, Libya and Algeria are behind in terms of scale and production efficiency.
“There is significant opportunity to catalyze additional growth and stimulate improved feed production by learning from the Tunisian feed sector development,” USGC said.
Tunisia uses mostly corn and soybeans in its feed formulation, along with some DDGS and wheat and barley that is grown locally. According to the 2018 Alltech Global Feed Survey, the nation has 350 feed mills that produce 2.778 million tons per year. About half of that feed goes to poultry production.
Three or four feed mills make a bulk of the commercial feed, Shultz said, including the Poulina Group, which operates Tunisia’s largest mill that produces 65,000 tons of feed per month.
“They have size efficiency and are integrated,” Shultz said. “They are able to capture the profit through the integration chain and are more competitive than someone who is just a feed producer. The industry there is moving toward integration.”
Overall, Africa has seen the most rapid growth of all the regions in the Alltech feed survey. In the last five years, production has increased 29%, to 39.1 million tons from 30.3 million tons, well above the global growth average of 13.1%. The region also has the highest feed costs for pigs, layers and broilers, according to the survey.
USGC said the most common constraints to improving feed manufacturing in the region include high grain cost, low quality ingredients, inadequate manpower and the lack of proper facilities.
North Africa is dependent on feed grain imports for the poultry industry, importing more than 16 million tons of corn per year, of which 80% is consumed by the sector.
In the Middle East, the compound feed market was worth $34.7 billion in 2015, and is estimated to reach $37.4 billion by 2020. Growth is being driven by rise in meat consumption and expansion of the livestock industries in the region, USGC said.
Different regulatory structures, volatile economies and increasing cost of operations are restraining the market, along with an increase in the cost of key raw materials.
USGC is addressing some of those issues through the training center and other efforts, and in the process, hopes to expand the export market for the United States. In 2017, the United States exported 10 million tons of corn, sorghum and corn co-products to the region. Exports to the region have the potential to double in 10 years to more than 14 million tons, USGC said.
“The Black Sea is right next door and growing in importance as far as exports,” Shultz said. “Where the U.S. really fits into the market is looking at improving the efficiency of production and getting our customers to really value and focus on reducing feed costs. It makes U.S. grain more competitive in this market.”