When Les Minoteries de L’Ocean Indien S.A (LMOI) starts operations at its mill this fall, Madagascar will once again be able to produce its own flour after a multi-year hiatus.

In 2012, the nation had at least three flour mills with a capacity of about 800 tonnes per day (tpd) but only one facility was operational, Les Moulins de Madagascar mill. At some point, that mill closed and was put up for sale. Civil strife, difficulty in sourcing wheat and lack of knowledge on the part of consumers essentially shut down the nation’s milling industry.

LMOI hopes to reinvigorate Madagascar’s milling industry with its 480-tpd facility in the port city of Toamasina on the nation’s east coast. Work started on the €20 million project in April 2017 and is expected to be complete by the end of September. LMOI is a newly founded company with its headquarters in Antananarivo. This mill is its only facility.

Bühler, with its headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland and its local set up Bühler Southern Africa in Johannesburg, provided the project execution with project management (Robert Cooper, project manager) installation supervision (Jansen van Vuuren Koos, installation site manager), automation engineering (Chuma Mayatula, automation engineer) and and technologist (Johan Boshoff, commissioning engineer). An Italian supplier provided the wheat storage steel silos and a Turkish supplier provided the metal structures for the reception/pre-cleaning, flour and by-product silos.

“Once handed over, this will be the only operational wheat mill in the whole of Madagascar,” said Daniel Gozzer, area sales manager for Bühler. “Together with the port facility rehabilitation, it will become a flagship for Madagascar at SPAT in Toamasina. Until this point, low-quality flour is imported into Madagascar as bulk, blended with additives and repacked to be distributed to bakeries and resellers.”

Finding wheat

Madagascar’s primary agricultural product and main food staple is rice. Paddy rice production in 2018 is estimated at 3.3 million tonnes, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. In comparison, the nation grows a nominal amount of wheat, an estimated 5,000 tonnes in 2018.

Nearly 25 years ago, the nation was producing 14,000 tonnes of wheat per year and efforts were underway to build acreage. However, drought, insufficient fertilizer, difficulty in getting inputs, social crisis and no motivating purchase prices led to the production decrease.

Wheat yield is low, about 1 tonne per hectare in the rainy season and 1 to 2 tonnes per hectare in the off season. The wheat protein quality is not sufficient.

Price will play a major role in where LMOI sources its wheat and a dedicated supplier has not been defined yet. However, it will likely look to the Black Sea region, Europe or Argentina. The first shipment was scheduled to dock by the end of August.

Ideal location

LMOI was able to make use of an existing concrete building from a Russian mill built in the 1980s. The old, unused milling equipment was removed and the floors modified to handle the new milling equipment.

New construction included three new towers: one for wheat reception, one for flour storage and one for wheat bran. In addition, there is new storage for wheat.

With space utilized to its optimum in the existing building, there is no further space for expansion, however the 5-hectare site is large enough for additional facilities, such as milling or further processes in value nutrition and consumer foods.

In addition to reusing portions of a previous mill, the location is ideal given that Toamasina is Madgascar’s main port. It handles containers, dry and liquid bulk and general cargo. Global traffic is estimated at 1.7 million tonnes per year, with about 70% containerized.

Rehabilitation of the existing silo port facility is in the commissioning phase to accommodate 35,000-tonne vessels and will be ready for operation this September. An extension of the terminal started in 2016 and is scheduled to be complete in 2023, creating an additional 470 meters of quay and increasing vessel’s draft from 11 meters to 16 meters. Once the work is done, the Toamasina port will be able to accommodate 60,000-tonne ships.

This will make it easier for Madagascar to attract more direct calls from ocean-going container ships operating routes to Europe or Asia. In the past, the nation relied on feeder services that connect with bigger vessels at regional hubs.

Milling process

LMOI will mill hard and semi-hard wheat and produce wheat bread flour and a white bread flour on high extraction rates, depending highly on the raw materials and their target end products. The mill is able to produce three kind of flours and is flexible in the quality and variety of the flour due to the 13.05mm milling length.

Imported wheat is taken in via an intake pit, running through a pre-cleaning system to be stored in six 5,000-tonne steel silos and six 400-tonne day silos, for total wheat storage of about 33,000 tonnes. The wheat reception and cleaning section of the mill has a capacity of 150 tph. The intake tower is 34 meters tall, while the total area used for industrial activities is 36,000 square meters plus 2,200 square meters for storage of finished products.

Two different grades of wheat will be used for production, with gristing occurring after the day silos with MZAL flow balancers. The wheat is then prepared for milling by passing through a cleaning system to remove stones, dust and other light material.

Part of the cleaning process is a Bühler Sortex color sorter, which with the aid of cameras and proprietary technology, can identify signs of mold or disease and remove those affected grains individually. This helps ensure a high quality, safe flour.

Extraction also is improved as broken wheat kernels aren’t discarded and can be milled into flour. The mill has two stages of tempering to soften the endosperm and toughen the bran to aid removal in larger “flakes” for whiter flour. In the milling process, the wheat endosperm is ground down in stages through the MDDP and MDDQ roller stands and relifted via a central pneumatic suction system to be sifted through MPAV plansifters.

With careful planning of reductions and sifting, a high quality and yield can be achieved with removal of the bran and germ. Variable speed drives (VSD) are foreseen for the operation of the high-pressure fans with the mill pneumatic system split up in two groups. These VSDs are controlled via a loop with a pressure sensor, allowing more economical operation by being able to fine tune the pressure requirement for the lifts to run.

The mill is designed for soft/semi-hard and hard wheat for production of straight run white bread flour with low grade flour and bran as byproducts. Low grade flour can be blended into the white bread flour to adjust and ensure the end product’s consistent quality. Flour is to be packaged in 50-kg bags and bran mixed with ground screenings in 40-kg or 1-cubic-meter bags. The finished flours will be distributed in Madagascar, mainly to bakers and households.

The mill is fully automated with central supervision. The production lines have automated systems to support preventive maintenance. Cleaning and milling systems are distributed over the mill’s six floors, which means product lifts are limited, and therefore more energy efficient.

In addition, all suction dust is filtered and the installations were design to easily set up a HACCP system, should it be needed.