In Angola, the family-owned company Carrinho Group has built one of the most modern food parks in the world – and in doing so has embarked on the country's transformation to a better future. Comprising 17 factories producing more than 20 different consumer products, the food park is a driving force for the country’s food security.
Burkhard Boendel, February 2023
It is as if a UFO has landed in the desert – a gigantic one, 43 hectares in size. That's equivalent to 60 soccer fields. Anyone approaching it from the city cannot help but be struck by the contrast with its surroundings. Along the unpaved roads that cross the arid landscape are scores of townships. Children play while adults search for recyclable materials to sell in the waste that is piled everywhere. The poverty is clear to see. According to the World Bank, around a third of the people in Angola still live below the absolute poverty line, facing high unemployment and rising cost of living, particularly for the price of food. Food insecurity and undernutrition are serious problems.
Entering the food park is like stepping into another world. The buildings are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, equipment, and machinery. The offices are bustling with employees, while fully automated robots load packages onto pallets. There is an infirmary that provides free health care, a cafeteria, and an academy for training and continuing education.
This is no science fiction, but one of the largest and most modern production facilities for basic foodstuffs – a food park with 17 fully integrated factories. Built by the family-owned company Carrinho, the food park in Benguela is a beacon of hope for the entire country. “Our mission is to transform Angola. We want the country to be able to supply itself with food again,” says Nelson Carrinho, CEO of Carrinho Group. Today, the country imports more than half of its food products. But with Carrinho’s efforts, that is changing. Rice, pasta, wheat and corn flour, cookies, cooking oil, mayonnaise, margarine, ketchup, and cereals are produced at the food park from raw materials, and packaged for sale as final products, in sophisticated and highly automated production and logistics processes. “Our goal is to build the entire value chain of food production in the country,” Carrinho explains.
For Angola, Carrinho's food park in Benguela is a turning point, the beginning of a new, brighter future for the country. When the Carrinho production complex is completed in 2023 with its third expansion, 610,000 tons of staple foods will be produced here every day, including 180,000 tons of rice, 250,000 tons of wheat flour, and 180,000 tons of maize flour. This is enough to feed almost half of the entire population - 15 million Angolans. Carrinho sells most of the goods through its own wholesale stores, with a smaller portion going to the small local markets.
As gigantic as the food park appears – the silos have a capacity of 100,000 metric tons of cereals and 55,000 metric tons of crude vegetable oil products – its creator, Nelson Carrinho, speaks modestly about these achievements. But his reticence is not to be confused with his visionary power and strength of determination. “We have to deliver on our purpose, every day,” he says. His positive charisma is immediately contagious.
Nelson Carrinho's optimism and his belief in a better future for his country have carried him from the beginning. His father died when he was still young, a teenager of 15. He took over the bookkeeping at the bar run by his mother, Leonor Carrinho. The business, which she established in 1993, was doing well and this enabled him to study in South Africa. On his return to Angola, instead of seeking his fortune in the oil industry, as his mother had envisioned for him, he started a business of his own and opened a bar as well. After making it the best hangout in town, he moved on to catering, and then to the Carrinho family business. Once again, the Carrinhos proved themselves successful entrepreneurs, catering first to Angola's booming construction industry, then to the military, and gaining important experience with food, its logistics, and preparation.
Our mission is to transform Angola. We want the country to be able to supply itself with food again.
Nelson Carrinho, CEO of Carrinho Group
The knowledge and the confidence that grew with success allowed the dream of a self-sufficient Angola to mature in Carrinho. When asked why, he answers clearly and simply: “I love my country. There would be no need at all for dependence on foreign imports. We used to be self-sufficient in all the basic food crops except wheat, but that was before the Portuguese left the country in 1975 and it subsequently sank into the misery and chaos in a civil war that lasted almost 30 years. We just need to remember that again,” Carrinho says. He wants the people of Angola to be able to get safe, affordable food; he wants raw materials to come from Angola and be processed there; he wants to help bring the people of Angola out of poverty with new jobs. He wants a better future for his country and its people.
The most important thing at the beginning was to find fellow campaigners. And Carrinho was three times lucky. The new Angolan government supported the project and a consortium of banks agreed to provide financing; but above all, Carrinho found his alter ego in Décio Catarro, a Portuguese engineer and factory manager in the food industry who brought with him the necessary experience and knowledge. “You only get an opportunity like this once in a lifetime,” says Catarro, who is a Board Member Holding and CEO of Carrinho Indústria. Together with other specialists from his network whom he was able to convince of the project’s promise, they went to work in 2014.
At the beginning, there was nothing - only desert sand. No electricity. No water. No roads. The pioneers had to organize the entire development of the huge site themselves. It took two years to engineer the plant, and two years for the team to work on the plans. They started working out of just two office containers.
In Phase 1, they focused on grains – rice, wheat flour, and maize flour, as well as pasta, biscuits, breakfast cereals, and animal feed. This includes a blending and mixing plant, and a packing plant for beans, sugar, milk powders, salt, and yeast.
You only get an opportunity like this once in a lifetime.
Décio Catarro, Board Member Holding and CEO of Carrinho Indústria
In Phase 2 they expanded into oils and fats, with an oil refinery for sunflower, palm, and soya, as well as a plant for bottling and filling. They also began producing mayonnaise, condensed milk, soap, margarine, vinegar, and noodles. In addition, they built a meat processing and packing plant and the capacity to produce hard and soft candy. With Phase 3, they are building a sugar refinery, a glucose processing plant, and a seed crushing plant, along with a sugar storage warehouse. The seed crushing plant will be the biggest in Africa.
To date, Carrinho has already created over 4,000 new jobs. And how do the workers get to the plant? Because there was no infrastructure to fall back on, Carrinho organized the transport himself. For the three-shift operation, the company's own buses pick up the workers from their homes and bring them back again; so that they can perform demanding tasks well, they are provided with a meal before starting work.
In terms of operations, Carrinho was keen on achieving maximum efficiency and food safety. He and Catarro therefore decided to buy equipment from the leading solution providers on the market, like Bühler. In addition to equipment, Bühler also brought its knowledge of whole value chains.
“When Carrinho started this exciting project, they chose to do the initial stage of Phase 1 with all projects in parallel. However, coordinating various suppliers and interfaces was extremely challenging,” says Harry Bloechlinger, Managing Director Southern Africa at Bühler. “We were chosen as the trusted project partner for the extension of Phase 1 as well as the grain processing solutions in Phase 2 and 3, and we made this happen.”
Bühler was able to offer suitable process solutions not only for single production lines, but for entire product value streams, from the raw material to the finished products. The responsibility of managing all the interfaces was given to Bühler. In addition, Bühler provides data transparency over the entire production process and an overall maintenance concept.
“The close co-operation between the Carrinho teams, our regional Bühler organization, and the specialists at our headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland, helped make the project the success it is today,” says Bloechlinger. “This was a large scale and challenging project, and it gave us the opportunity to make use of all our capabilities as an all-round solution provider and partner. We look forward to working with Carrinho on the next phase and building the future of both our companies together.”
The close co-operation between the Carrinho teams, our regional Bühler organization, and the specialists at our headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland, helped make the project the success it is today.
Harry Bloechlinger, Managing Director Southern Africa at Bühler
Two examples show how far-sighted Carrinho and his team have been in designing the facilities: The wheat and corn processing plant is built to handle both domestic and imported raw material, while the rice processing plant can handle both brown and white rice. In addition, the capability is installed to process from Paddy rice to white rice. This means that the plant technology is already set up for regionally produced raw materials.
The supply of these will still take some time, however. Two figures suffice to illustrate the challenge ahead: In the 1950s, to the average Angolan family produced 5 tons of corn per hectare of arable land; today, the figure is 700 kilograms. The country has 35 million hectares of arable land, of which only approximately 10% is currently cultivated. Although 2.5 million tons of food is grown locally, and production has grown rapidly over the past 15 years, much of it is not of a sufficient quality to be used for industrial processing. Meanwhile, local consumption stands at 2.8 million tons.
A lot is still lacking – know-how, equipment, seeds, logistics, irrigation, and industrial buyers. “That's the crucial point,” says Carrinho. “As long as farms don't have secured buyers, all attempts to develop agriculture remain doomed to failure.”
That gap is now being filled and, with the “Agri” branch of the company, Carrinho is in the process of connecting small farmers and their families. Through NGOs such as Saiver, which train, mentor, and supply seed to local farmers, he has begun to build a nationwide network of raw material suppliers. This fall, 50,000 are to be contracted in a first test phase. But that is just the beginning. “Our potential in the coming years is around 1 million,” Carrinho says.
And the entrepreneur is not resting there. The successful implementation of the Benguela food park has given him, his family, and his team additional impetus to make their shared dream reality. The credibility and experience Carrinho gained have spurred him on to build the next, even larger complex, code-named "Wakanda".
The Wakanda food park, to be built in northern Angola, will have the same orientation as the Benguela facility – just three times the size. “We want to take a leap and finally get in the lead,” Carrinho says. To date, the company has been running behind the curve, he explains, especially given Angola's rapidly growing population. Currently, the country has around 30 million inhabitants, but the number is expected to double to more than 60 million by 2050. “By 2030, we will have built the value chains and platforms in the country to be self-sufficient in managing and even exporting this growth,” says Carrinho confidently. Those who have seen what has emerged in Benguela share his conviction. The next Carrinho UFO has already begun its approach into northern Angola.
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