FOODS FOR
a brighter future

CITY GROUP & AKIJ – Dhaka, Bangladesh

Poverty, malnutrition, infectious diseases. The common perception so many people have of Bangladesh has been out of date for some time. The country has been experiencing an economic upturn for well over two decades, which is also evident in the indigenous food industry. More food, better, safer, and at lower prices is the motto. Together with the producers City Group and Akij, Bühler is undoubtedly involved in the positive development of food security for the country.

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Foods for a brighter future

Poverty, malnutrition, infectious diseases. The common perception so many people have of Bangladesh has been out of date for some time. The country has been experiencing an economic upturn for well over two decades, which is also evident in the indigenous food industry. More food, better, safer, and at lower prices is the motto. Together with the producers City Group and Akij, Bühler is undoubtedly involved in the positive development of food security for the country.

Dry mops and dust cloths are in constant use. Bharati is one of dozens of cleaning women who ensure a pristine production environment in the Akij flour mill. She wears colorful attire, the salwar kameez, consisting of green trousers, a matching long top, and a head scarf. The colors glow in the glossy white, immaculate mill. No dust particles are found here. And this in Bangladesh, where, especially in the late monsoon season, the dust from the road sticks to clothing moist from the heat.

Cleanliness is the watchword in industrial food production, says Sheikh Bashir Uddin, owner and Managing Director of Akij Flour Mills Ltd.: "I don't even know who could say food safety is not important. Our products are for human consumption, and food safety is indeed the most important thing to take into consideration when designing a product." Akij's business is booming. In 70 years, the company has grown from a small jute-trading operation to one of the biggest corporate conglomerates in Bangladesh. Akij has also engaged in food and drink production for more than 10 years. Cooperation with Bühler began in 2014, when Bashir decided to build a mill. Since then, two production lines have been developed for traditional flour, with daily capacities of 500 and 550 metric tons, respectively, as well as an Atta mill with a capacity of 150 metric tons per day.

The project also includes a flour storage system with a capacity of 3,200 metric tons. "Akij has invested in our latestequipment and technology, and therefore has the most state-of-the-art mill in the whole of South Asia," says Marcel Züst, Senior Advisor at Bühler for the region.

Industrial food production in Bangladesh has become more important in recent years. After all, production is the country's greatest hope. It is thanks to industry that Bangladesh has been able to cross the poverty threshold as defined by the Human Development Index of the United Nations. This slow but steady economic growth has meant the country is now classified as one with medium development. The average life expectancy is 72, and the average school education lasts 10.2 years. Average per capita annual income is USD 1,600.

Zahid Abu
Zahid Abu, Senior Engineer Bühler Dhaka and Galibur Rahman, Head Miller Akij Flour Mills Ltd. inspect the newly-built production site.

The food sector is supporting the upturn

Nevertheless, the way out of poverty is difficult. With approximately 165 million inhabitants, Bangladesh has one of the highest population densities in the world. Streets and houses are already overflowing in the capital city of Dhaka; the settlement stretches across huge areas with slums and suburbs. Mountains of garbage are piling up outside the city center. Flooding is a routine occurrence.

A silver lining can be seen, though. GDP has been growing steadily since 1995; in 2016, it grew by 7.1%, and in the three years before that, the annual rate was approximately 6%. The textile and metal industries are the most notable drivers of this development, but the domestic food processing industries are keeping pace. "The livelihood of the population will increase first and foremost with the growth in the economy," explains Sheikh Bashir Uddin. "From our side, we can drive the development of new, nutritional products; of course, we also need people to buy them. Thanks to the size of our industrial operations, our products are available for a reasonable price, which enables more consumers to have access to more foods."

Also convinced of this is Fazlur Rahman, Chairman of City Group, the biggest Bühler customer in the country. "Bangladesh is growing," says Rahman. "We want to help establish a sound basis for the country's economy. The government has set the goal of making Bangladesh a middle-income country by 2020. In order to achieve this, the private sector must invest in production – we need more rice, flour, and cooking oil."

Rahman's conglomerate is active in the domestic food industry. Having originally processed mustard seeds to make oil, Rahman developed the business over a period of 50 years to become a highly diversified company. In the food and feed sector, City Group now not only produces mustard, sunflower, and soybean oil, but also flour, lentils, and rice. The company's newly commissioned production plant on the bank of the Shitalakshya River, 30 kilometers outside Dhaka, was brought about together with Bühler.

Industrial production means safe production

The new production plant's capacities exceed the dimensions of those hitherto seen and are among the biggest projects that Bühler has ever carried out: during peak times, up to 50 metric tons of finished products leave the new production lines every hour. The production location includes a transshipment center for wheat with an intake capacity of 600 metric tons per hour as well as a facility for processing red lentils (600 metric tons per day), rice (72 metric tons per hour), and Atta flour (4 x 150 metric tons per day). In addition, a soybean warm dehulling plant with a throughput rate of 5,000 metric tons per day is currently under construction.

The food situation in the country is still not where it should be. With an unbalanced rice diet, malnutrition is still an issue, as are food-borne bacterial infections. And this is precisely why City Group is going for diversification with protein-rich lentils and vitamin-rich Atta flour. Safe food production is also a priority. Cleanliness is the top priority at the City Group production plant; gloves and caps are just as much a part of cleaning staff attire as the salwar kameez.

With Bühler, the company has a partner that has been employing the highest standards of hygiene for years. Bühler has been working with City Group to raise domestic food production to the highest level since 1997. The production site recently established outside Dhaka proves that this is possible.

Partnerships built on trust

City Group's positive experience in previous projects with Bühler is the reason their family again awarded the big contract to Bühler, says Shampa Rahman: "I have known the people at Bühler since my childhood – some of them are just like family to me."

She and her father value the quality of work at Bühler above all else: "And when problems arise, we can ask the people at Bühler to solve them – and they always do!"Customer care is right at the top of the priority list for Bühler in Bangladesh. In the past two years, Marcel Züst made an average of one trip a month to Dhaka to monitor the progress of both major projects. "Being able to inaugurate the new Bühler Dhaka Service Station in the early summer of 2017 was helpful," says Züst. "This means that a highly competent team will be available onsite to help with technical problems or inspections in the future."

The fruits of the joint endeavors are offered on the local market; alongside the traditional huge supply of rice from jute sacks, there are more and more prepackaged foods, lentils, flour, and cooking oil. City Group's Teer brand is as common at every stand as Akij's Sunshine flour. Thanks to the industrial processing by Bühler machines, these products comply with the highest standards in the sphere of food safety, and are available at prices that many people now can already afford.

City Group Dhaka birds eye view
A bird’s-eye view of City Group in Dhaka. Here, they produce rice, dal, and wheat flour, and trade raw materials.