Making a Future With Maize

With support from American business volunteers, Pauline Kamau is growing her maize processing business to meet market demand in Kenya.

Pauline Kamau had no experience working in maize processing when she opened a small maize milling business with her husband in 1998. Her mother-in-law provided the basement space to fit the three dehuller machines they purchased at the start of this endeavor. Maize milling had always been her husband’s dream, but Kamau learned on the job as their business began producing maize flour for the local market.

“There were moments when I would stand here, look around, and think to myself ‘what am I doing?’” Kamau said.

When her husband passed away, Kamau faced a tough decision regarding the future of their business. Instead of walking away from it, Kamau decided to dive headfirst into the business, ultimately opening a new company with the intention of becoming a large manufacturer of maize and porridge flours. Now, as the managing director, Kamua named the company Sopa Supplies — a combination of her son’s name, Sospeter, with her own, Pauline.

From its small factory in Nairobi, Sopa Supplies launched operations, predominantly selling its maize products locally and to wholesalers. The results were astonishing.

“People were actually lining up,” she said. “It was a good problem when we ran out.”

To grow her business and meet the market demand, Kamau joined Solutions for African Food Enterprises (SAFE), a program that is increasing the competitiveness of the African food-processing sector and expanding the availability of affordable and nutritious foods. With Feed the Future’s support, this volunteer program brings together Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) — a consortium of leading global food companies such as General Mills, Cargill, DSM, Bühler, Hershey and Ardent Mills — and TechnoServe, a nonprofit partner specializing in private sector approaches to reducing poverty.

Pauline Kamau with her products.

Through it, Kamau received training on business development as well as nutrition and food fortification that has helped her take her business to the next level.

With support from PFS volunteers from DSM and Cargill, Sopa Supplies developed a five-year strategic plan focused on increasing capacity and improving quality. Kamau instituted new safety and quality standards, including hand-washing, installing screens to prevent pests and leading training sessions for supervisors on quality management and personal hygiene. In less than one year, Sopa Supplies increased the volume of its processed flour and porridge production by 26 percent and sales revenue doubled. Kamau got a loan to create a new processing facility in Rusegeti, Kiambu County, Kenya, expanding her production to meet the increasing demand and the reach of her nutritious, affordable products.

The program also worked with Kamau to develop an operations plan for the facility layout to optimize workflow and maximize production. PFS volunteers and TechnoServe staff shared additional feedback on how Kamau could improve food processing, cleanliness and production.

Kamau’s dreams continue to grow as her business does. Her ultimate goal is to bring Sopa Supplies to scale to enhance food security and boost nutrition across the region.

Sopa Supplies is currently receiving support from PFS experts in new product development as well as raising private equity, which will enable it to grow further.

Feed the Future recently expanded its partnership with TechnoServe and PFS for an additional five years to help women-owned businesses like Kamau’s incorporate greater numbers of smallholder farmers, while also helping them reach food-insecure consumers with nutritious food products.

Feed the Future works with Partners in Food Solutions and its six member companies to improve food security, nutrition and economic development in Africa by empowering their employee volunteers to share expertise and a combined 700 years of food industry experience with dynamic and promising food companies throughout Africa.