Originally published on January 8, 2018.
In 2016, Lance Staggenborg, a Land O’Lakes, Inc. employee, returned from a volunteer assignment for Land O'Lakes International Development's Farmer-to-Farmer program. He spent two weeks visiting feed production plants across Rwanda to find areas of improvement for its industry. We sat down with him to learn more.
Lance, welcome back to the U.S. Before we get to your experience in Rwanda, please tell us about what you do for Land O'Lakes.
I have worked as a Plant Manager for Purina Mills for almost seven years in different plants in Texas, Louisiana, and now, Illinois. We run a facility that produces more than 50,000 annual tons–95 percent bulk and 5 percent packing.
So you traveled all the way from Illinois to Rwanda–what were your first impressions of the country?
It was my first time traveling to Africa. We hear things about third world countries that paint a picture in our minds–poverty, poor infrastructure and unsafe environments. Shortly after our plane touched down in the capital city of Kigali, I quickly realized my expectations were wrong. I felt safe the whole time and it was a beautiful, very clean country.
Sounds amazing! Tell us about what you were doing there.
Rwanda has only been in feed operations for about two years and their production capacity is small. To put this in perspective, one facility makes about six tons a month. At our Nashville, Illinois production facility, we can produce 4,000 tons a month.
I visited six feed mills that produced dairy and poultry and some swine and even floating fish food. I provided recommendations on how they can improve operations. I went in thinking they needed help with increasing production due to being over capacity, but once again, my expectations were wrong. They had equipment, resources and logistics figured out. Their largest gap was lack of sales and marketing.
What may be holding them back from getting word out about their products?
They don't have a sales force and general marketing strategy. When I visit plants and ask who was on their sales team, they'd say either no one or one person, and that person was also working on production at the plant.
What recommendations did you give them?
What did you learn from the assignment that applies to your stateside job at Purina?
- Prioritize creating a sales team: This is a new concept for them so it takes education. I gave them ideas to put on branded t-shirts and talk to current and potential customers to understand their needs. Then, tell them how they can help improve their business by feeding their cows your product.
- Find ways to lower prices: Instead of paying to import maize, I asked them to consider utilizing maize from local farms. In doing so, they can build the price of the maize into the feed and sell it back to the farmers at a lower price.
- Seek other ways of distributing: Right now, they are distributing to large individual customers. I suggested they partner with vets in town centers to get their product in store fronts.
- Managing the business: I offered some technical advice on how to manage operations. For example, they were not weighing raw materials when they arrived, so it was unclear if they were receiving what they were paying for. I suggested purchasing a scale to validate the weight of the inventory. I also suggested purchasing some relatively inexpensive equipment to mix, test and portion out their products more accurately.
To not take things for granted. Our plants in the U.S. are incredibly efficient. Plants in Rwanda are using mostly manpower to unload and stack 15 tons of product a day. To complete a ten-ton batch, it takes them four hours. For us, it takes around 20 minutes. The amount of physical labor they do in their plants is probably 200 times higher than ours.
Did you do anything recreational while in Rwanda?
We went on a self-guided safari over the weekend to Akagera National Park where we saw elephants, water buffalo, giraffes and more. Rwanda is roughly the size of the Ireland, so I was able to see a lot of the country during our drives to the plant sites. The scenery, rolling green hills and mountains are gorgeous.
Any closing thoughts?
It makes me proud to work for a company that supports an organization like Land O’Lakes International Development. And as a result, Land O’Lakes can help move the industry forward. If my support in Rwanda helps even one person in the end, I consider it a success.
The Farmer- to-Farmer Program is a USAID program which relies on the expertise of American volunteers to respond to the needs of farmers and agribusinesses in the developing world. Land O'Lakes International Development implements the program in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Most two to three week assignments are in Egypt or Lebanon, the two program core countries, but Lance's assignment was one of several "flexible" assignments outside of the programs core. If you or someone you know are interested in volunteering for the Farmer-to-Farmer Program, check out the open opportunities here.