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A to Z takes the director’s chair on Aflasafe TZ01 as a new act begins in Tanzania’s food-safety sprint for aflatoxin-safe groundnuts and maize
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A to Z takes the director’s chair on Aflasafe TZ01 as a new act begins in Tanzania’s food-safety sprint for aflatoxin-safe groundnuts and maize

July 27, 2019

“We took an interest in Aflasafe because we realised that the challenges we face as a country and as a region are not only about food security but also food safety – in the sense that you can have food to eat but if that food is not safe it can be even more dangerous than having no food at all.
So it’s about giving back to society, but also about having a vision for the future … In the long run we are confident we will be able to build a sustainable business manufacturing and distributing Aflasafe to protect consumers in Tanzania from aflatoxin poisoning.” — Julius Nyabicha, A to Z

We’re thrilled to raise the curtain on our latest partnership, as Tanzania joins the Aflasafe commercialisation family, a natural and born-to-be. Why? Because, how could the country of the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s kujitegemea (self-reliance) philosophy tarry in being part of the Aflasafe revolution or not take full ownership of it right from the outset? With that, plus the country’s current goal for Tanzania ya viwanda (an industrialised Tanzania), Tanzania’s Aflasafe safari is fast and furious, progressing at warp speed! A Technology Transfer and Licensing Agreement in May set the ball rolling on local production and distribution by A to Z Textile Mills Limited. Read on to hear the A to Z on this perfect storm straight from A to Z themselves – why they’re convinced it’s a lasting love-match and how they’ll be making the happily ever after happen. To liven things up (and in a salute to Mwalimu, whose accomplishments included translating Shakespeare into Kiswahili), let’s bring in just a little flair of the dramatic…

The pen is mightier than the sword: Mr Kalpesh Shah, A to Z CEO, and Dr Kenton Dashiell, IITA’s Deputy Director General, Partnerships for Delivery, usher in an exciting future as they sign the Technology Transfer and Licensing Agreement making A to Z the official manufacturer and distributor of Aflasafe TZ01 in Tanzania, on 7th May 2019.

ACT I: 7th May 2019, Arusha, Tanzania. A momentous moment for Tanzania’s Aflasafe revolution, as Aflasafe’s new and exclusive manufacturer and distributor officially takes the baton, through the signing of an Aflasafe Technology Transfer and Licensing Agreement (TTLA) between A to Z and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). These dual strokes of the pen kick off Aflasafe TZ01’s commercialisation, with A to Z now to knuckle down on getting this life-saving aflatoxin-fighting solution to farmers countrywide to protect, for now, two of Tanzania’s staple foods – groundnuts and maize. Both are very vulnerable to aflatoxin, in Tanzania as elsewhere. And though a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, the ‘TZ01’ suffix of Aflasafe TZ01 has its own tale to tell. This product was specially formulated for Tanzania, derived from her own crops and soils, and has behind it years of meticulous multi-partner research followed by rigorous participatory testing on Tanzania’s farms.

“We plan to have Aflasafe TZ01 in the hands of Tanzania’s farmers in time for the next sowing season in November this year, to help manage aflatoxin,” revealed Mr Kalpesh Shah, A to Z CEO, at May’s TTLA signing ceremony. Progress in Tanzania has been meteoric so far, and looks set to continue just as rapidly, thanks to a perfect storm of several positive factors.

The cornerstone is collaboration with, and support from, the government of Tanzania. These twin enabling factors have been Tanzania’s steroid and ‘secret sauce’ for the fast and furious pace. The government is prioritising the fight against aflatoxin and endorsing Aflasafe as one of the solutions. This not only paves the path and streamlines statutory and regulatory requirements but also ensures that product deployment reaches further and faster with the government and its country machinery as co-actors. In Tanzania, the government is going beyond merely registering and regulating to actively engage in all aspects of the fight against aflatoxin.

Another turbo charger is ATTC’s prior experience in building partnerships to make Aflasafe commercially available in several countries across Africa. Lessons thus learnt have helped us move with alacrity and efficiency. And then, crucially, in A to Z we have a proactive partner who’s hitting the ground running, keen to make an impact with Aflasafe and get it in use rapidly and on a large scale. A to Z have the expertise to make it happen, plus extensive networks which include around 240 agro-dealers in every corner of this considerably large country.

Aflasafe TZ01 is the all-natural, environmentally friendly Aflasafe product tailored for Tanzania. In our tests in farmers’ fields across the country, when used alongside other good practices, Aflasafe cut aflatoxin contamination by more than 85%. As such, it fits right into several of A to Z’s key aims of providing innovative agricultural solutions that contribute to Tanzania’s wellbeing in terms of food safety and security, public health and economy and trade. Aflasafe will be in very fine company, joining A to Z’s established portfolio of pedigree AgroZ® agricultural products, which already includes other solutions that help mitigate aflatoxin such as hermetic bags and tarpaulins.

The TTLA sets out terms for Aflasafe TZ01’s manufacture and distribution, including annual targets that will require A to Z to reach farmers effectively and on a large scale, and which the company will need to meet to retain their five-year exclusivity. Both ATTC and A to Z themselves are confident that the company has what it takes. But who better to tell us more about A to Z and their plans for Aflasafe than themselves?


ACT II: Without further ado, we bring you Julius Nyabicha, A to Z’s Marketing Manager for agricultural products. Julius takes a deep dive into the marriage between A to Z and Aflasafe, and the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Julius Nyabicha, A to Z’s Marketing Manager for agricultural products

What is A to Z’s philosophy, and how does Aflasafe fit in with your goals and interests?

A to Z is a family-owned company, and we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2016. The company’s full name is A to Z Textile Mills Limited, because it started in the textile business. It has since grown quite huge, diversified and has a workforce numbering over 7,000. More than 65% of those employees are women, who would be very vulnerable if they didn’t have a job in an African context. That’s to a large extent deliberate, because most jobs in Tanzania – most jobs in Africa – mainly favour men, so it’s part of affirmative action.

We see ourselves as a big family, and any big family has to be taken care of – in terms of health, food, and economics. That is why A to Z’s products are focussed on ensuring our family’s welfare.

A to Z is the largest manufacturer of Long-Lasting Insecticidal Nets in Africa and among the top three in the world for malarial control, so we have been working in the health arena for several decades now. Around five years ago we became very interested in the challenge of food security, and began manufacturing hermetic bags for on-farm storage, as well as tarpaulins which are used to properly dry grains and pulses before they are stored, helping to bring down postharvest losses.

In Tanzania farmers lose up to 30–40% of their grain harvest to poor storage, and this has a serious impact on food security, as well as on incomes at both farm and national level. So, over the last four years, A to Z has come out very strongly to ensure that this loss is minimised. We don’t want farmers to lose what they have produced.

And why Aflasafe? We took an interest in Aflasafe because we realised that the challenges we face as a country and as a region are not only about food security but also food safety – in the sense that you can have food to eat but if that food is not safe it can be even more dangerous than having no food at all.

“In Aflasafe, we saw an opportunity to participate in bringing down the dangers associated with food safety in Tanzania, and in Africa as a whole”

Cases of liver cancer in Africa are increasing every year. In 2016 in Tanzania, 19 people died of acute aflatoxin poisoning. This was a wake-up call for A to Z just as it was for many other stakeholders in the food value chain and our focus started shifting to food safety as an integral part of our food-security goal. In Aflasafe, we saw an opportunity to participate in bringing down the dangers associated with food safety in Tanzania, and in Africa as a whole. We had been saving food in terms of quantity, but we also needed to have quality food.

When you look around and see a problem, you try come up with a solution. That means that you’re not only in business but you’re also contributing to the welfare of the people around you, of the people that work for you, and of the families that depend on the people that work for you. At the end of the day, if the people that work for you are doing well, they are happier and their performance is better. You need them to be well fed, you need them to be healthy, and you need them to be well-off economically.

Aflasafe TZ01 banners hang alongside Tanzania’s national colours at the A to Z booth at the Nane Nane Agricultural Week fair in Simiyu Region, August 2019 – a great way to get Aflasafe and aflatoxin awareness to all kinds of interested people and groups.

That’s true of our A to Z family, and it’s true of the wider Tanzanian family: we all thrive if our people and economy are healthy. The products manufactured by A to Z are intended to take care of people and not purely to make money.

What’s your approach to marketing and distributing Aflasafe, and what support will you need from IITA, and other critical actors?

That is an interesting question, because you can have a very good product, but if you are not able to distribute it and get it to the market, ultimately the benefit will not be realised . Promoting Aflasafe is quite tricky in a vast country like Tanzania where most people are not aware of the aflatoxin problem. Our approach to marketing will be what we call the ‘bullhorn’ strategy.

“There are large-scale institutional buyers in Tanzania who know about aflatoxin – who have felt the pinch, the loss that it has brought about”

The first ‘horn’ of the bull is the supply side. There are large-scale institutional buyers in Tanzania who know about aflatoxin – who have felt the pinch, the loss that it has brought about – and we are already talking with them. They include for example brewers, who use maize in producing beer, and the World Food Programme, which needs to buy large quantities of aflatoxin-safe maize. These buyers sometimes get very frustrated when they buy grain that contains high levels of aflatoxin, or they cannot find enough maize to buy because all the grain brought to them is contaminated, so they understand the problem at first-hand.

If we talk to these buyers, they will in turn talk to the aggregators they buy from. These aggregators will talk to the smallholder farmers who supply them with maize, requiring aflatoxin-safe grain and explaining that there is a solution for aflatoxin in the form of Aflasafe. If we ourselves talk to farmers as manufacturers, they may have the feeling that we are just out for business and looking for a market for our product, but if we work through the institutional buyers who are the customers of the farmers, farmers will get to see that, yes, there is a real challenge here for these valued customers, and there is a way to produce what they need.

“We want to reach the people who eat maize and groundnuts – which is essentially everyone in Tanzania – and tell them about the dangers of aflatoxin”

The second ‘horn’ is the demand side: talking not to producers but to consumers directly. We want to reach the people who eat maize and groundnuts – which is essentially everyone in Tanzania – and tell them about the dangers of aflatoxin. We will use firm facts and statistics from the health sector, so that we look at the number of people who are getting ill and who are dying of cancer, and how many of these cases are due to aflatoxin. If we run campaigns – through radio, including local stations, TV, viral campaigns over social media, and all means available – people will start becoming more aware of aflatoxin and cautious about what they eat. They will put pressure on producers for aflatoxin-safe food – which Aflasafe will deliver.

A third channel that we’re looking at – the ‘head’ of the bull – is to talk to and work with the influencers and opinion leaders in Tanzania. These include political leaders, members of parliament, and technical committees of parliament, as well as academicians, NGOs [non-governmental organisations], the private sector and the media. They can help us disseminate important information about aflatoxin and Aflasafe to farmers and consumers, as well as providing support in other ways such as ensuring facilitative frameworks and regulations.

A to Z’s Marketing Manager for agricultural products, Julius Nyabicha (centre), shares ideas and materials on Aflasafe with Ministry of Agriculture staff during the Nane Nane Agricultural Week fair in Simiyu Region, August 2019.

In parallel, we’ll also be using direct marketing, through our sales force of agronomists all over Tanzania, who are directly employed by A to Z and have already been trained on Aflasafe and aflatoxin. By selling through them, we can provide further information to buyers, for example answering their questions, and also gather additional market intelligence on farmers’ needs and concerns, so this is a very important strategy, and one that we have successfully used on other A to Z products. Our sales agronomists will also be attending meetings such as field days and exhibitions to talk to farmers about Aflasafe. They will both be helping to stimulate initial demand and – particularly as we start manufacturing and our campaigns take off – back up our awareness raising and meet that demand.

Overall, it’s a combined, multipronged strategy on several fronts.

The main and very important thing we need from IITA is technical support. They created this technology, and so they understand it inside-out. As we go out to market and distribute Aflasafe, we need to train a lot more people – such as technical people and extension workers from the Ministry of Agriculture and from our partners – and we’ll need IITA to be in the forefront of this training.

“The interesting thing about Aflasafe is that it is not in competition with any other product. In fact, it works best alongside other aflatoxin solutions … This is a huge opportunity”

In terms of other actors, we’re already working on several projects on postharvest losses and the maize value chain, and we want to tap into those. We’ll be working with NGOs and with different companies that produce farm inputs, like seed and fertiliser, to spread this important information about aflatoxin and Aflasafe.

The interesting thing about Aflasafe is that it is not in competition with any other product. In fact, it works best alongside other aflatoxin solutions and best practice. This is a huge opportunity that we at A to Z have seen, in that, with Aflasafe, you can work with many other companies and organisations, and we want to ensure that we have as many partners as possible to help us in creating awareness.

It’s an exciting prospect; do you see any challenges ahead?

Yes, of course. One of the challenges in making sure that Aflasafe is adopted is the fact that you cannot see aflatoxin, you cannot smell it, and you cannot taste it. In an African context, when you talk to farmers, they tend to want to see the problem and prove it before they adopt a technology. Of course, some farmers know of the dangers of aflatoxin in theory, but they do not and cannot see it in practice.

The remedy to this is to carry out field demonstrations with farmers and to prove aflatoxin contamination through testing, which is the only way to show that there can be high levels of aflatoxin even in maize that looks good. A related challenge here is that neither the testing equipment or process are cheap. This means that A to Z – together with the government – have to invest, for example in aflatoxin-testing kits and equipment and centres. It’s expensive, but it must be done.

Another challenge is that awareness creation too will be expensive, especially as we will need to work hard to really convince people of this invisible problem that they cannot see. The key solution that we are pursuing here is to look for and to work with as many partners as possible.

“As a company, we have to be prepared to spread awareness and take Aflasafe to market across the whole country”

The sporadic nature of aflatoxin is also as a challenge, in that this year it could appear in one district, and next year in another. This means that, as a company, we have to be prepared to spread awareness and take Aflasafe to market across the whole country – and Tanzania is a very large country. It’s all or nothing.

The last challenge that we see is that we really have to invest in capacity building, because even many technical people and researchers in Tanzania don’t fully understand aflatoxin. They all know that it’s a big postharvest problem, but the truth of the matter is that aflatoxin starts from the farm, and that’s why we have Aflasafe. This is an area where IITA can help.

So overall there is a lot of investment required from A to Z in terms of creating awareness, as well as setting up the factory itself. Before we start recouping any profit, perhaps in another few years, we might need some help somewhere, for example a grant to help us with awareness raising.

We’ve talked about the big opportunity in terms of partnership: what other opportunities do you see?

The fact is that aflatoxin is a reality. It is not going away, we must tackle it, and we have both the opportunity and the means to do so. Even as we speak today, there are unconfirmed reports that in one district of Tanzania, some people may have died and others hospitalised and the symptoms look like it could be aflatoxin contamination.

Julius Nyabicha (in black shirt), A to Z’s Marketing Manager for agricultural products, talks fascinated National Food Reserve Agency staff through an Aflasafe TZ01 brochure during the Nane Nane Agricultural Week fair in Simiyu Region, August 2019.

The government of Tanzania has a very good understanding of the dangers of aflatoxin and they are very aware of the current levels of contamination in the country. As we speak, there is a new 32-million dollar project being implemented by the government through TANIPAC – Tanzania Initiatives for Preventing Aflatoxin Contamination. So we see this as a big opportunity. The government’s already there putting measures in place. We are getting involved as the exclusive manufacturers of Aflasafe. Therefore, we will be TANIPAC’s good partner in ensuring that Tanzania wins its fight against aflatoxin by making Aflasafe readily available.

Where do you see Aflasafe TZ01 in five years’ time?

We want to see ourselves distributing more than 3,000 metric tonnes of Aflasafe in 4–5 years, and we want to see the acreage of maize and groundnuts under Aflasafe exponentially increase. In the end, what really counts is not the amount of Aflasafe that we’re selling, but the area of maize and groundnuts being protected by Aflasafe. In Tanzania, we have more than 4 million acres under maize, for example, and therefore we have a big food-safety and business opportunity that we really need to tap into.

Ultimately, what we want to achieve is for every maize and groundnut farmer to use Aflasafe, so that we effectively and comprehensively tame aflatoxin contamination in Tanzania.

Wow, that’s an ambitious goal!

Of course! But it’s also unrealistic to expect to get every single farmer in the country using Aflasafe without a serious intervention; for instance, the government including Aflasafe in its subsidy programme to help farmers access it. We will be doing a lot of advocacy in that regard. But meanwhile, we can still significantly expand the use of Aflasafe. In another 5–10 years we hope that more than half of Tanzania’s maize and groundnut farmers will be using Aflasafe.

One thing that’s very interesting is how, with Aflasafe, A to Z seems to be branching out from its core product base, which as you’ve said is unlike any other product out there. Why take that risk on Aflasafe?

In short, the directors of the company have realised that the big opportunity in Africa is in agriculture. Africa’s population is ever rising, and people will always need food.

We started with food-storage solutions to improve food security, like the hermetic bags, but we’re now going beyond that to food safety, which is now a hot topic. The agricultural sector is always growing, so however small it looks today, in the future that is where business is going to be. A to Z is strategically placing itself to supply our growing population with safe healthy food in the long term.

“It’s about giving back to society, but also about having a vision for the future”

At the same time, we’re not currently making money from our agricultural division. It is part of our corporate social responsibility, and taking care of our people. So it’s about giving back to society, but also about having a vision for the future.

We are not in the business of taking risks. For us Aflasafe is not a risk. Rather it’s a long-term investment. And that’s why we’re pulling all stops and giving it our best shot, to ensure that we don’t make losses. In the long run we are confident we will be able to build a sustainable business manufacturing and distributing Aflasafe to protect consumers in Tanzania from aflatoxin poisoning. It might not be tomorrow, it might take a few years, but in the meantime we are ensuring that people have food that is healthy.

“For us Aflasafe is not a risk. Rather it’s a long-term investment”

Everybody we talk to, in all the meetings we attend, is keen to learn more about aflatoxin and Aflasafe – for example, just yesterday and today we were in a meeting with Tanzanian researchers, and everyone was very interested. We at A to Z feel very positive about our future with Aflasafe in Tanzania not just as a business venture but in reducing aflatoxin in maize and groundnuts to safe levels.


ACT III of this high drama is being written at this very moment and we shall soon be bringing it to you as it unfolds.

While Julius takes the marketing bull by the horns and leads the creation of awareness and demand across Tanzania, news is arriving thick and fast on the manufacturing side too. We have been working closely with A to Z since April to create their Aflasafe TZ01 factory, helping them to design an efficient layout and to procure machinery and supplies, as well as organising a visit to the Aflasafe KE01 factory in Kenya to see how it works in practice. A to Z has now begun setting up the factory and installing equipment, going full steam ahead to get production underway in time for the next growing season, which starts in November and stretches into May.

Like Julius, we are very positive about joining the big A to Z family. Our new in-laws are dynamic, ambitious and forward-thinking, yet draw on deep Tanzanian roots, embedded in the self-reliance philosophy of the nation’s founding. With A to Z at the helm, we look forward to a bright future for proudly African, wholly Tanzanian Aflasafe TZ01, and safer food for the people of Tanzania – sooner rather than later.

 

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