Meeting with Marc N’timon, owner of the flour and cornmeal brand EbliFoods

Togo First) – Operational since 2019, the Industrial Company for the Transformation of Tropical Agricultural Products (SITRAPAT) with a capital of 200 million FCFA, is a Togolese company, processor of maize into derived products sold locally or exported to African countries in the west and the EU. With an average daily production estimated at 50 tonnes of semolina and maize flour, its processing unit, assembled from scratch by Bühler engineers and launched in early 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, caught the attention of Togo. First who went to meet its Managing Director, Marc N’timon.

Togo First (TF): Who is Marc N’timon Fouyare, CEO of SITRAPAT and what is his background?

Marc N’timon (MN ): I am Marc N’timon, promoter of SITRAPAT, a company specializing in corn processing for the moment. It was created in 2018 and is located 35 km from Lomé at the northern exit of the city of Tsévié.

Regarding my background, I have been an agricultural engineer for over 20 years. A career that has allowed me to work with peasants on issues related to plant health and to realize the important place maize occupies in Togolese agriculture.

This cereal is cultivated by more than 2 million producers, who cultivate nearly 900,000 hectares each year. We have therefore set up this processing unit to first relieve the farmers in terms of the sale of their harvest, then to meet the consumption needs of the populations.

“We have set up this processing unit to relieve the overproduction farmers and meet the consumption needs of the populations in terms of quality”

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At the SITRAPAT processing plant

TF: The activities of your industry were launched in the middle of the coronavirus, a pandemic which has slowed down economies and which has lasted for almost 2 years. What were the impacts of this health situation on your activities?

MN: The factory was built when there was no sign of a pandemic on the horizon, so the first impact was the opening date, which we had to postpone by 2 months. We also had to destroy tons of grits for lack of purchase because the brewers’ activities had taken a terrible hit. Nevertheless, we continue to run even if the restrictions have still not been lifted in some countries of the sub-region where we deliver.

We continue to tour even though the restrictions have still not been lifted .

TF: What transformations are you doing concretely with corn?

MN: At the moment we mainly process corn into two by-products: semolina, used for brewing beer, and flour, intended for consumption. All our products come out under the label ‘ Eblifoods ‘, a word that comes from the junction of “Ébli”, maize in mina (language spoken in southern Togo, note ), and “Food” as food in English.

Our flagship product is semolina or grits. It is exported mainly to breweries in the sub-region that trust us, in particular the first brewery in Benin (SOBEBRA). But, unfortunately at the national level, we do not yet have a contract with the breweries on site, even if we strongly hope so.

As for the flour, it is certainly intended for local consumption, but we also export to other countries such as Ghana, Niger, Burkina Faso and even within the countries of the European Union.

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All our products are released under the ‘Eblifoods’ label

TF: For consumer products that are still very little known to the Togolese population, what marketing strategy do you use for distribution?

MN: We work with distributors who have networks of resellers in the market. We thus have more than 300 points of sale in Lomé. Several actions are undertaken in the field with salespeople to bring the products more to other markets. The brand extends to other locations in the interior of the country.

Faced with the soaring prices of agricultural raw materials, SITRAPAT has kept its prices unchanged, with the idea of motivating consumers to take an interest in its products. As proof, we sell 2.5 kg of our flour at 1000 FCFA, while with the same amount of money you only have 1.8 kg after purchasing the corn and its grinding.

TF: How then behaves the demand for flour on the local market in this atmosphere of soaring corn prices?

MN: Faced with the soaring prices of agricultural raw materials, we have kept the prices of our products unchanged, with the idea of motivating consumers to take more and more interest in them, especially since they are much cheaper, compared to traditional methods used to obtain flour.

As proof, we sell 2.5 kg of our flour at 1000 FCFA (1.53 euro, editor’s note), while with the same amount of money, you only have 1.8 kg after purchasing the corn. and its grinding. And yet, the market is still capricious according to what our figures tell us.

We are not currently making margins, because the price has dropped from single to double in the market. In such circumstances, we have decided not to back down with our clients. Especially since for semolina, we already have contracts with them. We realize that the terms of the agreements will have to be honored, no matter what. And this is one of the great challenges in business: you have to assume your responsibilities.

We’re sure we can make some margins when prices go down, but that’s not the bottom line today. Our priority remains respecting the terms of the contracts we have signed with partners who trust us.

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2.5 kg bag of Eblifoods corn flour

TF: Doesn’t this situation of respecting contract terms despite the vagaries of commodity prices encourage you to move towards commodity futures?

MN: Of course! It’s not just the price fluctuation that forces us to do this. The availability of raw materials as well. In this regard, we have already made some progress with more than 2000 hectares of secure maize. We even help its producers to obtain improved seeds and inputs for a good yield, this within a contractual framework. Beyond these constraints, we also do it for the traceability and the quality of the products that we transform.

TF: The measures to restrict exports from one country to another have increased in order to curb the inflation observed on the market for agricultural products. For you who are fully involved in processing, what could be the consequences for your production chain?

MN: We approached the competent authorities in Togo, who confirmed to us that we are not affected by these bans, which relate in particular to grain corn. A very important nuance, since our end product is flour. Since we are supported in the process of obtaining contracts, the authorities have issued us a legal export authorization allowing us to continue our activities in peace.

TF: In an environment where economic operators are often content with trading (import, export and marketing of raw materials) without added value, why have you taken the path of industrialization?

MN: As an African in general and Togolese in particular, we have to put an end to the import-export trading system. We can no longer just buy and then sell without added value. What we can transform here, let us do it because it is in the survival of our countries. In addition, public institutions should support us in this process which encourages the development of our countries.

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On the factory assembly site with partners (UNDP, Minister of Agriculture, etc.)

TF: Speaking of support, how did you manage to set up your factory, knowing that the question of funding arises very often?

MN: The issue of funding is a very thorny one. It’s an obstacle course that shouldn’t lead us to give up. There are many brakes, especially with regard to excessively high interest rates and the duration of loans which is not always adapted to industrialization. For my experience, I can reassure you: it is possible to be accompanied.

Banks are certainly cautious but there is always funding. To do so, you have to fight, earn a certain level of trust, and put seriousness into your project. For our part, we were supported by the NSIA bank.

It was not easy, but with confidence and seriousness it was possible. Today, there are more and more funding mechanisms that can help other unit promoters.

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(TF): Beyond this economic situation, what are the challenges facing SITRAPAT at the moment and what would you say to local consumers?

(MN): There are many challenges for the young company that we are. The first challenge is to be able to get the breweries of Togo to take an interest in our products and for that we are ready to provide them with everything they need to gain their trust. The other challenge is to be able to conquer other markets on the continent by guaranteeing them a quality that meets international standards. And finally, we call on the Togolese to trust us much more and try our products because they will not be disappointed with the result.

Fiacre Kakpo & Daniel Comlan Agbenowossi & Octave Bruce

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