Dreams of a Food Scientist

Esther Katungwe working on RUTF samples

Esther beamed as she explained about her offer to work at Valid Nutrition[1] after completing the internship which she had with them for 6 months. This was no simple matter for her, since she knew most of her classmates did not gain the skills she had from the internship program and also considering that most of the graduates who finished school with her were unemployed. Esther became part of the Malawi Oil-Seeds Sector Transformation (MOST) Programme, as an intern in 2015. At that time, she was a third year student at The Malawi Polytechnic, a constituent of University of Malawi. When she arrived at Valid Nutrition, Esther was surprised with the factory set-up. “I did not know that we will have to work in a complex Laboratory, I thought there will be simple biology tests similar to the set-up in college”.

After work commenced, there was no typical day schedule for Esther. She realised college Laboratory tests were more theoretical than Practical. On a busy day, she had more than 8 tests to work on.                                                                                         Esther Katungwe working on RUTF samples

“I would stand for 4 hours and thought I will give up the internship, but turned out to be the most exciting experience. It always kept me thinking of the results for quality Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) for malnourished children and adults”. Esther was mentored during her placement.  MOST, her family and supervisors were the support she needed throughout her placement.

 

 

“I come from a family of seven, four boys and three girls”, she said. “My parents moved around and I had to change primary education four times”.  While in Secondary school, she was recruited to play netball for her school. She played in leagues across Malawi and internationally. She continued with the sport until College. Through sheer and grit, she managed to save funds from the sport, to pay for her College tuition fees, stationary and stipend. Through all this Esther held on to the dream of finishing higher education and being employed to work in her field. “I know, not many food scientists work in their field in Malawi”.

In 2015 her dream materialised. She was recruited by MOST. Esther was placed at Valid Nutrition in Lilongwe. She recalled from the recruitment meeting that, the MOST Programme is made available with the assistance from DFID implemented by Adam Smith International in United Kingdom. “I know of the Oil-Seeds Products Technical Working Group that is under the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism” she smiled saying, “I am extremely greatful to all of them, I had the financial and personal support during my internship”.

As Esther commenced work at Valid Nutrition, she received the best mentorship for her to become confident in the work she was doing. Step by step, she acquired skills in quality management and learnt international standards for quality consumer products.  “I now understand protein tests, work environment etiquette and respecting the chain of command”.

Overtime, Esther felt the colleagues she was working with were at a safer work position. She recalls how she was worried as the end of her 6 months of internship grew closer. “I felt once am not employed, my focus would be on sports.  My food science career will be on hold”, she said sadly

Fortunately in December 2016, Esther was offered employment at Valid Nutrition. She said happily “After signing the 6 months contract, I felt accepted into the system and accepted into the family that is Valid Nutrition”.

Esther continued saying, “The programme has transformed me. My supervisors at work commend the skills I have acquired and they are always challenging me with new laboratory procedures”. She has been included in the training for the new version of ISO 2000 laboratory standards by Valid Nutrition. “I look to the future and I know am at the right place”. 



[1] Valid Nutrition is an Oil Seed processing company, which produces Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). The RUTF is produced from groundnuts and other reagents, for malnourished Children and Adults.

 

A Walk Through the Right Path

Blessings Chagwirampeni in the Valid Nutrition Laboratory

Blessings Chagwirampeni in the Valid Nutrition Laboratory

Blessings was ecstatic when he received a phone call about his internship position at Valid Nutrition[1] in August 2015. At that time, Blessings was a third year student at Polytechnic, a constituent College of the University of Malawi. He was studying a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Technology, majoring in Food Science.  He clearly recalled the first thing he was told when he first arrived at Valid Nutrition, “you have to be quality conscious and strive for perfection with no margin of error in the Laboratory’’ Right there and then he knew he was in the right place as a food scientist.

Blessings was one of the two students that were selected from Polytechnic to do internship at Valid Nutrition for 6 months under the Malawi Oil-Seeds Sector Transformation (MOST) Programme. He was the quality assurance intern with constant work in the Laboratory to assess Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). “I had to always strive for perfection, because I knew the RUTF is meant to save thousands of malnourished children across Malawi”, Blessings said with a glimmer of joy knowing his work made a positive impact.  “I know the challenge of nursing a malnourished child. My mother is a nurse and she tells me stories of some of the cases she face at work”.

Blessings was raised by his mother in Dowa, north of Lilongwe city. He enrolled for primary school at Milore Full Primary School where he obtained the Primary School Leaving Certificate. Later he did his secondary school at Kings Foundation Secondary School in Ntcheu and then at Kaphuka Secondary School in Blantyre for the final 2 years of secondary education. During his first attempt for Malawi School Certificate of Education, Blessings did not do well. However, the failure made him stronger and with parental guidance he re-enrolled to a different school in 2009. He passed with excellent grades and was eligible for the University of Malawi. In 2012 he was accepted into Polytechnic.  During the University orientation, he was introduced to an option of food science major, in his program. “I did not know that one can study the science behind food, therefore I set out to understand that option”.

In his third year of College, Blessings was introduced to the MOST Programme, through the Head of Department.  After interviews, Blessings started placement in August 2015. The first few weeks of placement, Blessings had mixed feelings as he thought it was a challenge to work in the Laboratory everyday.  However as time progressed, he saw the challenge transforming to career development and a path to perfect laboratory experiments. “I can proudly say I know international Laboratory standards including the ISO 2000”, Blessings said with joy.

Blesssings interest for working in the Oil-Seeds Sector grew overtime due to the different experiments he did and the diverse sample results. On a busy day Blessings had 7 tests with long standard procedures in the Laboratory. In-addition, it was remarkable for him to observe the good quality management practices at Valid Nutrition.    “There is no better way to put it”, he said proudly, “the experience has prepared me for the stress, pressure and demands of the real work environment”. Blessings further clarified that the internship program sharpened his teamwork skills, leadership skills and improved his attention to detail.

In December 2016, he was recruited by Valid Nutrition in his fourth year of study. During internship, as the months progressed, he faced the fear of, “what will I do afterwards for this sector to continue making an impact”. Fortunately, Andrew Chinguwo, the General Manager of Valid Nutrition offered blessings a 6 months’ work contract. Mr Chinguwo outlined that, he saw Blessings transform in skills and maturity.

After the employment contract offer, Blessings was promoted to the position of the Laboratory supervisor. He inspects RUTF before customer collection. He is now able to assess Laboratory work. “Now I look at the other employees as equal colleagues”.

Blessings described his internship experience as “worthwhile and fulfilling”. He smiled as he said “I don’t think I could have had a job at this point in my life without the internship program”. Blessings said proudly, “I was able to meet Mr Dyborn Chibonga through the program; he is my role model. He is the Chair of the Oil-Seeds Products Technical Working Group under the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism”. Blessings recalled Mr Chibonga saying that, the internship program is the work of DFID implemented through Adam Smith International. He said smiling “I can say I was able to travel to work because of them”. He continued smiling “As a food scientist, I continuously need to acquire knowledge in food quality management and MOST has provided that platform”.



[1] Valid Nutrition is an Oil Seed processing company, which produces Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). The RUTF is produced from groundnuts and other reagents, for malnourished Children and Adults.

Oil Seed Products Technical Working Group: Explanatory Note Addressing The Skills Gap

The Malawi national export strategy (NES) highlighted oilseed crops as one of a few export sectors with the potential to reduce Malawi’s dependence on tobacco and increase the value of exports overall.

In driving the NES forward, an initial study was conducted to assess the oilseed sector’s constraints. The study revealed various skills concerns that limit the growth of oilseeds exports. As one of its core technical initiatives, the OSP TWG group is working to understand and address these skills challenges.

THE CHALLENGES
The skills mismatch: The mismatch in the skills that students gain at university and the skills that companies require pose significant challenges to the progress of the oilseeds sector. Companies that are engaged in the oilseeds value chain continue to face difficulties in finding and recruiting students that have the relevant practical skills.

The industry disconnect: In addition to the skills mismatch, there are poor linkages between academic institutions and companies in the sector. Communication between universities and companies has been limited and this has added to the poor understanding of the industry and the skills required.

THE INTERVENTION

To address these challenges, the OSP TWG has initiated an internship programme that places students on six-month place-ments within a company in the oil-seeds value chain. By targeting a variety of private sector firms, the programme enables students to gain practical skills across multiple functions and departments such as irrigation engineering, agro-processing, marketing, and accounting. Through the internship, the OSP TWG aims to create stronger linkages in the oil-seeds sector as well as support the development of long-term partnerships between companies and the universities.


INTERNSHIP STRUCTURE
The six month internship is split into two months either during or at the end of the penultimate year, and four months after the end of the final year. The placements are carefully selected to compliment and add value to the student’s academic background and expertise.
The internship focuses on providing a variety of soft and technical skills that are relevant to the oilseeds sector and the broader working environment.

 

OIL-SEEDS VALUE CHAIN

Inputs — Production — Trading —
— Processing — Exporting — Research


GOING FORWARD

STUDENT’S EXPERIENCES

The Co-chair of the OSPTWG held interviews with students undertaking placements at Valid Nutrition, Lakeshore Agro-processors and the Multi-seeds Company in September 2016. In assessing the students’ experiences, the students expressed the positive benefits of the scheme, noting that the entrepreneurship skills and exposure had been helpful.
Companies also had positive feedback and the Multi-seeds company added that the students played a key role in developing the company’s marketing strategies and workplace policies.

“Students appreciated being part of the work environment, they all felt that their soft skills had improved during the course of the placement. The students visited producer framers and mobilized the production of farmers through conducting market research, participating in seed demonstrations and facilitating field days” - Pindulani Seeds Enterprise Internship
Key skills learned across the internships include the processing of oil seeds, climate-smart agricultural practices, web-based marketing skills, irrigation systems and costing.

Student further suggested that modules on green house crop management, irrigation systems, soil analysis and oilseeds husbandry and business focused training, would be beneficial additions to their curriculums.
Student gaining practical experience on her Frescor Limited internship.

For 2017 there are a number of areas of specific focus, but three strands of work stand out:First_Guest_Lecture_in_skills_gap_programme_1
1. Facilitating Partnership Agreements: Supporting the development of partnerships between university departments and companies involved in the oil seed value chain will be key to ensuring that the programme is sustainable.
2. Tracking placements: Making sure that we track the number of students who are offered paid employment by the companies will enable us to promote the programme and demonstrate the added incentives for both students and companies who are interested in taking part in the future. To date, two students have been offered contracts so monitoring and highlighting these successes will be key.
3. Guest lectures: Managers from companies will be invited to give guest lectures at universities, this will enable them to share valuable experiences and insights with larger numbers of students, as well as further strengthen ties between business and academia.

Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism outshines other MDAs

PS for Industry, Trade and Tourism at the Ministry's pavillion after the award presentationGovernment has singled out the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism awarding it the star performer award for meeting its obligations in the Performance Contract it signed in 2015.

As part of the Public Sector Reforms the Malawi government introduced Performance Contracts as one way of instilling financial prudence and quality and efficient delivery of service to the public.

The Performance Contracts were signed by the line ministry Principal Secretary, the Chief Secretary and countersigned by the responsible minister. The agreement was endorsed by the Head of State President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika at a ceremony at Bingu wa Mutharika International Convention Centre in Lilongwe in February 2015.

During the period under review (2015/2016 Financial Year) the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism undertook to create an enabling and competitive environment for the private sector to increase its investment levels, to expand the international market share of Malawian products and services, to promote and diversification of exports, to increase the contribution of manufacturing value-added products to GDP, and to strengthen and enforce the legal and regulatory environment among other strategic objectives that would develop and strengthen industry, trade and tourism.

The star performer award which has been given to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism alongside Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs means that the Ministry has been very judicious in the use of its resources and produced results in all its programmes, activities and projects.

The function was presided over by Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Hon. Goodall Gondwe who was Guest of Honour at the ceremony.

Investment, Trade Key in Development Agenda

Malawi Vice President Saulos Chilima says Investment, Trade Key in Development Agenda. VP at MIF 2016.jpg

Vice President Saulos Chilima on Monday said investment and trade were key in government’s development agenda.

Chilima said government recognized the importance of investment and trade in creating jobs, expanding domestic tax base, attaining sustainable economic growth and improving living standards of people.

He was speaking when he opened the 2016 Malawi Investment Forum (MIF) at Bingu International Conventional Centre in Lilongwe.

The MIF is being held under the theme ‘Smart Partnership for Private Sector-Led Industrialization’.

Chilima, opening the forum on behalf of President Peter Mutharika, said government had also prioritized safety and security of investors just as it prioritized security for all residents.

He said his government recognized factors that influenced investors’ decisions to invest in a particular economy and that in that regard, Malawi government cherished the enviable political stability.

“My government is aggressively reversing all negative economic trends. We are no longer approaching the development agenda in the business as usual fashion.

“New principles and structures are being put in place to do away with the older ways that have hitherto failed to deliver,” he said, reading from a prepared speech.

He said government had implemented various reforms aimed at re-structuring processes and procedures as a way of further enabling the environment on investment.

Chilima said investors would find a public service that is efficient, effective and professional that served the interests of business community very well.

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