Bokomo Botswana – A-Maize-ing
We learn how bokomo Botswana is helping stimulate home-grown raw materials & adapting to a post-COVID world.
Bokomo Botswana is a joint venture between a South African company, Pioneer Foods, which has recently been bought by PepsiCo International, and a local investor Brink Holdings (Pty) Ltd. The history of the business is a storied one. The company was established in 2003 as a milling facility for wheat and maize. Between 2004 and 2016 the business acquired several poultry businesses, commissioned a sugar packing plant and opened a distribution depot in Francistown. The poultry business was disposed of in 2017 as a stand-alone and sustainable business in order for the company to focus more on its core business, being milling. Bokomo commissioned a mix-full flour batching plant in 2018, a sorghum mill in 2019 and began construction of additional warehouse space in 2020 in line with a growth strategy. Bokomo Botswana is also the distribution agent for the Pioneer Foods’ range of products in Botswana.
But throughout all of this, three things have remained consistent.
It’s a combination of quality and service to customers while remaining focused on our mandate of supplying food to the Botswana nation. We focus on quality (a non-negotiable) first, and then on volume, making sure we have the capacity to supply the market as per demand,” says Werner de Beer, Bokomo Botswana’s CEO. “Thirdly we look at doing these in the most cost-effective way.”
The company is aligned to the economic growth of the country, as explained by de Beer: “Bokomo is very aware of its responsibility towards the achievement of national objectives and does so through its continued contribution towards food security (ongoing capacity upgrades), the development of the local labour market (job creation, localization, labour development and above minimum prescribed compensation), SME and local farmer support, transport and packing industries growth, the reduction in the importation bill of the country, re-investment in the economy, numerous sponsorships and social responsibility support towards the communities within which we operate and draw our labour force.”
De Beer attributes the success of the company to try to exceed the expectations on all its five stakeholders, but in particular to support received from its shareholders and the commitment and loyalty of the Bokomo team members. He is particularly keen on the importance of keeping the company’s merchandising team in-house, telling us, “We feel that if you have your own merchandising team there’s a sense of belonging and pride, resulting in more focus on making sure products get to stores, even pushing store managers to order “their” products that are low on the shelves.”
Bokomo has built itself into a well-respected and recognised name, but it still faces challenges from time-to-time. But where there are challenges, there are also opportunities.
“The biggest challenge and opportunity for Botswana is access to raw materials, namely grains,” de Beer says. “There is not sufficient maize and wheat produced in Botswana to cater to the production capacities of the millers, which are aligned to the demand of the consumers. As a result of this, most raw material needs to be imported. The COVID-19 situation has resulted in cross border supply delays, which has put continuous production under severe pressure.”
For a while now Bokomo has been involved in programmes to stimulate an industry of home-grown suppliers of raw materials.
“We’re part of the Millers’ Association in Botswana, working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry, Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board and with financial institutions to assist local farmers with producing more maize and wheat,” de Beer explains. “The Millers’ Association has given the undertaking to Government and these SMEs that whatever they produce locally will be procured by the local millers.”
Talking with de Beer it’s obvious how much faith he has in Botswana as a country and the opportunities it can provide. “It’s not a highly industrial country yet,” he admits. “People refer to Botswana as a landlocked country, but I’d refer to it as land-linked. We’re ideally situated, bordering four countries as a very politically stable country with huge opportunities.”
While Bokomo is working towards the creation of a home-grown supply chain of raw materials, there is no shortage of talent in the country.
“Local skills in terms of Human Resources, Sales and Finance are readily available in Botswana,” de Beer points out. “Technical skills required to operate and maintain the highly specialized milling machinery is at times a challenge because there are only a couple of millers in Botswana. We rely on our performance management and succession plans to identify potential talent and these team members are put through a fast track programme through our talent management process.”
The staff of Bokomo Botswana are all invested in the fortunes of the company, with a reward system that focuses on the achievements of individual and group targets.
“We make sure that every team member understands the vision of the company. This provides a clear direction and purpose. Through the alignment and cascading of performance scorecards, we make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction towards the achievement of company objectives. This linking of individual and departmental scorecards also ensures that leaders take the necessary effort to ensure every team member under his leadership are full performers. The leader must avail the necessary means, make sure that the individual has the ability and also assist with the member’s willingness to do his/her best. Our performance management system is geared to highlight team members that aren’t full performers yet, identify development needs through one-on-one discussions and then address these shortcomings by means of in-house or external training, coaching or mentoring process.”
Of course, the COVID-19 crisis has affected businesses around the world, and like everyone Bokomo has had to adapt to the new status quo, especially as an essential part of the food chain.
“There are a lot of procedures and protocols that had to be put in place in terms of sanitisation and stakeholder protection. We’re in the food supply chain so it’s vitally important we maintain operations on a 24/7 basis, thus having to make sure our team members remain healthy as well as our transporters that transport raw grains from South Africa. We’ve been liaising with various ministries on getting processes in place so that drivers that come across are tested and screened in a way that leads to minimal delays in our production processes.”
The precautions are extensive, but necessary and talking to de Beer it’s clear he’s already looking forward to the opportunities waiting for Bokomo, and Botswana, when they get through to the other side of this crisis.
“We find ourselves in challenging times, but the African tenacity will prevail and Bokomo will emerge stronger. The pandemic has pulled the team tighter and has made us more determined to reach even greater heights than in the past. We are very excited about being in a joint venture with an international giant like PepsiCo Inc., following the recent acquisition. We are eager to adopt some of their international best practices and are hopeful of the opportunity to add additional products to our existing range. This coupled with the already existing expansion plans of the company, is projecting a bright future for Bokomo Botswana,” de Beer says