On my first visit to Cameroon, I had been asked to speak at the formal opening of the Imperial Foods noodle plant—a public-private partnership that helps to illustrate how USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) serves American agriculture in markets around the world.
The idea for an Asian noodle plan in Africa began to take shape in 2003 during a visit to the U.S. Wheat Associates (USWA) office in Seoul, Korea. Dr. Won Bang Koh of USWA asked us a simple question: “Why are there no Asian noodles in Africa?”
Of course, American wheat is used throughout the world in Asian-style noodles in markets such as Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America. I soon learned that only two Asian noodle factories existed in Africa. Working with FAS grain analysts, we looked at grain market competition and examined transportation costs. We realized that the United States would have a considerable advantage if noodle production plants existed in West Africa. New products and consumption would mean increased exports of U.S. wheat.
A market feasibility study showed widespread acceptance in our test markets. With this information, USWA’s Cape Town, South Africa office started promoting the idea to African businesses. In Nigeria, the concept took hold and, by 2012, production of Asian-style noodles had increased U.S. wheat sales by 750,000 tons annually.
In addition to promoting exports of U.S. agricultural products, FAS’ mission includes reducing global food insecurity. We were pleased when USWA found African businessman Ahmadou Danpuolo Baba, owner of Imperial Foods, to develop a product that included greater amounts of protein and micronutrients.
FAS provided Imperial Foods with the names of industry experts we work with: USWA, the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH), International Relief & Development and the Wheat Marketing Center. These contacts and others provided tangible expertise.
Why did FAS do this? We saw it as a win-win situation. FAS would increase U.S. exports, create jobs in rural America and help to strengthen global food security. In turn, Imperial Foods would boost its sales, create jobs and expand nutrition in Africa.
Today, Imperial Foods is the first plant of its kind in Africa—a plant with world class equipment, knowledge and training that buys American agricultural products and provides a nutritious new product to African consumers.
Currently, the American brand of agriculture continues to surge in popularity worldwide. Farm exports in fiscal year 2011 reached a record high of $137.4 billion—exceeding past highs by $22.5 billion—and supported 1.15 million jobs here at home. The agricultural trade surplus now stands at a record $42.7 billion.