Despite drought, uncertain trading conditions and some of the largest locust swarms ever seen in the country, South Africa continues to produce food that is not only of the highest quality, but the safest on the African continent as well.
In November, South Africa was ranked 70th out of 113 countries globally on the 2021 Global Food Security (GFS) Index, besting Ghana (82nd), Kenya (90th) and Nigeria (97th) in Africa.
As Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz) points out, while South Africa may have dropped one place from its 2020 ranking, it is the improvement of other countries’ food security rather than any decline on the part of the Rainbow Nation responsible for the lower placing.
As has been the case in previous years, South Africa again performed admirably in the subcategories of food affordability and food availability, quality and safety and protecting natural resources for food production, scoring higher than other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Particularly since the republic exports produce to many other parts of the world, it has become essential that these high standards are maintained if South Africa’s status as the continent’s leading “breadbasket” is to be maintained.
That is also true for domestic manufacturers of food products, as the South African consumers are extremely discerning when it comes to what they put in their trolleys, and are becoming more so as new information becomes available about health risks associated with certain foods.
Food retailers go to great lengths to ensure that foods they purchase meet all requisite safety standards, as failing to do so can meet with disastrous consequences.
One of the best ways budding farming entrepreneurs and small businesses can to this is to become certified with the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
Each standard within the ISO range indicates the tools required – policies, process flows, procedures, work instructions, forms reports and statistical analysis, for example – to help the organisation fulfill its objectives.
For Cape Town-based Kathy’s Kitchen, a manufacturer of a range of health crackers and date balls, obtaining an ISO 22000 Food Safety Management certification has been a revelation.
The company, which employs eight fulltime employees and four contract workers when large orders are made, currently supplies Kwik-Spars and Super Spars, Wellness Warehouse and a number of independent health and organic stores and pharmacies.
Kathy’s Kitchen has been working with leading South African ISO standards training and implementation specialist WWISE to become ISO-certified, recognising that larger retailers like Pick n Pay and Dis-chem required a thorough food safety audit before stocking any goods.
Company director Victor Sables says the certification has been a game-changer for the business.
“Working on the ISO standards has improved all our systems and the staff is more empowered to work towards the standards required when manufacturing food,” he explains.
“Implementing the system has also been a learn experience for all our staff and myself. We have had to sit together and look at all the business processes, and it has been interesting to see how the staff’s view of what is happening daily has changed. Everyone is very positive about our future.”
Sables worked closely with WWISE managing director and lead auditor Muhammad Ali to address some key aspects in implementing the standard. These included:
- Establishing a very high-level framework of the operations, from sales to production and dispatch;
- Interviewing staff to determine what each person was doing every hour of every day;
- Outlining the operations of each section and documenting a process flow with specific duties and responsibilities for each staff member in the section;
- Poring over relevant literature and holding in-depth interviews with WWISE; and
- Formulating a detailed plan for the business and all the sections of the office and the factory.
“Implementing the system is as easy of as complicated as you want to make it, but the cost of implementing it is very low,” Sables says.
“It is mainly man hours and paperwork, but the benefits can be very good. You need to be aware that the system will not be of any benefit if you do not implement and enforce it. The financial rewards are not apparent at the start, but once it works your clients will receive great service and quality, which will lead to more orders and new clients.”
As with any major undertaking, Sables acknowledges that there were challenges, particularly in respect to the physical requirements and equipment unique to Kathy’s Kitchen’s manufacturing processes which either had to be improved and or replaced.
However, he is in no doubt that becoming ISO-certified will be a boon for a business.
“If you are struggling with providing good service and good quality, then I would suggest you really look at ISO standards for your business.
“The standards are great to help your staff think differently about improving your service and product quality. It takes time to see the effect of the all the time and effort, but it will be worth it in the end. You should always be ready to accept the recommendations and changes that will come.”
Ali is well-placed to have seen the uptake of South African produce both locally and abroad, and the high regard in which it is held. “Our farmers and entrepreneurs really do have a great opportunity since our food already enjoyed the world over. But it is important that we continue to improve and keep up with global standards. ISO certifications are the best way to do this,” he says.