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Graduation at the African Milling School in Kenya

January 2017, by Darren Parris, Milling and Grain

I remember where I was… watching history being made

I would like to think, that like me, many of you reading this now, will have gone through your childhood and at some point, you will have had that brief moment of jealous wishing when talking with your elders and thought “I wish I could have experienced the magic of the space race and been a part of that “Where were you?!” moment when Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon or, hearing of Wilber Wright’s first flight around the Statue of Liberty, experiencing the crowds at Woodstock or being part of the period when the Beatles ruled the airwaves. For me personally, it was the Berlin Wall. I remember exactly where I was, on a cold Thursday evening, on 9 November 1989. At the time, I was 16 years old, having just finished school and in my first year at college  working part time in a burger bar to fund my studies. I was listening to the radio when the broadcast was interrupted with the news that the Berlin wall was coming down and it was the beginning of the end for the cold war and Germany would once again be reunified.

Watching the images on television that night after getting home and seeing the cheering crowds, a divided city for almost 30 years, knowing that overnight Europe would never be the same again.

That feeling of euphoria and excitement for all those Berliners and East Germans was a moment to be cherished. One felt and wanted to share in their victory and their achievement. It was great and I was happy to be able to say that I remember where I was. I never thought I would have another moment like this in my life time, and sometimes small, seemingly insignificant things happen that are the beginnings of small cogs in a chain ofhistorical events that set the stage to change the lives of many.

I suspect when Martin Luther King, stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963 and declared “I have a dream” that he could not have truly believed the extent in which much of that dream came true and continues to do so today. So, when a charismatic Swiss man quietly declared to his colleagues, “I have a dream, to set up a school of milling in the heart of Africa to give Africans the opportunity to sustainably educate their own millers to a high level of expertise within the Milling sector. I would like to establish a Milling School of excellence that will be respected throughout Africa”, the beginning of a small seed was planted. This man was Mr Martin Schlauri, a man who would later be described by his students as a man whose veins don’t flow red with blood but instead run white with flour. We all have dreams, but few of us get the opportunity to act upon those dreams. Luckily for Martin Schlauri and Africa, his foresight was shared by his peers where he worked and a budget was agreed to turn this dream into a reality. So for me, my magic moment of being able to say “I was actually there” was beginning to take shape. 20 months ago I visited the African Milling School in Nairobi, Kenya as part of their opening ceremony as well as spending a week with the inaugural class. I met 27 very enthusiastic and, a little nervous, students from eight different African countries, 14 different mills and comprising of 26 men and one lady. They had come together at the African Milling School in Nairobi, as their employers, the flour mills they came from had bought into the benefits of training its staff and the benefits this may bring their business. “Quality is never an accident but it is always the result of intelligent effort.”

So it began, and I reported on it, I remember writing that “One of the unique aspects of working in an ever-changing, international industry committed to playing its part in feeding a growing population, is the fascinating places our quest for timely, relevant and informative journalism takes us to. I had the privilege of being the first western reporter to visit the African Milling School, located in Nairobi, Kenya to meet its students, teachers and Martin Schlauri – the brainchild of the school. Opened in March 2015, I visited the school to see the first batch of 27 students undertake their training. When you have a dream and start a project like this, no one is ever sure if it will truly work, we have a saying ‘Success has many fathers and failed is an orphan” Well for the record this project had two founding fathers Martin Schlauri, Managing Director African Milling School and Andreas Flückiger, Buhler President of Mid East Africa region, without whose passionate support, this African Milling School would never have been built.

“What is the miller?”

“What is the miller?”, this was the question posed to me by Martin Schlauri, Managing Director of the African Milling School in Nairobi, Kenya when I first visited 20 months ago. As fast as the rhetorical question had been asked, the answer followed. “The miller operates the plant, making sure it is clean, has a good sound by making sure all the machines are aligned correctly and of course there is a good quality of product with a good output”. In fact, Martin went on further to explain that the miller is the supervisor of the plant 24/7. So, it is clear to all that a well-trained miller is extremely important in the running of a mill, but, where can people go to train as a miller? Well that was the question 20 months ago and here I am back at the African Milling School again witnessing the very answer to that question and what a great answer it is – 27 fully graduated African millers.

I have been so proud to have shared this moment in their journey. Present were 27 trainee millers, their families, friends, teachers and mentors enjoying a beautiful alfresco lunch under the radiant Kenyan sun. The scene was set for this momentous event in African and global history. And we were all there! Watching history being made.

We were about to witness the culmination of years of planning that enabled the intensive two-year training course in the art of milling. Martin opened up the proceedings and reminded everyone what it had taken to get to where we were today. The setting up of a school in Africa for millers has been his concept,

”I’ve promoted it and encouraged Bühler to sponsor it. Now it is running and now it is bearing fruit. Besides, when you have had a very rich milling life, this is a way of saying thank you and giving something back,” he added as a final remark.


As each student stood up to receive their diploma and spatula, donning their graduation sash, you can see them all beaming with deserved pride. Then, as the penultimate student collected their graduation sash, Martin built up to the ‘Student of the Year award’; this is the one student who over the two years has out-performed everyone else by scoring the highest marks in the written exam. Winner of the prestigious Golden Spatula award and top student was Mohammed Fawzy from Five Star Mills in Egypt.

At every class graduation, the class president that has been nominated and elected by his or her classmates will take to the podium and be the defacto class speaker on behalf of the whole class. This year for this prestigious premier graduation event for the class of 2016, we welcomed Suliman Omar to the front. Greeting everyone, Suliman Omar from Mombassa maize mills took to the podium and said, “It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the African Milling School for the apprentice milling graduation for the premier class. The graduation ceremony is the most significant and meaningful occasion in the school-learning calendar for the graduates and as such I would like to extend a very special welcome to my fellow graduates here today. We will be receiving diplomas for eight different nationalities; 24 graduates are male and one is female.” He continued, “We have all done it. We have accomplished one of our professional goals. It has been a personal commitment, and one of pride, because we have all worked hard together. Our efforts will not go to waste, for the milling diploma will open many doors for us because it is widely respected in our industry. Today as we gather with family, friends and colleagues, we look back on what we have achieved over the last two years and can reflect on what we have become and what we will become.”

Suliman Omar added, “The graduation ceremony is precious to all of us as we are among the few who are privileged enough to take part in this two-year course and we are among the few in Africa with a milling diploma. We must acknowledge those who helped make our Milling School experience possible and we have a responsibility to our milling companies, no matter what our personal goals or aspirations are, we must not focus on our selfish ideas. We should challenge ourselves to be civically engaged in our work.”

“Our future seems destined to be in capable hands for we have achieved an exceptional qualification with perhaps too many highlights to single one out as the best. We have learned theoretical and practical training in the flour milling industry, machine design and functionality, grain science, technology. We have also learned most of the parameters of quality control and operational excellence and much more. We can now ensure plants are operating and maintained to a very high standard leading to plant efficiency and longevity. Flour milling may not be rocket science but rather a niche and inspiring business. We must be mindful of cost and embrace opportunities. So I say to you all, congratulations, this graduation marks the end of one journey and the beginning of a more important one – the journey of implementation. Thank you everyone, Thank you Martin Schlauri.”

After a rapturous applause, one of the course mentors took to the stage, Mr Colin Halliday from Nigerian Flour Mills. With a career spanning more than 35 years in milling, Colin spent the first twenty working in the United Kingdom and the last 15 years in Nigeria for Nigerian Flour Mills, who mill over 8,000mt of wheat a day, making them one of the largest single site mills in the world and the largest miller in Africa which, due to its size and complexity, makes it one of the largest employers of millers in the world. After thanking the African Milling School for inviting him along to both visit and speak, Colin went on to explain first-hand how their milling company has benefited from having two students on the course and how their company has seen them develop and benefit the mill because of their attendance at the African Milling School. Colin went onto observe that “Over the last 35 years our industry has experienced many changes particularly in automation, equipment design and working practices. However, the key ingredient of milling has not changed, the requirement for enthusiastic, committed and well-trained millers is even more important today. Well-trained millers push to achieve optimum extraction rates, increased mill utilisation, consistent product quality and also help gain a competitive advantage on new product development. This is now becoming a key issue for our customers.” Colin explained that the African Milling School experience is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for his two young millers, Peter and Shidi. He explained that the training in Nairobi is not only focused on building technical professional competence and confidence, but also on character building and discipline. This structure has helped them both develop into well-rounded professionals who are technically sound and well balanced. Colin said Peter and Shidi are now fully equipped to lead our milling teams in the future, showing greater maturity and confidence and are now taking the lead in problem solving in our mills, expressing their own opinions and ideas. Colin continues to say “As great as it is for me to witness their self development, it is further gratifying that their progression has been seen to have made a great impact, not only within the capacity of their milling duties but also, to some benefit, it has had a rippling effect upon the other millers, helping to create an environment of continuous improvement and discipline. I think both students have grown ten-foot-tall over the last two years!”

Talking with Colin he told me that Flour Mills of Nigeria considers their partnership with the African Milling School as a long-term commitment. He confirmed that they currently have two millers who have already completed their first year and are now progressing in the second year school program. Additionally,  he said they have a further two millers registered for the 3rd year program, endorsing that Flour Mills of Nigeria, as a company, firmly believe that the African Milling School is an important training development program that they consider integral and necessary for the future of their millers and for our industry as a whole. Colin spoke about the African Milling School’s level of organisation as being very special indeed.

He remarked that, “The students feel at home and the discipline, structure and resources are truly exemplary. The program is run with leadership and expertise and all concerned should feel very proud of what you have achieved here in Nairobi.” Colin was sure that many of the students, like Peter and Shidi, have learned so much, however more than that, he elaborated that this experience had allowed for these young millers to use this great opportunity to make connections and from that, build strong friendships and everlasting memories. Finishing off Colin went on to say “I would like to close by saying – congratulations to all the students on their Graduation and to encourage them to continue to put into practice the new knowledge and skills you have acquired. Milling is a fantastic career, it is challenging, frustrating, but always enjoyable and extremely rewarding. You will meet wonderful likeminded people throughout your career, everyday there is always something new and it is your curiosity and desire that will enable you to continuously learn, improve and ultimately, be the best that you can be.

I really hope that your career in milling is happy and rewarding to you all.” As the speeches drew to a close, we all moved to the bottom of the field, still on the site of the African Milling School, where all of the students took it in turns to plant the ceremonial tree. Wearing a sash and a smile, the students were euphoric as we congratulated each of the graduated millers personally. The 25 November, 2016 will be a date to go down in history, as the day in which the first ever group of African students graduated from a Milling course in Sub-Saharan Africa. Congratulations from all of us at Milling and Grain. We look forward to staying in touch and following your careers over the coming years.

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