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Making choices and factors influencing choices

Before introducing food processing into a village community, it is necessary to decide the overall purpose of the new initiative. Is the primary aim to improve the health and nutritional status of villagers, or is it to generate income, or both? This decision is important because it determines the types of support and resources that will be needed to make the introduction successful.

Processing for improved nutrition or food security

If the aim is to improve health and nutrition, an understanding of the current dietary problems is needed, together with any likely future changes to food consumption. A nutritional survey is conducted to identify deficiencies, and this is then used to decide which foods should be preserved to meet those deficiencies, and how this can be done at the lowest cost. Using this information, the community should decide what is the best way to establish the processing facilities, how they should be owned and managed, and who will do the work (Case study 5).

CASE STUDY 5 Community weaning food production

In Peru, a number of Andian communities faced high incidences of malnutrition among young children. There was insufficient family income to afford commercial weaning foods and project staff from the Lima office of the Intermediate Technology Development Group decided to assist villagers to produce their own products. The weaning foods were based on locally available raw materials and the project staff advised the communities on the correct proportions of crops to mix together to reach a correct nutritional balance of carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals. Importantly, the communities decided that the mothers of all the young children in the village were the best people to produce the weaning food because they had an obvious interest in its success. They meet together for one day every two weeks and make sufficient weaning foods to meet their needs for this period. They were trained to mix the ingredients in a hygienic way so that they remained safe from food poisoning. The weaning foods were stored in the mothers' homes and used as needed. The main benefits of this approach were the low cost of production using local ingredients, the use of technologies that were appropriate for the communities, and control of production by the mothers themselves. The women viewed the fortnightly production sessions as social occasions, and there was a constant change of members as new mothers joined the group, stayed until their children reached five years old, and then left until their next child was born. The groups strengthened the confidence of their members and allowed exchange of information and informal training in a wide variety of topics. (Source: Axtell and Intermediate Technology, 2001, personal communication Peru)

If the intention is to increase the levels of food security in a village, the crops that are chosen for processing must be familiar to the community and the processed products should already form part of people's normal diet. The processing methods should cost as little as possible and be effective in preserving the foods for the required period. The choices that need to be considered and the factors that influence these choices are summarized in Table 4.

Processing for sale

If the purpose of introducing food processing is to generate income for families or a community, a number of decisions need to be taken before production starts (Table 5). The first set of decisions concern the type of product to make. In general, the products that are best suited for village processing have a relatively high value and low volume. Similarly, high-value products that are made from cheap raw materials offer the best opportunities to add value and generate good profits. Typically fresh fruits, vegetables, cereals and root crops cost little during the harvest season, but can be processed into a range of high-value juices, pickles, baked goods, snack foods, dried foods, etc. (Table 6). This added value means that for a given level of income, a relatively small amount of food must be processed, and hence the size of equipment and the required investment can be kept at affordable levels.

TABLE 4 Factors influencing choice when processing for food security/improved nutrition


Factors that influence decisions

What foods to process?

Nature and extent of nutritional deficiencies, or causes of food insecurity, types of locally avail able foods.

What type of process to use?

The local acceptability of the processed food and required storage life, types of equipment required, availability of resources to establish production and maintain/repair of equipment, protection required by food from storage structures or packaging and local availability of suitable materials.

How to make sufficient amounts of processed food with the required quality?

Extent of knowledge and skills to process the food safely in sufficient quantities and make products of acceptable quality; amount of training and technical assistance required.

Who owns, manages and operates the facilities?

Degree of cohesion and cooperation between families in the community, and willingness to invest time and resources in community ventures or individual household production.

TABLE 5 Factors that influence choices when processing foods for sale


Factors that influence decisions

What foods to process?

Types, amounts, cost and quality of locally grown foods, suitability of varieties for processing, estimated size of the current and future demand for the product.

What type of process to use?

Extent of knowledge and skills to operate a process, resources to establish production and maintain/repair equipment, local availability, sources and costs of equipment, ingredients, packaging and distribution vehicles, requirements of the process for energy and clean water supplies, any waste disposal or air/water pollution issues.

What facilities are needed and where should they be located?

Availability of a suitable production site near to raw material supply with access road and essential services (power, water, fuel, etc.); and production capacity required.

Who owns, manages and operates the facilities?

Degree of cohesion and cooperation between families in the community, willingness to invest time and resources in community ventures or individual family based production.

What scale of production to choose?

Size of demand for products and share of market (from market investigation), knowledge and skills to plan production and produce sufficient quantities of food, numbers of trained production and administration staff and skills required, avail- ability and cost of processing equipment with the required throughput, and amount of technical assistance required.

How to make food with the required quality?

Extent of knowledge and skills to process the food safely to produce the quality required by customers; number of staff trained in quality assurance and, amount of training and technical assistance required.

What marketing and selling techniques to use?

Types of consumers, choice of advertising and promotion methods, distribution methods and sales outlets to be used, the main competitors and their marketing and selling techniques.

How much finance is needed?

Total investment costs, sources of finance, production costs, expected income, cash flow and profitability.

Product selection

The two most important considerations are as follows.

1. Supply side. The potential types of crops or animals that can be grown in an area, the likely amounts that can be produced, the cost of production, the quality of the raw materials in relation to those produced in other areas and their suitability for processing.

2. Demand side. The nature and size of the demand that exists (or could exist in the future) for products that can be made by processing these crops or animals, and the number of competitors.

Communities, planners and policymakers need to balance supply and demand factors when making decisions on what type of processing to introduce.

A common falsehood: "Because there is an annual glut of a particular crop in an area, it should be processed to avoid wastage". The reality: "Market requirements determine the choices of crops or livestock to be grown and processed for sale".

Access to information is a key factor in deciding which products to make and which markets to exploit. Most rural communities are isolated and have little access to information on the type and size of demand for products, quality requirements of consumers or the trading conditions imposed by retailers and other buyers. An important role of government extension services and international development organizations is to find and distribute this type of information to rural producers.

It is important to emphasize that people who have little experience of food processing should select products that have a low risk of causing food poisoning. Acidic foods (such as yoghurt, pickles, fruit juices, jams, etc.) and most types of dried foods are considered safer than low-acid foods such as meats, milk, fish and vegetables. These latter foods are much more likely to cause food-borne illness if processing conditions are incorrect, or if there is poor hygiene by food handlers. Similarly, some types of process require higher levels of skill and expertise, or are more expensive to set up and operate than others. These factors should be taken into account when selecting a rural processing operation. The types of products that are usually suitable for village production are shown in Table 6.

TABLE 6 Products that are likely to be suitable for village processing


Bakery products
(cakes, breads, biscuits, buns, etc.)

(beers, wines, juices, squashes & cordials)

Confectionery products

Dried or smoked foods
(fruits, root crops, vegetables, meat, fish, etc.)

(jams, pastes, pickles, chutneys, sauces, etc.)

Snack foods


Flour milling, cooking oil extraction, cassava processing and crop drying are also suitable and are described in the accompaning booklet in this serie High hopes for post harvest.

Each of these products:

Feasibility studies

As in all small business development, once the type of product has been decided, it is necessary to examine all of the factors that influence the likely success of the proposed enterprise, which is known as conducting a feasibility study. The types of questions in Table 5 form the basis of a feasibility study; refer to sources of information in Annex B for further details.

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