Competitive small milling technology

A unique centre – an entrepreneurial milling hub – located at Mount Edgecombe north of Durban in South Africa, now offers all-round support and technology to African small millers of maize, wheat and all other grains. 

The centre, which has been built up over the past three years, was established after Sé Higgins, who has had a long career in the South African milling industry, took up the agency for Agrex Spa of Italy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Located in Padova, the centre of the milling technology industry in Italy for 150 years, Agrex Spa is the world leader in 1-3ton/hour milling technology. 

Agrex Milling South Africa promises its clients – it has case studies of other clients to prove this – a return on investment of a minimum of 50%/year. 

Large maize and wheat millers benefit from economies of scale, but they suffer from large overheads and increasing costs of transport to and from producing, milling and consumer areas.

There are a number of reasons for the high returns earned by Agrex mills:

·      This is a cash business, with relatively low initial capital cost.

·      Transport is a large cost factor from outlying areas, but Agrex mills normally gain most of their income from local markets.

·      Large millers generally suffer from large overheads.

Local technologies

In most countries in Africa, local fabricators produce basic small mills, particularly hammer mills. Agrex's rollermills are in a different league to this local small milling technology.

Firstly, Agrex can result in the milling of, for instance, maize meal of extremely high quality – degermed, of excellent taste and visuality, of less than 1.5% fat content, and with good shelf life.

Secondly, Agrex offers a full system and intensive and ongoing backup, including training of staff on the fully operational mills of its associate milling company in Durban, where a milling training school is also sited.

What makes Agrex technology different from the indigenous technologies produced for the small milling industries throughout Africa?

Most strikingly, Agrex produces many different types of small mills – in fact, about 40.

This specialisation capitalises on the advantages of being small. Although small mills don't have the economies of scale of the big mills, they have many other advantages.

For instance, every Agrex mill is "bespoke" – it is built for the stated purpose of the client. The configuration required may be for a grits mills, a polenta mill, a flour mill, a fuba mill (maize flour of a Brazilian/Angolan type), a starch mill or for a mixture of products.

All mills, however, can also produce other products – for instance, grits mills can also produce maize meal.

The Agrex sale contract therefore entails taking a full brief and understanding what the customer wants to produce and for what markets, says Higgins.

The sale order is then sent to Agrex Spa in Padova. The mill is assembled there, then disassembled for shipping, then re-assembled at the African site, every time under the supervision of Italian technicians. 

The erection of the mill on its final site takes only about a week, and it can be in full production within two months.

Important for the first investor is that Agrex mills are horizontal rather than vertical (as many larger mills are). They therefore fit into normal buildings and do not require purpose-building.

Agrex Spa has over 600 mills installed internationally. Almost all are located in developing countries.

Among countries which have recently particularly seen high sales of Agrex technology have been Algeria and Russia. Algeria has an installed base of 120 Agrex mills, some to cater for the general wheat milling market and some to produce for specialised markets.

Agrex plant prices begin from $600,000.  As the payback period is normally very fast, owners often return soon to order additional lines.