Delphine had no idea how modern mills operate, and I was mostly used to smaller structures handling 2 to 40k tons a year. This was a great opportunity for us to delve deeper in the running of such a big factory, employing 240 people.
"Les Grands Moulins d’Abidjan" or "GMA" (Abidjan’s Great Mills / AGM) were created in 1963, not long of after the declaration of Independence of the country.
Big poster of 1963
Right from the start, the AGM silos were built with a humongous capacity of 30 000 tons of wheat
The very distinct shape of the AGM build has, since then, been a landmark of the Abidjan surroundings and the Ebrié lagoon.
Nowadays AGM crush around 300 000 tons of wheat a year, and are one of the major economic assets of the country, with a 50 billion CFA turnover (around 75 million €)
The biggest strength of the company lies in its constant modernisation ever since it was created.
The wheat arrives by sea. This long conveyor belt allows for a fast unloading of the 15 000 regular tons of grain.
Most of the raw material comes from Canada and from the USA ("strong wheat", with a high gluten concentration) to be then mixed with French varieties (less gluten) after the crushing process.
The follow up is exactly similar to standard industrial flour production: the wheat is kept in silos at a very precise 13.5% humidity. Too much of it could mean germination, emergence of fungi or fermentation.
When the production units demand it, the wheat is forwarded to the machines. It is first washed and cleaned of all impurities by vertical sieves dividing the grains depending of their shapes.
A magnet handles the eventual metallic micro elements left. Health issues aside, this step mostly prevents fires (flour is highly flamable). A single spark from any metallic residue could trigger a chain reaction on all levels, propagating the fire at very high speed.
And with good reason too: wheat is transported at very high speed throughout the entire factory thanks to very powerful suction pipes.
Raw wheat is washed, and left to rest, still wet, in wheat bushels for 24 to 48 hours, giving it enough time to tenderize for the first milling.
There are 8 stairs in the building, each dealing with its own specialization. Even with intrinsic mapping of the building, it’s not really easy following the comings and goings of the products in the pipes.
The clean raw wheat passes multiple times through increasingly smaller grooved stainless steel cylinders (replacing the old millstone) , allowing the wheat grain to separate completely from their envelope.
With each passing, superimposed and very precise sieves named "planchisters" sort the products by sizes.
Planchisters : big rotating cabins equipped with all sizes of sieves
That way, the bran gets separated the semolina.
A part of the coarser product is taken out, such as thing bran, middlings (large bran), several different types of semolina, and a non refined flour.
Each product its pipe !
The wheat semolina then travels into thinner and smoother cylinders (non grooved) to be crushed into thin particles. The semi refined flour is called "breakdown flour".
The thin wheat particles ultimately got through even thinner smooth cylinders, and is crushed into the thin converting flour.
This step handles the assembly of the byproducts (crushing, breakdown and converting flour, bran, middlings, thin semolina) before packing.
Vegetable protein or ascorbic acid can also be added during this last step to answer the massive enhanced flour demand from bakers.
Th AGM have a stunning crushing capacity of 1300 tons/day !
As with any self respecting mill of this capacity, the AGM have their very own testing labs, handling the contents of each new batches of wheat, thus keeping the assembly at very steady levels of quality.
Une série de tests détermine à chaque mouture les teneurs de chaque lot de blé, ce qui permet de faire des assemblages pour garder une constance des propriété de la farine à travers les lots utilisés.
A bread baking departement validates these testings but also helps with the 2 weeks long training of bakers in the handling of these specific types of flours.
70% of the production is destined to national flour supplying, whereas the rest is exported to Burkina Faso.
The majority of the national product is used in local markets by bakers producing a very reliable quality of bread. But there is also the increasing (about 20%) demand coming from "mamans beignets" (donut moms) who sell their delicious fried pastries.
AGM very rarely handle the shippement of their product: the cost of transportation in Africa is incertain and can vary greatly.
Clients do not seem to mind, quite the opposite actually: better have a steady price on quality products and handling shippement themselves.
A big thank you to Mr. Jacquet, industrial director, for letting us discover this pretty impressive factory.
To top things off, he surprised us with an amazing impromptu sunset from the rooftop of the factory...
mere hours before our final departure from this beautiful country.
So long, and thanks for all the bread !
:: Translation by Feyt