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Lean Production Brings Profits & Hope To African SMEs

By Admin

In a press release this month, the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva revealed that a lean production education program in Kenya is bringing great hope to several Kenyan SMEs, with one participating company, Mace Foods, almost doubling its packaging rate for dried chilies and vegetables headed to Europe.

 Why Africa Needs to ‘Go Lean’

Lean production practices, originally developed by Japanese auto maker Toyota, are based on the philosophy that all work processes should have the common goal of added value. Companies that follow lean production and manufacturing models are able to identify wasteful practices, which ultimately reduces costs, enhances quality, increases production, and boosts employee satisfaction. African SMEs, like those of other developing nations, are typically plagued with higher operating costs and lower productivity than their larger competitors. By following lean practices and increasing productivity, African SMEs become more attractive potential suppliers to international value chains. The SMEs also gain a competitive advantage as individual exporters.

 The Educational Program

From June 2014 through January 2015, three entities—ITC, German multinational engineering and electronics company Robert Bosch GmbH, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology—partnered to train Kenyan SMEs in lean methodologies.

Employees of all levels from three Kenyan agri-food SMEs attended Bosch- and ITC-led workshops focused on the analysis of processes, recognition of areas needing improvement, and development of strategies for making necessary adjustments. In the release, ITC said, “Notably, making these adjustments did not require investment in expensive new equipment, in keeping with the lean methodology's ethos of doing more with less.”

The Participating Companies

 Mace Foods. As mentioned above, this small company saw outstanding improvements.  At the start of the program, Mace Foods operators’ per-hour sachet packing rate was about 24. Today, this rate has increased an astonishing 92% (to 46 per hour), and the defective product count has dropped to virtually zero. Sales have also increased significantly, and order lead time has gone from over four days to less than one.

Greenforest Foods. Through the lean production program, this honey packing company drastically altered its packing process, resulting in a 28% increase in production. Rather than scooping honey from buckets into jars and then weighing the jars one at a time, employees began using buckets fitted with gauges that allowed them to fill jars and weigh them simultaneously. Not only did production increase, but the physical toll on employees was significantly reduced, and order lead time went from 13 hours to 7.3 hours.

Stawi Foods & Fruits. By simply instituting a system for controlled stock levels, this porridge-flour processing company benefitted incredibly from the program, cutting its lead time from seven days to one. In addition, the company introduced a standard one-kilo scoop, which allowed workers to fill a one-kilogram packet of flour in half the time.

The Takeaway

Some members of the national Kenya Institute of Supplies Management (KISM) also participated in the workshops and saw how profoundly the businesses benefitted from the educational program firsthand. The KISM plans to advise and train more businesses to improve production and order fulfillment processes nationwide by spreading lean methodology among SMEs in Kenya. Also, this year, ITC, Bosch and KISM will work with SMEs in Kenya’s mango processing sector to continue growing a future of hope for African businesses.


At R.W. Lyall, we’re firm believers in lean manufacturing because we’ve seen how it benefits our company, the economy and the environment. To learn more about our vision and how it relates to lean production and manufacturing, visit our page on Manufacturing Excellence.

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