Rehoboth — Traditionally, mahangu (pearl millet) is usually made into a porridge called "oshifima" or fermented to make a drink called "oshikundu".
After doing research, a Rehoboth couple has shown that mahangu can be made into delicious cookies.
The mahangu biscuit started off as a part-time home-made product for G&B Mahangu Enterprises co-owners, Grete Izaks and Brigitte van Wyk.
About two years ago, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry as the custodian of supporting the development of new technologies and products to address household food security and eradicate poverty, initiated a programme to add value to mahangu in general.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry brought on board G&B Mahangu Enterprises as well as the Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB).
Fruitful discussions took place where the three parties agreed on the best way forward.
"We started experimenting in 2010 and perfected the idea in 2011.
We faced some challenges. With mahangu it is not easy to get the perfect dough.
And since there was also no previous background on experimenting with it to make cookies, it was hard for us. This led to the difficult process of testing and changing recipes. But finally research was conducted on success stories in the biscuit industry," Izaks narrated.
Eventually after two years of trial, products were sent to a laboratory in South Africa where they underwent stringent testing to determine the nutritive values and nutritional components.
Izaks said the laboratory issued them with a health certificate that pronounced the products fit for human consumption, ultimately allowing the products to enter the market.
"All this led to G&B Mahangu Enterprises that developed a unique Namibian product for Namibians which consists of four different types," she proudly said.
The four types are mahangu oatmeal, mahangu cookies, mahangu biscuits with choc chips and mahangu cookies with nuts.
With all the research that went into the development of the different products, the duo said they have ensured the products are developed at the lowest possible input costs to allow the products to be affordable to all in the different market segments.
"Although business is a little slow since it is a new product, we believe it will improve now that it was launched," Izaks explained.
Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry John Mutorwa officially launched the cookies made from mahangu on the Namibian market last week.
"Therefore, it can be announced that the mahangu biscuits developed by G&B Mahangu Enterprises are of typically high Namibian standards, affordable and highly nutritive, and it is anticipated that they will be part of the leading products in the biscuit industry," Izaks stated.
The pair employs five people to help with the baking. The company gets its raw supplies from Namib Mills in Windhoek.
So far, they have sold approximately 2 000 packs of cookies excluding those sent for research to South Africa.
The government supplied some equipment on a two-year loan basis. The pair has injected close to N$60 000 into the project.
The products will officially hit the shelves in two weeks' time and a pack will cost N$13.
"We are in negotiations to stock the cookies at Shoprite. Fruit n Veg and Pick n Pay," said Izaks.
Traditionally, mahangu is pounded with a piece of wood (pestle) in a 'pounding area'.
The floor of the pounding area is covered with a concrete-like coating made from the material of termite mounds. As a result, some sand and grit get into the pounded mahangu, so products like oshifima are usually swallowed without chewing.
After pounding, winnowing removes the chaff.
Some industrial grain processing facilities now exist, such as those operated by Namib Mills. Efforts are also being made to develop smaller scale processing using food extrusion and other methods.
In a food extruder, the mahangu is milled into a paste before being forced through metal die. Products made this way include breakfast cereals, including puffed grains and porridge, pasta shapes, and rice.