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Belgian rice for famine victims in Horn of Africa

30 March 2012

Food company Mars Belgium is partnering with the Red Cross to deliver food aid to the Horn of Africa

Sint-Stevens-Woluwe, 29 March 2012 - Beginning today, the Belgian rice, which arrived in Kenya’s Port of Mombasa, will be distributed as part of an initiative by Mars Belgium and the Red Cross. Employees of Mars Belgium are seeking to do their part in alleviating the crisis brought about by prolonged famine in the Horn of Africa by donating rice to needy families in Kenya. The first two “Belgian” containers carrying 23.2 tons of rice from Olen - enough for about 150,000 meals - has arrived in the Port of Mombasa. The Kenyan Red Cross is now in charge of the local distribution of the rice. More aid shipments are planned for Africa in the coming months, thanks to an intensive mobilisation of the employees of Mars Belgium and other Mars divisions in Europe, as well as the Belgian suppliers and consumers.

A famine of unparalleled proportions is currently raging throughout East Africa. 10 million people are threatened with hunger, with the lives of 750,000 children hanging in the balance.

A few months ago, this humanitarian catastrophe motivated employees of food company Mars Belgium to send aid to the desperate population in the Horn of Africa in the form of one of Mars’ core products: rice. To do this, employees at Mars Belgium’s head office organised the “Rice for Africa” aid campaign, coordinating their efforts with their Uncle Ben’s factory in Olen, the largest of Mars’ rice production units in Europe. They opted for a specific type of rice packed in 25 kg bags with cooking instructions translated into English and Swahili.

Under the designation “Rice for Africa”, employees of Mars Belgium raised the funds needed for the production, packaging and transport of 23.2 tons of rice. They did this by organising local fundraising events, including a fundraising breakfast at their Belgian headquarters. Logistic support from the suppliers Bischof+Klein, K&N and Maersk made it possible to ship the rice in containers to the Port of Mombasa.

Philippe Henry de Frahan, General Manager of Mars Belgium, explains: “As a family-run food company, we feel it goes without saying that we are going to commit our own core products in the fight against this prolonged famine. Based on our principles of responsibility and mutuality, we see it as our moral duty to do our part in the midst of this ongoing tragedy.”

But the biggest challenge is to get the Belgian rice to the neediest and most destitute families in the region. To facilitate this, a joint effort with the Red Cross was set up. Upon arriving at the Port of Mombasa (Kenya), the rice will be transported by the Kenyan Red Cross to the worst affected villages in Kenya and distributed to needy families. Each of the families designated by the Kenyan Red Cross will receive 1 bag of rice, which is enough to feed them for 1 month.

Speaking on the aid effort, Professor D. Sondag-Thull, Director-General of the Belgian Red Cross, said: “This initiative on the part of Mars Belgium is enormously helpful. These 23.2 tons of rice will make an excellent contribution to our food distribution programme in the Horn of Africa.”

This does not mark the end of efforts by the staff at Mars Belgium. General Manager Philippe Henry de Frahan explains: “Our employees have done a magnificent job. But we are determined to procure even more aid for Africa.”

Mars Belgium has since begun to take the following steps: in addition to its own staff, employees of other Mars divisions in Europe, as well as some of Mars Belgium’s suppliers - such as ad agency VVL BBDO - are taking part in the Belgian initiative. Fundraising meals are being organised everywhere under the banner “Rice for Africa”, in homes and offices alike. In February, Mars Belgium also launched consumer fundraising campaigns together with retail chains Cora and Cactus, both in Belgium and in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Proceeds from these new initiatives will go exclusively to the Red Cross, which will use the funds to offer additional and targeted aid to needy African families.

Professor D. Sondag-Thull, Director-General of the Belgian Red Cross, explains: “The Red Cross continues to maintain a strong presence in the Horn of Africa, where the suffering is extreme. Unfortunately, this famine is spreading through the Sahel region towards the western part of the continent. The Red Cross is currently active in Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Senegal, but there are other countries which are also at risk. A huge amount of financial resources will be needed to respond to such a large-scale crisis, both for emergency measures as well as for longer-term efforts. We are therefore grateful to Mars Belgium for contributing in the way of fundraising as well.”

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