Long before the invention of the wheel, early man discovered that breaking a head of grain between two stones could yield a valuable new food source. In doing so, the process of milling was born. For millennia thereafter, stone milling remained the only way to turn grain into flour – the ‘staff of life’ on which civilizations were built.
The first stone mills were powered by slave and animal labour and later by water or wind. They processed the grain by grinding and sold it on to bakers who turned the flour into bread. And so it remained for 8,000 years until the industrial age saw automated mills transform the process of turning a golden field of wheat into flour.
Today’s modern flour mills bear little resemblance to those of early industrialization. The processes and volumes involved defy the imagination. The mills of the 21st century now produce hundreds of different flour varieties for every conceivable need; an estimated 350 million tons of wheat flour annually for human consumption alone.
In short, wheat milling has become a global industry – and one that bears a great responsibility. For the plant that was cultivated by the pioneers of agriculture over 10,000 years ago is now the staple food for a third of the world’s population; the first line of defense between 2 billion people and the abomination of hunger.
Al Ghurair Foods helped pioneer milling in the Gulf of Arabia and, in 1976, set up the UAE’s first such facility, the National Flour Mills, in Shindaga, Dubai. In the four decades since, parent group Al Ghurair Investment (AGI) has built mills far from the UAE’s own shores – bringing much-needed nutrition to developing communities.
Sourcing the wheat supplies for our mills in the UAE, Sudan, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and beyond – and for many other millers worldwide – is the mission of Al Ghurair Resources, the agricultural commodities arm of AGI and a leading trader in the international grains sector.
Overseeing that sector is the International Association of Operative Millers, the world’s most influential grain milling forum. Founded in 1896, the IAOM is one of the oldest trade associations in existence – and Al Ghurair played a pivotal role in establishing its Mideast & Africa chapter.
The IAOM was also the first to provide a global forum for the ‘dusty industries. ’ – a title earned by grain mills over many generations as a result of the flour-covered faces and uniforms of the millers; a ‘white swarm’ of workers leaving the mills at the end of their days work.
Such traditional scenes may be fading into history – but the history of milling itself occupies a special place in the story of man. There is no religion that does not revere bread as much more than a source of food; no holy book that fails to recognize its higher spiritual significance.
Narratives surrounding flour and bread may have varied in detail through the ages – but the context is universally agreed. A ‘humble’ loaf of bread represents much more than bodily nourishment. It is the physical embodiment of God’s great bounty.