Autumn 2021

Our Knights & Distinguished Personalities
A Helping Hand

Choithrams is about the world of food – a socially responsible enterprise that has over 75 years, served the ‘Full of Goodness’ promise, operating across the spectrum of food systems in Europe, Americas, Asia and Africa from its hub in the UAE.

Employing more than 5,000, and serving a market of over 100 million, Choithrams is a household name in the food industry and away from the limelight, it also helps feed and educate thousands across the globe.

Behind the philanthropic activities of the group is Choithrams Chairman, Lekhu Pagarani, a man who stands tall and strong like a Ghaf tree in the desert, providing shade, so a million beneficiaries may thrive.

As Chairman of Choithram International Foundation (CIF), the philanthropic arm of the global consortium, Pagarani oversees the activities of life-saving and life-transforming interventions in healthcare, education and sustainable farming practices.

Today, CIF is working alongside Nobel Peace Prize laureates such as Medecins Sans frontiers (MSF) and United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to create an impact in the Middle East and African region, securing lives, empowering families, keeping children in school by providing nutritious meals, essentially giving the vulnerable a hand.

“My father had made a promise when he started his business that as soon as he had made a bit of surplus money, he would do some good and give it to the society. In 1959, he created his first trust called the Choithrams Remembrance Trust. Since then, during his lifetime, several schools and hospitals have been built under this Trust Foundation,” Pagarani reminiscences. 

His father Thakurdas Choithram Pagarani founded the business in 1944, with the group’s first store opening in the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. The first Choithrams UAE store opened over four decades ago. Following the path shown by his father, Lekhu Pagarani takes a grounded approach to business, focusing on sustainability and giving back to the community, creating an impact on healthcare, education, and food supply chain.



Pagarani has helped ink a strategic partnership between WFP and Choithrams to deliver tangible, life-changing results for many in vulnerable communities. They have collaborated on a variety of Zero Hunger campaigns in supermarket locations across the United Arab Emirates. Over 5.3 million meals have been donated since the start of the partnership in 2015. For many schoolchildren in Jordan, Palestine, Benin and Syria the meal they receive at school, which is supported by the WFP-Choithrams partnership, is the only one they’ll eat that day. That’s why the partnership works hard to increase access to and availability of food for children in marginalised communities in the Middle East and beyond.

“Our commitment to the United Nations World Food Programme gives us an opportunity to rally behind children facing the risk of hunger and malnutrition,” he said, setting the context, before coaxing everyone around him to step up the fight against hunger. “Our goal is to help children thrive in life and continue their education and personal development by providing them with nutritious food through WFP’s successful School Feeding programmes. We count on the continued support and donations of our diligent staff and generous customers and partners for the success of this initiative and hope to exceed our target of one million locally-made school meals,” says Pagarani.

Reduction and management of food waste is another critical area that the retail enterprise focuses on. Choithrams has recycled 41.27 tons of food waste in 2019 through Dubai Municipality. It has also donated 37.23 tons of safe food to the UAE Food Bank. These are part of an integrated strategy to reduce food waste at store level while also encouraging customers to cut back on waste. Joined by UN WFP, Choithrams has been running a multi-year consumer facing campaign on World Food Day (October 16) to raise awareness of food waste in the UAE, while inspiring consumers with smart shopping ideas, food storage tips, guides and recommendations to recycle, or reduce food waste.



Pagarani shares a special relation with MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders. The 1999 Nobel Peace Prize winning humanitarian organisation provides medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare.

“Our journey with MSF started in the early 1990s when we supported medical interventions in West Africa. Emphasising the need for spreading goodness, in 2003, we joined forces with MSF to create a refugee camp in the heart of Global Village in Dubai. The objective was to spread awareness of the vulnerable conditions thousands face every day in disaster-affected zones. Since then, with the support Dubai-based customers, partners and stakeholders, we have been actively supporting pathbreaking MSF projects in the region,” recollects Pagarani.

Making international causes local and giving UAE residents a chance to make an impact beyond borders during Ramadan, Choithrams presented the work they are doing with MSF in Malawi. The contribution from CIF will help to improve cervical cancer screening, and provide patients with access to diagnosis and treatment – securing at least 20,000 lives.

By supporting MSF’s Antibiotic Stewardship Programme in Amman, CIF is helping heal the wounds of war, treating patients from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Yemen for the past 14 years.

“The World Health Organization estimates more than 10 million people will be affected by drug-resistant diseases each year by 2050. That is why we are hopeful that the advances made by using artificial intelligence to power MSF’s app Antibiogo will make a significant difference to millions of lives. With our ongoing support, the innovative app will combat the spread of antimicrobial resistance; it is specially relevant in low-resource settings where access to correct diagnosis of bacterial diseases is not generally available,” envisioned Pagarani.



In Indore, the ancestral abode of the Pagarani family in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, several CIF entities have become synonymous with quality and affordability. These include a super-speciality hospital, a cancer research centre and nurses training college and a training institute for budding ophthalmologists. The education complex includes an international school, a higher secondary school affiliated to the CBSE board as well as a free school that provides midday meals to more than 2,000 students.

Under the leadership of Pagarani, CIF has supported Choithram Netralaya (eye hospital) for the last 30 years, helping restore vision to those that are visually impaired, and coming from rural districts in the heartland of India. The hospital has treated more than 118,000  eye patients so far, providing the gift of sight for many.

At the 60-acre farm adjacent to Choithram Netralaya, hundreds of thousands of biodiverse plants have taken root over 30 years, turning a barren land into a fertile bed of ideas by adopting organic farming methods. The foundation has helped create a model soil management and farming system to produce cost-effective, high-yielding seeds. These are then handed to the local farmers from vulnerable communities, giving them a chance to uplift their lives.

The farm doesn’t just provide hundreds of jobs, and empower local small holding farmers, its annual organic produce comprising more than five tonnes of vegetables and fruits, one tonne of pulses and 20 tonnes of grains are used to cook nutritious meals for 1,500 children attending a nearby primary school, every day. Every day, 400 patients who come from remote areas for eye treatment are provided full board accommodation at the eye hospital’s dormitory and enjoy the hundreds of nutritious meals made for them.

When the pandemic struck, before a public-private collaboration could provide a cohesive response to Covid-19, Pagarani directed Choithrams to be among the first responders. In February 2020, CIF formed a partnership with Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives’ affiliate, Al Jalila Foundation to create a grant for Covid-19 focused research. The funding helped produce transformational results by the end of 2020. At a time when provision was scarce, the retail brand moved swiftly to provide the most vulnerable and exposed segments of the community with personal protective kits.

The commercial footprint of Choithrams Group spans the globe, so does its philanthropy. Pagarani’s stewardship of UK’s trusted consumer brand Natco, caters to the growing popularity of Indian food in Britain since 1961. The Earth-loving food producer ethically sources predominantly from the Subcontinent and distributes to key markets in Europe, Africa and Middle East. Natco Foods donates the majority of its profits to Human Capability Foundation, a non-profit enterprise that is focused on empowering marginalised communities in several countries, including India.

Away from the spotlight, these are but a small fraction of the many plans getting built under Pagarani’s watch. There are many more stories of inspiration, many more beneficiaries stopping by under the shade of his generosity. 

– By Rashi Sen


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