Senegalese women revive appetite for traditional grains

Women work at La Vivriére, a Senegalese business that processes foods made from traditional grains, in Pikine, a suburb of Dakar. Photo: Root Capital

Women work at La Vivriére, a Senegalese business that processes foods made from traditional grains, in Pikine, a suburb of Dakar. Photo: Root Capital

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After years of watching working mothers switch from feeding their children Senegalese grains to imported rice, Bineta Coulibaly decided to take action.

Traditionally in Senegal, women would use locally produced, nutrient-rich millet flour to make couscous, arraw (small balls of flour cooked as a porridge), or thiacry (small steamed balls of flour) by hand in the home. However, as Senegal began to industrialize and more women entered the workforce, they began to choose a cheaper and easier alternative: rice imported from abroad.

While this rice was less expensive, quick to cook, and readily available, it was less nutritious than millet. And, as foreign rice quickly gobbled up close to 70 percent of the market share of staple grains that millet had formerly occupied, many Senegalese farmers who had grown millet for years began to lose the market for their crops.

Determined to increase demand for high-quality local grains and create opportunities for farmers, while addressing the needs of working mothers like herself, Bineta founded La Vivriére in 1992.

The business – based in Pikine, a suburb of Dakar – takes locally grown millet, maize, black-eyed pea and an indigenous West African grain known as fonio and turns them into all-natural, nutrient-rich cereals.

By doing so, it makes healthy staples of traditional Senegalese cooking widely available to working mothers, but in a way that’s as easy to prepare as rice. Additionally, Bineta strives to create jobs for women in her community who, like herself, seek to earn a living working in agroprocessing.

Of La Vivriére’s 76 factory workers, 63 are women – many of them their families’ primary breadwinners, who would have struggled to find another job that pays as much.

However, for years La Vivriére lacked the working capital it needed to purchase the volumes it required directly from farmers. Without access to sufficient financing, La Vivriére had to purchase local cereals from intermediaries, who held on to a portion of the profits that would otherwise have gone to some of the country’s poorest farmers.

ACCESS TO CAPITAL

In 2013, Root Capital began to finance La Vivriére with an initial general working capital loan of $100,000. With this, La Vivriére was able to minimize its dependence on intermediaries and begin to source directly from farmer associations.

Since we began financing La Vivriére five years ago, Bineta and her team have started working directly with several producer organizations in the central Kaffrine and Kaolack regions of Senegal. These organizations also partner with USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative, which provides training on best practices, traceability, and quality control, with an emphasis on sustainable agriculture.

By leveraging capital and training from Root Capital and Feed the Future, La Vivriére today is ensuring that over 900 farmers in one of Senegal’s most vulnerable regions earn higher incomes.

La Vivriére still faces challenges. For example, Bineta and her team continue to look for a machine that will enable the company to mechanize the process of turning millet flour into the balls used for couscous, arraw, and thiacry. But now that the company has access to a steady source of capital, Bineta is optimistic about the future.

“Thanks to the financing and collaboration we’ve received from Root Capital, we’re at the point now where we can secure high-quality raw materials in sufficient quantities and at stable prices,” she says. “This is essential for the effective development of businesses like ours.”

This blog is part of Farming First’s new #SDG2countdown campaign, exploring progress being made towards the five targets of SDG2 on ending hunger over five weeks. The campaign culminates at Agriculture and Food Daybeing held on July 13 in New York, which coincides with the High Level Political Forum to track progress on the SDGs. Browse quizzes, videos, infographics and more at www.farmingfirst.org/SDGs or using #Ag4SDGs on Twitter.

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