As the Chairwoman of the Mialebouni Association, an organization of women farmers in Benin, Sossa Bernadette has seen big improvements in her community since the organization started. Mialebouni Association brings together 118 cooperatives with 1,560 members from southwestern Benin and is famous for its cassava products, including tapioca, cassava flour, and garri — a popular staple food in West Africa.
Even so, cassava farming and processing is a labor-intensive activity. Farmers must harvest cassava tubers, peel and grind them into a white pulp, and then process them to squeeze out the remaining water and starch before fermenting over several days. The work it takes to create value-added products like garri only adds to the grueling process. Members of Mialebouni often had to travel long distances to use processing units and sometimes, women would enlist the help of their children to assist with harvesting and processing, which took them away from school.
In 2012, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), a Feed the Future partner, gave Mialebouni a $150,000 capacity-building grant, followed by a $240,000 enterprise expansion grant in 2016 to improve the labor-intensive process of cassava farming.
Mialebouni used the grant to purchase innovative, mobile processing stations designed to meet their members’ needs, reduce hardships and increase profits. The mobile grinders and presses can be transported by bicycle to provide processing services in several villages. Now, members save time and money by traveling shorter distances to process their harvests, and can also work at communal processing centers and use their services for a small fee. Other features include garri-fortification to increase nutrition, fuel-efficient cookstoves to reduce firewood, and packaging equipment to increase sanitation standards.
The mobile processing equipment is small but mighty — it has saved Mialebouni’s members countless hours of travel time and is helping them better feed their families. Members can rapidly process cassava harvests using the reliable and efficient equipment, increase their incomes with better quality products, and feed their children fortified products. In Benin, where 45 percent of young children suffer from chronic malnutrition, garri fortified with pineapple and coconut can make a big difference for growing children.
USADF is also working with the Government of Benin to support cassava farming. The Government of Benin has matched USADF funding of $500,000 annually, and since 2012, USADF and the Government of Benin have invested over $5 million in food security and economic development, doubling the annual quantity of cassava processed and supporting over 27,000 farmers, half of whom are women.
“Thanks to this partnership, Mialebouni and its members have increased their incomes, can send their children to school, and some are even running for local office, “Sossa Bernadette said. “We are well-known and respected in our community.”
Being a USADF grantee also means that Mialebouni and operations similar to it now have access to a local technical partner that can help them strengthen the financial management of their organization. To support their members, Mialebouni’s management is working with Action Pour la Promotion des Initiatives Communautaires (APIC) to increase financial literacy and enable the women to track their own production and sales. Access to this type of training ensures that USADF support is also helping create long-lasting operations.
Today, the Mialebouni Association is sustainably growing from a small association to a commercial enterprise. Mialebouni sales and revenues of value-added products have tripled since 2012. The association is now a major competitor in local and regional markets and has even hosted several exchange visits with delegations from other neighboring countries, including USADF grantees from Liberia, to learn about cassava processing.