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Cooking up a family income with couscous

Training provided by Plan helped the women to better organize their business

Training provided by Plan helped the women to better organize their business.

October 3, 2011 – For many years, women in Ndiebene Toube, a small village in Senegal, have been growing and preparing grains to sell at market locally and beyond the northern border.

A cornerstone of the local and regional diet, couscous is produced when semolina is mixed with water and rubbed between hands until small granules are formed. Thiakry is a regional favorite that combines millet and sweetened heavy cream and is eaten as a dessert. The women prepare these finished items which are then sold at markets, demanding a higher price than the raw materials alone can command.

For generations, women have been involved in this type of commerce, making money to provide for their families. Business was good, but it was never quite enough to ensure financial security. "My parents were in this business," explains Fatou Diop of her work. "It seemed though we always worked hard, we were unable to achieve success consistently nor take advantage of opportunities."

One day when a customer requested a particularly large order of couscous, Diop asked other women to join with her to take advantage of the opportunity. The women continued to work together from that point forward.

Business skills: the next step

Plan began working with the women, helping them to transform their loose organizations into a well-functioning small business enterprise.

Teaching the women to read and write was the first step. So, the 25 women in the cooperative learned Wolof, a national language of Senegal. Next, Plan provided courses in small business development and management to help the women budget, plan and improve logistics for deliveries of their products. The women were also given instruction on how to create markets for their products to increase sales.

From the loose organization, a formal group was established – and Fatou Diop now serves as president.

Increased production and safety
The finished couscous is packed into 5kg packages and then sold in the market

The finished couscous is packed into 5kg packages and then sold in the market.

Plan then saw an opportunity to further assist the women's grain cooperative by providing machinery to help refine and prepare the raw grains. Grinders for flour and machines that separate grains from dust were provided to help increase production and improve safety.

"Now the women can safely prepare a ton of couscous each day in less time with less risk from burns," said Plan Project Manager Amadou Moustapha Sow. "Because they have to spend less time pounding grains, they are able to use the time caring for families, seeking more education or growing their business prospects and markets."

Future prospects look strong

Today, around 30 women work together making their products in a factory of their own. The finished couscous is sold at local markets and the women share the profits. What’s more, the women are branching out to find new sources of income and have added peanut butter and natural drinks and juices to their line of products.

Learn more about Plan’s work in Senegal.

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