A driving force in Burkina Faso’s agri-business trade, female entrepreneurs tap into Danish funds to create jobs and improve livelihoods

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Women packaging attiéké (couscous) at Faso Attiéké, a woman-owned business in Burkina Faso

Women-owned businesses come out as winners in a private sector development programme focussed on increasing productivity and added value of agricultural incomes.

Florence Bassono has a vision. The 36-year-old wants her company, Faso Attiéké, to be the leader in the production of high quality couscous (attiéké) and 100% “Burkinabè” – that is locally sourced and produced in Burkina Faso. With the support of Danida’s Agricultural Economic Growth Programme (PCESA), she’s well on her way to achieving her dream.

“PCESA helped us expand our unit and buy equipment. They strengthened our capacity, even with training in accounting. At the time, we were able to create 40 jobs, 35 of which went to women. Because of this, there are now children who can go to school, get treated when they are sick and eat when they are hungry,” Florence explains.

Fearing she was about to lose her job as an executive assistant, Florence started Faso Attiéké in 2010 with the help of a small business loan. Since then, the business, which produces fresh and dried cassava couscous, has grown to about 50 full-time employees and produced 542 tonnes of attiéké in 2019. The company is an important generator of income in what is currently a very unstable time in Burkina Faso, where jihadists are waging a war against the government. Through a contract with the Agricultural Processors’ Cooperative, Faso Attiéké works with 150 producers, 200 women who are involved in the processing of cassava paste, and 500 small-scale farmers from whom she sources the cassava.

“When we started, we had a problem with fluctuating costs, poor quality, and unreliable supply as the raw material was coming from outside the country. We knew we had to use local cassava so we organised the farmers to produce it. Today we have differentiated ourselves from the competition through the quality of our products and our brand image as well as our social impact,” Florence says proudly.

Florence Bassano, owner of Faso Attiéké
Florence Bassano, owner of Faso Attiéké

Adding value to local agri-businesses

Faso Attiéké is one of 51 small businesses supported until now through PCESA, which pays for the technical support of selected “facilitateurs” (local consultant companies and NGOs) who help the enterprises to prepare the documents needed to obtain financial credit. Launched in 2013 and extended to a second phase in 2018, the Danida-funded programme aims to increase productivity and added value of agricultural incomes in order to contribute to job creation and national economic growth.

NIRAS is responsible for the overall management of the PCESA Agribusiness Fund, worth around €6.8 million, which funds companies like Faso Attiéké – as long as they can chip in their own contribution – and provides advisory and business consulting support to facilitate further access to finance from banks and investors. Agro-industries from all regions and value chains, except cotton, are eligible for support. Due to their importance in a country where water is scare and climate change is a crucial challenge, green technologies and innovations are targeted with a separate Green Investment Fund of almost €1.3 million.

Female agripreneurs leading the way

Starting with the marketing of shea nuts, another PCESA beneficiary – Adi-PROD SA – has embarked on the production of shea butter for export. To this end, its founder 49-year-old Oumou Diallo/Traoré  set up a modern processing unit, with a capacity of 300 tonnes, and established a network of suppliers and processors mainly composed of women organised in cooperatives. In addition to processing shea butter, the company intends to invest in the transformation of waste from industrial activity into energy (briquettes, electricity).

PCESA facilitated access to credit for Oumou’s firm but also micro credits for the women in the cooperative. By convincing the women in her network of the value of processing and refining the shea butter, Oumou has opened the door to the international market, raising their income levels considerably.

“My next challenge is to connect with serious national and international partners who can help us tap into the organic market,” she explains, noting that they already sell to the Japanese market. As Vice-President of the International Association of African Agro Export (AAFEX) and President of its Burkina Faso branch, she is well-positioned to do this.

Focused on the local market and created in 2011, Charcuterie du Sahel is another woman-owned firm that produces pork products for urban areas and for catering services supplying mining companies and airports. She also has contracts with supermarkets such as Marina Market (a well-known Syrian chain in Burkina Faso). The owner of Charcuterie du Sahel, 39-year-old Fati Yabre received advisory support and some funding from PCESA to upgrade her processing facility to a modern unit powered by solar energy. It’s a difficult market to break into as meat products are commonly sold by local brokers – roadside grillers – and the benefits of high-quality, sustainably produced cold cuts are not always appreciated.

“The meat sector is not used to women entrepreneurs, but I have been successful. Since using solar power, our electricity bill has drastically reduced, we do not experience power outages and our profits have increased,” says Fati . “The expanded processing facility and new equipment has also allowed me to diversify my product offering.”

Operating in times of COVID

Lockdown in Burkina Faso has caused some problems for these businesswomen. Charcuterie du Sahel has found it difficult to organise the supply of pigs to its processing unit due to quarantine restrictions and some markets have been completely cut off – such as the mining sector. In the case of Adi-PROD SA, there have been significant delays in installing new butter production equipment as the technicians were coming from outside Burkina Faso. This has a knock on effect on supplier contracts, which must be renegotiated, and puts the company behind on it scheduled repayment of programmed credits as the opening of the factory is postponed.

For Faso Attiéké, the crisis has only served to underline the need for building up local supply of cassava paw as the border with Ivory Coast, a traditional raw material supplier for its neighbour, is closed, interrupting deliveries.

“In April, we processed only 9 tonnes of raw material, compared to 50 tonnes in normal times. As a result, the women who live from the distribution of our products have been deprived of their income. As you can see, the pandemic has paralysed our cash flow. It has lowered our production, and reduced women's income.”

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Inge Schou

Inge Schou

Social Anthropologist & Senior Project Manager

København, Denmark