Mireille Yamben is a high school student in Yambassa, a village in the Centre Region of Cameroon. When she’s not at school, she grows and processes cassava. Skillfully, she peels cassava roots, cleans them in a bowl, then places them in a machine which crushes the roots.
Then she dries them in a traditional burnt-clay oven for a few hours. Finally, she mills the roots into flour. The whole process takes almost a day, but Ms. Yamben doesn’t seem tired. The 23-year-old says, “When I am busy processing cassava, I lose track of time. I think this is because [I like it.]”
When her cassava flour is ready, Ms. Yamben uses various methods―which she prefers to keep secret—to make bread, cookies, cakes, and even pasta.
She says: “I grew up in a town where I used to eat bread, doughnuts, cookies and pasta. But these foods, which are made with imported wheat flour, are hard to find and expensive in the village. This is why I am interested in making these foods with local produce.”
Ms. Yamben left her town four years ago to live in the village with her grandmother, Isabelle Itori. Mrs. Itori is also a farmer. When Ms. Yamben moved in with her, she was 70 years old. She wanted to retire, so it was a relief having her grandchild live with her.
Mrs. Itori passed down her knowledge of farming and processing to her granddaughter, who has improved her methods. She says: “We grow a lot of cassava here and we process it into flour for making couscous. But [Ms. Yamben] has started to test other types of processing and is an excellent baker.”
Jacky Emétiéné lives near Ms. Yamben and is a regular customer. She explains why she likes the young woman’s cakes: “The first time I bought them, I thought they would have an unpleasant taste. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that cookies and cakes made with cassava flour were as good as those made with other kinds of flour.”
Ms. Yamben serves sweet treats to her family every day. The cakes attract village children to her house, so Ms. Yamben thought she could bake more cakes for sale. And it worked.
She says: “The sweet treats made with cassava flour sell well. However, as all the processing is done by hand, we are always out of stock. We applied for funding to buy an industrial processing unit, but we haven’t received a positive answer yet.”
Ms. Yamben is proud of what she been able to buy by selling her sweet treats. She bought a refrigerator for 250,000 CFA francs (US$ 454). But money is not the main reason she bakes the sweet treats. Rather, she relishes the fact that she can eat as many cakes as she wants, whenever she wants!