Thérèse Ouédraogo proudly stands in front of stacks of jars containing tomato purée. Mrs. Ouédraogo is the president of a women’s group called Neerwaya that grows and processes tomatoes in the village of Donsin, 40 kilometres from Ouagadougou. Neerwaya means “wonder” in the local language.
Until recently, the women simply grew tomatoes and vegetables. But growing and selling was not always profitable. Mrs. Ouédraogo says, “Before, we used to produce tomatoes that we couldn’t sell. The prices fixed by the wholesalers weren’t good for us.”
Tired of selling at a loss, the women decided to process their tomatoes so they could sell at a higher price. With the help of a French volunteer, Mrs. Ouédraogo and her colleagues learned to process the tomato into purée eight years ago.
The processing technique is simple and effective. They start by washing the tomatoes four times, making sure to change the water every time. Mrs. Ouédraogo explains, “We have to wash the tomatoes several times to rid them of all the impurities and chemicals used by some producers.”
After thoroughly washing the tomatoes, they boil them. Then they mash the boiled tomatoes. Finally, they pour the tomato purée into recycled glass jars.
Before they can market their product, the National Public Health Laboratory examines the quality of the Neerwaya purée.
Mrs. Ouédraogo says the jars of purée can last for at least a year and a half.
The women sell a 400-gram jar for 500 FCFA [$0.80 US]. They buy a 25-kilogram box of fresh tomatoes from growers for only 3000 FCFA ($5 US]. The women sell most of their products to hotels and restaurants. Supermarkets around Ouagadougou also stock their purée.
The women in the group divide their profits equally. In 2015, each member made 75,000 FCFA [$127 US]. This is a huge sum for many of the women.
Antoinette Zida joined the group three years ago. She says, “Revenues from our business helped pay school fees for my two children.”
Issaka Sawadogo grows tomatoes in the village of Dossin. For five years, he’s been selling tomatoes to the group. He says he really enjoys the collaboration. He says, “It is more beneficial for me to sell to the women than to wholesalers. Their purchase price is twice that of the wholesalers.” Wholesalers buy a 25-kilogram box of tomatoes for 3000 FCFA [$5 US]. But the women buy the same amount for 5000 FCFA [$8 US].
With tomato processing so successful, the women are diversifying into soy cookies and cowpea couscous. They have also invested much of their profit in building a fence around their office and getting connected to the electricity grid.
But their rapidly growing business is facing some marketing problems. Mrs. Zida is worried. She says, “We have good products, but if we are unable to sell all our goods, all this good work will go to waste.”
Mrs. Ouédraogo is more optimistic. She concedes that, because people are used to spending their money on tomato paste, shifting to tomato puree is not an easy sell. But she’s convinced that the quality of the products will be enough to sway consumers to change their buying habits.