In the village of Kwakwa in Kongo Central province, about 60 widows from the association Groupedi cultivate their communal field, growing cassava which they will process into flour. Later, they will bag the cassava flour and sell it at the local market.
In fact, they are the only women in the entire province who make and sell local flour. Groupedi owns 250 hectares of land in Kwakwa, which houses a pilot training project on cassava processing.
Thanks to this training, the women of Groupedi have learned to rapidly multiply cassava cuttings and combat diseases that attack their crops. After the harvest, the women gather to process their cassava. They peel, wash, and crush the cassava tubers in a motorized grater.
In order to remove the hydrogen cyanide which occurs naturally in cassava, the women submerge the grated cassava in vats to soften and ferment. This acid must be removed as it is hazardous to health. Next, the women grind the cassava in a press to remove the starch. After a day of drying, the result is a paste. The last step is processing the cassava paste into flour with the help of a mill.
Mamie Mawongo is the founder of Groupedi. She says that this processing technique produces flour that can be consumed by people with diabetes, a disease that affects approximately two per cent of Congolese. The flour is commonly used to make foufou, a fermented cassava paste enjoyed throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo and many other African countries.
In Matadi, the capital of Kongo Central, a 30 kilogram bag of cassava flour sells in the market for 13,000 Congolese francs (about 23 American dollars or 16 Euros). The flour that Groupedi produces is a bit more expensive than the others, but it is very popular among the townspeople as a base for foufou.
José Mfulu is Vice President of the provincial assembly. Ever since she discovered that this good quality flour was produced by widows, it’s the only kind she buys. She believes this is the best way to support the women. Groupedi retains 70 per cent of the profits from flour sales, while members take home 30 per cent.
Antoinette Mbuzi is one of Groupedi’s cassava growers and processers. She says that the money she’s earned has allowed her to construct a two-bedroom house and send her three grandsons to school.
Thanks to their success with cassava flour, the association now plans to start raising pigs and goats, which they will feed with cassava peelings. The president of Groupedi says the women also want to purchase a tractor and a large vehicle to increase their production.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on processing cassava