Congo: Justine Koumba uses maize flour to make bread

| May 15, 2023

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Justine Koumba is a baker in Brazzaville, Congo, who specializes in making gratanias, a snack made from fried dough. When the price of wheat flour rose, Mrs. Koumba began using maize flour to make her rolls to reduce her expenses. Dominique Badienguissa is a nutritionist. She says that maize has many nutrients that help the body function. Since Ms. Koumba started using maize meal, she has expanded her client base and increased her profits.

It’s April, a rainy time in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. It’s about five o’clock in the morning and the sky is getting darker, announcing rain. Justine Koumba is a baker, and is already in her tin kitchen, in her house in the Mfilou neighbourhood of southern Brazzaville. She is preparing to make gratanias—fried bread rolls—to sell to her customers.

Mrs. Koumba used to make her gratanias with wheat flour. But for the last year, with the increase in the price of wheat since the war between Russia and Ukraine, she has been using maize flour. She explains, “I could not buy wheat flour anymore. So I tried maize flour. The first time, people liked it. Since then I use only maize flour.”

Before the Russian-Ukrainian war, a 25kg bag of flour cost 7,000 CFA francs (US$11.71). But today, a 25kg bag costs 9,500 CFA francs (US $15.90), while a 25kg bag of maize costs 7,000 CFA francs (US $11.71).

With maize flour gratanias, Ms. Koumba’s clientele has grown. She says that, in addition to children, even older people now buy gratanias. She sells them for 50 CFA francs ($0.08 US) and earns at least 5,000 CFA francs ($8.36 US) a day. She says, “Thanks to the maize meal gratanias, I make good money. When I used to use wheat flour, my daily income was 3,000 CFA francs ($5.02 US).”

Dominique Badienguissa is a nutritionist and nutrition teacher at the Jean Joseph Loukabou vocational school in Brazzaville. She says that maize has many nutrients. It contains a lot of fibre, carbohydrates, and vitamin B, and promotes good heart functioning. The fibre in maize helps to flush waste from the body and reduces the risk of hemorrhoids. She says, “The initiative of Justine Koumba is really to be encouraged because it is an ingenious idea. I invite her to further her activity.”

Mrs. Koumba explains how she makes gratanias. She says: ”I use about two kg of maize flour per day to make gratanias. I grind the maize to make the flour. This flour is sifted to remove impurities. The flour is then poured into a dry container and a little water is added, depending on the quantity of flour. While kneading, we add vanilla sugar and milk to get firm dough. I then form balls and leave them for at least 30 minutes.”

Once the flour is well-formed, Ms. Koumba shapes it into rolls. Finally, the rolls are fried in oil for three to five minutes. And then the gratanias are ready for her customers.

Because the price of wheat increased, Mrs. Koumba found a local solution, to the delight of her customers. This allowed her to increase her clientele. She concludes, “With maize flour, I make gratanias cheaper and I satisfy my customers.”