René Barhakaziga Bagalwa | May 1, 2023
Jeannette Nyongolo lives in Bukavu, in Kadutu commune, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To prepare the family meal, she uses a mill to crush cassava leaves, which lightens her workload and saves time. Mrs. Nyongolo says, "I am relieved! Because, in less than five minutes, the miller crushes my leaves." Introducing the mills, called moulin ya sombé, to Bukavu has reduced the amount of time women need to spend preparing the family meal. Justin Matabaro Mudumbi is a young miller who introduced the mill to Bukavu. He set up shop at a market and charges less than 500 Congolese francs ($0.05 US) to crush three kilograms of cassava leaves, earning 45,000 Congolese francs ($21 US) per day. Mrs. Nyongolo says, "Now, I have time to rest thanks to the moulin ya sombé."
It’s an early Saturday morning in March. In the Kasali district of Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s almost sunrise, and the stars are gradually disappearing and the sky getting lighter. Jeannette Nyongolo is getting ready to visit the mill, where she will crush her cassava leaves. Like every weekend, she has to crush cassava leaves—called sombé in Kiswahili, the national language spoken in eastern Congo—to make the sauce for her family’s meal.
The moulin ya sombé, which means cassava leaf mill, lightens her workload and saves time. It used to take her at least an hour to crush the cassava leaves with a mortar. But now, she says, “I am relieved! In less than five minutes, the miller crushes my leaves.”
Mrs. Nyongolo is married to Hamuli Muciko and has 13 children. She is a teacher at an elementary school called EP camps Mweze in Bukavu. In addition to her work as a teacher, she takes care of the housework.
Since cassava leaf mills arrived just a few years ago in Bukavu, they have reduced the time women spend preparing sombé. The mill has a gasoline-powered motor, and can grind at least three kilograms of cassava in five minutes.
Justin Matabaro Mudumbi is a young miller who introduced the machine to Bukavu. He learned to operate the mill during a trip to Goma. On his return, he set up shop at the Beach Muhanzi market in Kadutu commune to crush women’s cassava leaves. Mr. Mudumbi charges less than 500 Congolese francs ($0.05 US) to crush three kilograms of cassava leaves.
He explains, “At first, I had difficulties because the women did not know that the machine crushes cassava leaves.” He then started promoting his machine to women and restaurant owners. This created a buzz and the women bought into his project because it reduced the time it takes them to prepare cassava leaves.
Mr. Mudumbi reports that he earns more than 45,000 Congolese francs ($21 US) per day crushing cassava leaves. He says, “This machine is a production unit for me.”
Bernadette Mashimango Bonne Année is in charge of research and responsible for the diet kitchen at the Institut Supérieur des Techniques Médicales in Bukavu. Mrs. Bonne Année says that foods made from cassava leaves are good for human health. They contain protein, vitamin A that protects the body against bacterial infection, and also minerals such as iron, magnesium, and calcium. They have vitamins B and C that contribute to health and growth. Cassava leaves also contain a lot of dietary fibre, which helps digestion.
Sombé is the Nyongolo family’s favourite dish. It is a sauce produced from cassava leaves and eaten in all parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and an integral part of Congolese food culture. It’s eaten with rice or foufou, a dish made from cassava or yam. But preparing manually requires more than four hours.
Ms. Nyongolo explains how to make sombé. After picking the leaves and discarding the bad ones, the good leaves are washed and then roasted over a fire. Then, they are mixed with celery, chili, bell pepper, tomato, and leeks. This might take 15 minutes. The resulting mixture is crushed in a mill or by hand. This step reduces the cyanide content of the leaves—a necessary step because higher levels of cyanide are poisonous. The last step is cooking the ground-up leaves. Then, one adds peanut cake and pieces of meat to the leaves. This takes about two hours.
But the family favourite is worth the wait. And with the mill, it’s now even easier for the women of Bukavu to make. Mrs. Nyongolo concludes, “Now, I have time to rest thanks to the moulin ya sombé.”