Mali: Women of Balimaya taking care of (fruit drying) business (Africa Report)

| July 18, 2016

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For many years, the women of Bougouni, Mali, gathered to socialize in between taking care of house chores, farm duties, and childcare. But now they gather to take care of business—their thriving fruit-processing business.

Inside the brick building that houses Balimaya Fruit, eight women sit on benches beside a long table strewn with plastic bags of dried fruit. The women are strangely clad in white—including white caps and white face masks—as they sift, sort, and package their product.

Diahara Kamissoko is the president of Balimaya Women’s Co-operative. She explains: “Hygiene is very important here. As you can see, we work in special white uniforms. They are white because we can see immediately if they get dirty. We also wear head caps and cover our mouths. Before we enter the facility, we have to wash ourselves as well; otherwise we won’t be let inside. This is because we have the final food products here and we don’t want to risk any contamination. That is why hygiene is extremely important.”

After 13 years in the business, the women of Balimaya have established a reputation for quality products, including dried and packaged mango, fonio, coconut, and ginger. Now, they want to expand and purchase a peeling machine, so they can increase production and reach larger clients.

Their successful business doesn’t stop with good quality dried products. Mrs. Kamissoko says the mango and fonio seasons only last four months, but the factory has diversified and now works year-round. She explains, “We work all year round because we also make juice, marmalades, and other things.”

Aninata Traoré is a program officer with Helvetas, a Swiss non-governmental organization that helped the women purchase equipment for their enterprise. She says diversification is very important.

She explains: “It is important for two reasons: first of all, to minimize the risks and to cover yourself if the demand from the market changes. The second reason is to make sure you have enough work and revenue throughout the year.”

It is not only the women who are profiting from the business. The co-op is now a key buyer in the region, purchasing fruit from local small-scale farms.

Mrs. Kamissoko says: “Everyone is happy with us: the farmers who sell to us and their wives who work for us. Everyone profits from this initiative. In the mango season, when people get the fruits from the trees, they bring them here and we pay them so they’ve got some money to feed themselves.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, Fruit Production Entrepreneurs Excel in Mali, go to:

Photo credit: Coopérative de femmes Balimaya