Hadjara Moussa used to spend a lot of time and energy grinding baobab leaves with a mortar and pestle. She processed up to twenty kilograms of baobab flour every week to sell at the market.
Mrs. Moussa is a member of a women’s group in Miriah, in southern Niger. One year ago, the group purchased a mill to grind baobab leaves. Now, the women no longer grind the leaves by hand. The hard work is now done by machine.
Mrs. Moussa pays the group a yearly membership fee of 3000 FCFA (about $6 US). She says the fee is well worth it. With the mill, she can now produce up to five times more flour.
Baobab flour is very popular in Nigerien kitchens. Cheap and readily available, it is also reputed to have medicinal properties. Mamane Lawal is a traditional medical practitioner. He says, “The sauce made from baobab flour treats haemorrhoids.”
During the winter months between May and September, the women pick baobab leaves on their family plots. The leaves are then dried in the sun and stored in attics. When the dry season starts in December, they are processed into flour.
Every Friday, Mrs. Moussa goes to Miriah’s market to sell her flour. Traders from across Niger and from neighbouring Nigeria come to buy 50-kilogram bags. Selling the flour earns Mrs. Moussa a living, and the mill has helped reduce her workload.
The economic benefits to the flour producers are clear. Mrs. Moussa says: “With this activity, I am not asking too much from my husband. I have furnished my bedroom with quality furniture, and every month I can save more than 20,000 CFA ($40 US).” Since she started making and selling flour, her husband has needed to buy only staple foods. Mrs. Moussa buys all other foods with her own income.
Hadiza Ali is another member of the group who has benefited financially. With a smile on her face, she says: “I have resumed building our family home. I have a herd of goats and sheep. And every year, I pay the tuition for my grandson who is in high school.”
Saley Issoufou is an environmentalist with a local NGO. He is worried that increased demand will lead to the over-exploitation of the baobab trees that abound in Miriah. He says, “We need to emphasize the preservation and conservation of these trees.”
Any thoughts of limiting the production of baobab flour are far from the minds of the women in the group. They share the dream of one day having a small processing plant to maximize their production and income. Mrs. Moussa says, “We already have a group. We just need the authorities and NGOs to help us to develop this activity.”