Every year, Senegal’s Ministry of Women, Family and Gender recognizes the most innovative projects led by women. Last year's first place prize in Senegal's Fatick region went to the Union of Women Local Grain Processors. With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded Millet Business Services Project, this group is changing how millet is processed, packaged and sold in the region and around Senegal.
Out of hundreds of entries across Senegal's 14 regions, the group placed 8th overall. Not only is their work creating a market for a local product, but the packaging unit is providing jobs and livelihoods for women across the region.
It wasn't long ago that micro and small businesses in the millet processing industry were having a hard time accessing quality packaging because of its cost. To increase local marketing and cut down on packaging costs, NCBA CLUSA's Millet Business Services Project began training local groups—usually comprised entirely of women—in packaging techniques.
Today, the project has supported the installation of five packaging units, including two in Dakar, the capital. Each unit employs six to seven people, mostly youth, as Packaging Service Providers. Using Kraft butcher paper, which is manufactured locally, these packaging centers not only reduce plastic waste (a key goal of Senegal’s environmental policy), but also support the burgeoning local paper industry. The project supports 181 Kraft paper processing companies. This symbiotic relationship between the paper manufacturers and packagers is helping to boost livelihoods along the millet value chain from farm to supermarket.
Professional local packaging has contributed to increased sales as well as better marketing for agribusiness producer groups. Processed millet and packaged products are marketed mainly in Dakar, Thiès and Touba, as well as in the four regional intervention areas of the project and beyond. There are also plans to expand into international markets.
Packaging has provided many different job opportunities along the millet value chain.
“Local packaging is a new concept,” said Aissatou Ndiaye, President of the Union of Women Local Grain Processors in Fatick, adding that the group is seeking additional support for capacity building in computer and graphic design for a new generation of young people so they can contribute to the growing industry.
“This distinction [first place prize] is a real success and shows that the population prefers our local products in the market,” Ndiaye said. “And now, production is continuous. This is the result of the significant increase in our customer base thanks to the quality of our packaging and the high standards that the Millet Business Services Project has taught us."
This particular processing and packaging unit went from employing two to four women and now during periods of heavy production can employ up to 10 workers a day.
“I am a widow,” Ndiaye said. “What I earn at the production unit helps to support my eight children as well as put my eldest through university in Dakar.”
Ndiaye has continued to expand her income along the millet value chain. In addition to her job at the processing level, she is a service provider in millet processing and conservation technology, certified by the Institute of Food Technology (ITA) to provide training to other groups. She also runs a Millet Porridge Cafe where her two daughters are learning to support the management of family expenses.
Recognizing the innovations of these processing groups supports their ability to create jobs and increase livelihoods—ultimately supporting a nutritious local grain as it grows in market share. With support from NCBA CLUSA's Millet Business Services Project, farmers, processors and families are enjoying the benefits of innovation from the farm to the family meal.