Reclaiming Home-Grown Grains in Senegal

La Vivriére and Root Capital staff

After years of watching working mothers switch from feeding their children Senegalese grains to imported rice, Bineta Coulibaly decided to take action.

Traditionally, women in Senegal would use locally-produced and nutrient-rich millet flour to make couscous, arraw (small balls of flour cooked as a porridge), or thiacry (small balls of flour which are steamed) by hand in the home. However, as Senegal began to industrialize and more women entered the workforce, they began to choose a cheaper and easier alternative: rice imported from abroad. While this rice was less expensive, quick to cook, and readily available, it was also less nutritious than millet. And, as foreign rice quickly gobbled up close to 70% of the market share of staple grains, many Senegalese farmers who had grown millet for years began to lose a market for their crops. 

Determined to increase demand for high-quality local grains, create opportunities for farmers, and address the needs of working mothers like herself, Bineta founded La Vivriére in 1992. The business takes locally produced millet, maize, black-eyed pea, and an indigenous West African grain known as fonio and turns them into all-natural, nutrient-rich cereals. By doing so, it makes healthy staples of traditional Senegalese cooking widely available to working mothers — in a way that’s as easy to prepare as rice.

La Vivriére founder Bineta CoulibalyA selection of La Vivriére's products.
Left: La Vivriére founder Bineta Coulibaly. Right: a selection of La Vivriére’s products.

Additionally, Bineta strives to create jobs for women in her community who, like herself, seek to earn a living working in agroprocessing. Of La Vivriére’s 76 factory workers, 63 are women. Many of those women are their families’ primary breadwinners, who would have struggled to find another job that pays as much.

However, for years La Vivriére lacked the working capital it needed to purchase the volumes it needed directly from farmers. Without access to sufficient financing, La Vivriére needed to purchase local cereals from intermediaries, who held on to a portion of the profits that would otherwise have gone to some of the country’s poorest farmers.

In 2013, Root Capital began to finance La Vivriére with an initial general working capital loan of $100,000. With this capital, La Vivriére was able to minimize its dependence on intermediaries and begin to source directly from farmer associations.

La Vivriére employees preparing millet flour.
La Vivriére employees preparing millet flour. 

Since we began financing La Vivriére five years ago, Bineta and her team have started working directly with several producer organizations in the central Kaffrine and Kaolack regions of Senegal. These producer organizations also partner with USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative, which provides training on best practices, traceability, and quality control, with an emphasis on sustainable agriculture.

La Vivriére itself is receiving financial management training from Root Capital as part of our partnership with the Mastercard Foundation. Root Capital advisors have been supporting La Vivriere with training on improved financial analysis, and we will soon facilitate the one-year placement of a young accounting graduate with the business under the Mastercard Foundation-funded Talent Partnership program. The young graduate will gain real-world experience and learn from close collaboration with experienced Root Capital trainers, while providing La Vivriére the extra bandwidth needed to help roll out a new accounting software.

Also in 2016, Root Capital introduced La Vivriere to our partner Partners in Food Solutions, an independent nonprofit that connects agricultural business leaders across sub-Saharan Africa with employee volunteers from some of the world’s most successful food and agriculture businesses. A team of experts from General Mills, Hershey’s, Cargill, and other multi-national food companies will soon start working with La Vivriere on strategies to improve the production capacity of its facility.

Bineta and employees of La Vivriére demonstrate how to use the machinery used to process millet flour.
Bineta and employees of La Vivriére demonstrate how to use the machinery used to process millet flour.

By leveraging capital and training provided by Root Capital and key partners like Feed the Future, Partners in Food Solutions, and the Mastercard Foundation, La Vivriére ensures that over 900 farmers in one of Senegal’s most vulnerable regions earn higher incomes. And while there is a long way to go before La Vivriére becomes the General Mills of Africa, Bineta is optimistic about the future.

“Thanks to the financing and collaboration we’ve received from Root Capital, we’re at the point now where we can secure high-quality raw materials in sufficient quantities and at stable prices,” she says. “This is essential for the effective development of businesses like ours.”

Root Capital donors help businesses like La Vivriére continue to promote food security in their communities and beyond. Click here to read more stories about how the businesses we serve help to feed a hungry planet.

Topics: Africa | Client Spotlight | Gender Equity |

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