Tambacounda, 9/8/2014

"Growing and selling bananas is a tough business and not particularly profitable," explains Marguerite Thiaw, a dedicated businesswoman from Tambacounda in Senegal. Sustainably cultivating and distributing foodstuffs requires solutions for irrigating the fields, agricultural machinery, cold stores and a well-functioning, unbroken temperature-controlled logistics chain. All of which is pretty rare in rural Africa.

Delicious products from bananas
"The trick lies in the refining and further processing of foods. For example, bananas can be turned into fantastic products that can be sold locally and supra-regionally," Marguerite enthuses. In her business she and five women produce flour, couscous, soaps, juices, etc. all from bananas. "Banana couscous is a lot more nutritious than normal couscous. Cakes made with banana flour are simply delicious". We'll happily take her word for it.


Marguerite-Thiaw2-enMarguerite Thiaw is not only a passionate businesswoman. She shares her experience with other women. For example she runs a women's cooperative with over 100 women who are all trained in food processing, here specifically bananas, papaya, and mangoes. Marguerite hopes that many other small businesses will emerge. Her talent has also been recognized by Ashoka – an international organization that supports socially-minded entrepreneurs in implementing their vision of a more sustainable life. Ashoka supported Marguerite for three years. Now she is able to stand on her own two feet.
How did Marguerite hit on this idea? "I have nine children," she explains. "When my last child, a girl, was born, I didn't have much hope. She was very weak. I began to experiment. I dried the bananas in the sun, then processed them into flour, mixed them with milk and that way was able to make nourishing baby food for my child. She doubled in weight in just one month. The women from the village came and asked me to show them how I made it. That inspired me. From then on I started trying out what else I could make with bananas".

Marguerite-Thiaw3-enSolar energy boosts sales and prolongs storage

But Marguerite doesn't stop there. She's now investing in solar energy. "My business needs light. It gets dark at 7 pm. But the evening is the time my customers come back from toiling the fields. As well as light, the solar installation from Bonergie also allows me to run a solar-powered fridge and freezer. Now my products stay fresh longer". No sooner was the fridge installed, than she started coming up with lots of new ideas. Now she is planning to sell fresh fruit juices, ice cream and much more.

"What I'd really like is a professional solar fruit dryer. Drying the fruit in the sun draws out too many vitamins and the insects are also a big worry. I also sell baby food, after all, so my products have to be 100 percent organic. I can't and don't want to use insecticides". We at Bonergie are sure that with this passion and can-do attitude she'll be able to fulfil this wish soon.

Gabriele Schwarz