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Promoting Gender Equality in Senegal through Food Processing

This article in brief:

  • Senegalese women often struggle to provide for their families as gender norms limit their access to capital and nutritious food.
  • The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling helps women produce and sell instant flour fortified with specific nutrients that many Senegalese diets lack.
  • Beyond addressing malnutrition and providing a source of income, this effort is helping empower Senegalese women and change community dynamics.

Women in Senegal are often confined to unpaid care and household work, but often have little decision-making power in the traditional household dynamic. Strict gender norms – particularly in the religious city of Touba – leave women with limited resources to pursue new business opportunities.

Feed the Future is helping women overcome these barriers in Senegal. The initiative is teaching them to market and sell instant fortified flour, both boosting nutrition in their communities and providing a unique business opportunity.

Business Flourishes with Flour

In Senegal, where nutrient deficiencies and childhood stunting are prevalent, fortified flour is a cost-effective way to not only help address malnutrition but to empower women. Gaye Mbacke owns Touba Darou Salam, a cereal processing facility in central Senegal that produces in-demand instant fortified flour using technology and techniques provided by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling, led by Purdue University. Mbacke’s food processing business also provides local employment, with a focus on hiring and empowering women.

The Touba Darou Salam cereal processing facility in central Senegal provides local employment, with a focus on hiring and empowering women

Photo by Feed the Future Innovation Lab

In 2016, the Innovation Lab partnered with Mbacke to create a network focused on recruiting more women as processors and retailers for her products and advancing women’s empowerment in the region. In 2016, 115 Senegalese women were involved across Touba Darou Salam’s supply chain and operations. Today, that number is more than 1,000.

“I believed there was a need for food security and women’s economic empowerment, and so I worked to help build a bridge to meet the community need,” Mbacke said. “I have watched the businesses of women grow and flourish, and I see how it has made these women more confident and independent.”

Empowering Women, Boosting Incomes

A steady source of income is not the only success story of the instant fortified flour industry – it is also challenging gender norms that hold women back.

Today more than 1,000 Senegalese women are involved across Touba Darou Salam’s supply chain and operations

Photo by Feed the Future Innovation Lab

Before becoming an instant flour retailer, Mame Fatty Diop, a 40-year-old woman in Touba – a city in the west-central region of Senegal – struggled to provide for her family. Diop joined the network started by the Innovation Lab and Mbacke and soon saw improvements in her income, her status in her family and respect from her community. 

“The instant fortified flour business has allowed me to earn money for my family and to support my son’s education,” Diop said. “This has given me a sense of independence and self-worth that many of us have struggled with in the past. This has also provided me with more respect and consideration in the eyes of my husband, who is becoming more supportive.”

Evaluating Impact

In January 2020, Cheryl O’Brien of San Diego State University and Laura Leavens of Purdue University traveled to Senegal to evaluate the impact of the instant fortified flour program and study how Mbacke’s Touba Darou Salam network provides women with a source of income, empowerment and independence:

  • They discovered the average female retailer sells 50 kilograms of instant flour during a typical sales month, earning the equivalent of half the monthly household income of a typical Senegalese family.
  • Ninety-eight percent of the women surveyed reported their household income increased due to involvement in the program.
  • Women used this income to increase their contributions to family medical bills, education and debt payments and improve their families’ nutrition by buying a more diverse array of foods like fruits, vegetables and meat.
  • Many survey participants indicated they felt more respected by their husbands and their community because they were able to earn money for their families.

Beyond these impacts, doctors are also seeing improvements in the health of previously malnourished and underweight children as the availability of instant fortified flour has increased.

By supporting women in agriculture and their unique needs, the private sector, government and nonprofits can leverage entrepreneurial models like Mbacke’s Touba Darou Salam network to help inspire and equip the next generation of female entrepreneurs while bolstering health and strengthening resilience. The Innovation Lab is also responding to COVID-19 by reinforcing proper personal protective equipment standards for COVID-19 for the food processors and the Mbacke’s Touba Darou Salam network to keep nutrition strong during this time.

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