Tag Archives: development aid

“Useless” Day

Tuesday illustrated to me why we’re here, and for once I am excited about what we will be doing.  I think a lot of my

The women de-shell peanuts after they've been heated over an open fire, making the job easier.

group misunderstood the situation, which was unfortunate, because learning was lost there.

There have been days where we mostly sit and watch the women work, or play with the kids while the women work.  This was not one of those days.  Today, the majority of the women went to the market to sell products, while a smaller group and ourselves sat in the shade.  All day long.

We were sitting there because the women only own three large metal bowls, which are used for work, storage, transportation and sales.  When the women go to the market, they bring all the product they have to make it worth their while, meaning that there are no bowls back at the ranch to be used in production.

Today we literally lived through a lack of capacity, which left me completely convinced that our plan is the way to go.

Rolling the peanut paste (after the oil has been extracted) into sticks that will be fried in peanut oil.

The Request

The women have made it clear that they want machines to grind their raw materials so they can be made into products.  Buying one of these machines is costly, but would save them time and money, as well as bring in profit from those who live nearby and would pay for the use of the machine, they way they pay to use someone else’s now.

Buying the machine for the peanuts is the most logical because it also works with the soy.  Also, the machine they currently pay to use instead is significantly farther away.  Furthermore, peanuts are very cheap to buy and yield two products, one of which is rather lucrative.

The Reality

While it may be great to start with the flashy machine that would bring in the big bucks (2,000 CFA per batch of peanut or soy that someone pays them to have processed, plus a savings of two hours and 1,000 CFA a week to transport themselves via motorbike to the location of the machine they currently use), I don’t think it’s a sound decision.

You need to start from the ground up, and right now the women waste many hours and several days every week waiting for their equipment.  With very little money, we can double the number of bowls and tables they have, allowing for more production and storage.  We can also buy a proper storage container for the corn, freeing up the bowls to be used for work more often than storage.

Drying the galletas (peanut sticks) into a delicious frenzy.

The Linchpin

The piece of this plan that makes me actually proud is the last bit: financial planning.  We cannot give them the machine because we can’t afford it.  But honestly, their current business model cannot accommodate it right now, either.  Instead, we’re going to increase their production and productivity, capitalizing on the workforce that is often unused.  This will in turn build up their revenues, and allow them to continue to work while others make trips to the market and to use the machines.

For the long-term, we are going to work with the women on a better savings plan.  Right now they don’t have an accounting system.  While they do have a group savings, much of that goes to a party at the end of the year.  We plan to separate the party fund from the longterm savings fund, which will be available for the purpose of buying the machine for the peanuts and soy someday.  Additionally, an emergency fund would be beneficial.  We intend to divert the additional money they make from the additional equipment we’re giving them.  That money will go towards buying the machine—they didn’t have it before, so they won’t miss it, and reinvesting their capital will help far more in the long run.

The end result, which we happily munched on. All this could be accomplished quicker and on a grander scale, which is our aim with a few slight tweaks to the model.

Our Accidental Advantage

Sometimes we underestimate the consequential knowledge of which we are the unwitting beneficiaries.  The idea of long-term savings is something we were raised with, as well as the value of a surplus and reinvesting in yourself and your business.  Between our greater years of education and growing up in homes that save for retirement, college funds, vacations and small business, we have been exposed to much more sound financial advice than we realize, and much more than the average Beninoise.  We intend to pass along these ideas, as well as the basic materials that in the end, make a large long-term difference, so that the women don’t have more days like today: waiting in the hot sun for something to happen.


One of Tuesday’s adventures reminded me of our lecture on the rule of law and post-colonial Africa.  While I know it wasn’t exactly patronage, it was a shining example of why Benin is behind when it shouldn’t be.  Benin had the jump on many other African countries in that it transitioned peacefully (and rather without fanfare) from Marxism-Leninism to a democracy.  Benin was considered rather developed for its region as of 2000, but since has been eclipsed by other countries that started lower, but have a steeper trajectory of development.

The process of getting peanuts and soy crushed into their own respective pastes consumes valuable time and money for the women of the micro-enterprise I work with.  They take a large metal bowl of one of the products with them, and pay 1,000 CFA round-trip for a drive that’s about one hour each way.  Taking multiple batches at a time saves time and money with regard to transportation, but costs them in production by the women who remain on the premises.  This system is a great frustration for the women, who would like to own their own machine.

We were investigated buying them one, as it would save the two-hour, 1,000-CFA trip each week, plus 2,000 CFA per batch that is processed.  Additionally, neighbors would choose to come to them for their own processing needs, rather than traveling so far, bringing in untold additional revenue at 2,000 CFA per batch.  In order to price out the machine, we needed specifics or a picture.  Luckily, they knew that there was a machine nearby.

We set out on our walk for the machine, and arrived approximately sixty seconds later.

One Minute.  There is a machine that they could use that is one minute away.  Of course, the man who owns it simply refuses to use it for peanuts and soy, even though it’s also made for those products.  He only uses it for corn.

It reminded me of patronage and corruption in that a logical, easy solution was not possible for reasons that appear to be arbitrary and/or selfish.  Instead of walking a minute and putting those man-hours and the equipment (1/3 of their buckets) to use in production, they have to expend two hours or labour and equipment use plus 1,000 extra CFA a week.

If I were those women, I would be furious.