Small business opportunities are there for the taking
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Nago, Mathurin Coffi. 1996. Small business opportunities are there for the taking. Spore 63. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47349
Mathurin Coffi Nago is a specialist in food processing. He is Professor of Biochemistry and Food Technology at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, the National University of Benin and Coordinator of the Regional Applied Nutrition and Food Centre...
Mathurin Coffi Nago is a specialist in food processing. He is Professor of Biochemistry and Food Technology at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, the National University of Benin and Coordinator of the Regional Applied Nutrition and Food Centre (CERNA - Centre regional de nutrition et d'alimentation appliquees and of the AVAL project (Action de valorization des Food processing in Africa is mainly the domain of a wide variety of small businesses that are mostly in the informal sector. Just as the major European businesses have their strengths and weaknesses, so these small enterprises have advantages which they must exploit and problems which they must overcome if they are to develop further. The major constraint to the expansion of the small-scale food processing industry is low output due to the use of traditional technology. Gari, for example, is in strong demand and has even travailed as far afield as Europe. But, the yield of gari from the basic cassava is usually less than 20 per cent. Improvements in processing could lead to considerable reductions in losses while at the same time increasing the returns to labour. The education level of small-scale processors is another fundamental problem. In West Africa some 60% of them, mostly women, are illiterate. This often prevents them from appreciating the risks associated with their methods and techniques. For example, basic hygiene measures are seldom implemented, despite the fact that urban consumers are demanding higher standards of hygiene. Low educational standards also lead to ignorance of basic management principles and this often leads to bankruptcy: by confusing turnover with profit, some people spend all the income without making provision for expenses or the purchase of new stocks. These problems could be avoided by training and providing market information to processors. Difficulties in obtaining formal credit restrict the possibilities of expansion and the small proportion of profit reinvested in the business is the reason why a woman with a small restaurant or maquis' can find herself still at 'square one' after ten or fifteen years. Small scale processors, therefore, have many problems but they also have several trump cards that they must take advantage of The small-scale food processing industry has the advantage of being based mainly on traditional products that are still important in the diets of urban people. Market share increases in proportion to the improvements that can be made in the quality of the product. Our surveys show that people eat less on the street as rhey become more sophisticated and you can hear the comment, 'I really would like to but the hygiene standards are not what I expect.' It is clear that a small business can progress to selling to a higher, stratum of social class with more disposable income if it improves the quality of its product. Small-scale producers can be better off in local marketing networks where it is difficult for larger operations to compete. Attieke is a typical granular cassava product that is popular in Cote d'lvoire and tens of tonnes are brought into Abidjan each day from small rural or suburban factories. Attempts to manufacture this product on an industrial scale have failed because consumers do not consider it as good as the traditional item. Industrial processes have difficulty in copying a traditional product without losing some or all of its qualities. The selling price also has to be much higher because of the cost of the technology employed in its manufacture. The demand for a longer shelf life of products Industrial production will succeed, however, if it can add some little 'extra' that is liked by the consumer. we carried out an experiment with aklui at the National University of Benin, where one of our major research areas is to add value to local food products and to design equipment that will satisfy the demand for a longer shelf life of products. Aklui is a granulated food based on maize that is widely eaten for breakfast in Benin, Togo and Ghana. Preparation by traditional methods takes a long time. we have mechanized the rolling operation, which is the most difficult process, and improved the yield and stability of the product, which is dried before being packed in plastic bags. Porridge with the improved aklui can be made in five minutes. It is now in great demand, not only in Benin but also throughout West Africa and even in other parts of the continent and in Europe, even though it costs three or four times as much as the traditional product. The technology is now also available for some types of small-scale production of aklui. we are also developing a type of couscous made from maize, known locally as yekeyeke, which will be able to be manufactured on an industrial scale. The conservative food habits of consumers, including those living in urban areas, is a major advantage for small-scale producers. The short or even direct chain from the producer to the consumer is a further advantage in making local production competitive. The close relationship of the two sides of the equation means that producers are intimately aware of the needs of the consumers and can adapt to them. In spite of this, however, consumers are open to new commodities from other countries in the region. This change is rather slow at the moment and we have noticed that there is a time lapse from the arrival of a primary product to mastering the procedures needed for it to be used Maize, for example, is gaining ground in northern Benin, Mali and Burkina Faso even though people are not able to use it properly. This is why we undertook an information transfer programme between Senegal, Burkina Faso and Benin. Taste and acceptability tests were carried out in the framework of the AVAL (Action de valorization des savoirsfaire alimentaires locaux Benefiting from knowledge of local foods) project. These showed that people in Burkina Faso were in favour of pasta type products, which they are used to, whereas they were not liked in Senegal where granulated foods such as couscous and aklui are preferred. Small-scale businesses therefore have plenty of opportunities. They can broaden their product range and also supply very narrow market niches that larger industrial enterprises cannot. By making the correct production and marketing choices for their products, small scale business can prove successful.