Food Processing in The Gambia
On my way to Dutabullu hot desert wind is burning my skin, utensils for cheesemaking strung on the backrack of Malangs motorbike, my hopes and expectations shrunk to almost zero. How shall I be able to produce cheese under these conditions?
In the shade of two mango trees a group of 12 women are waiting for me with joy and hopes for this workshop. In the early morning hours I´ve been with the cow herds and observed the devastating condition of the cattle. No grass nowhere, hey impossibly expensive. With time and efforts we manage to collect 6 litres of milk.
“Hm . . . this is cheese?” At first carefully, but then the women taste with appreciation. I prepare all necessary utensils, explain its function and ask for attention. A big pot, pasted with mud, sits on broken bricks, glimming firewood underneath. With slow, constant stiring we heat the milk until we watch fine foam appearing on the edge. Carefully we pour a mix of vinegar and sourmilk, which we purchased in the market of Farafenni. With surprise, the women realise stiff parts swimming on top of the milk. Pot off fire! Now!
With a ladle we pour the mass into special cheese forms with tiny holes, and press out as much liquid as possible. We put a cover with a weight and leave the first cheese for dripping. Still, the pot with milk looks like a pot with milk. Again, we heat the milk till almost boiling and then see white flurries and yellowish water separating. Pot off fire! Now! “Haha, oho, hmmm . . . “, the women react with delightful curiosity. Did they, with all this excitement, have noticed all important steps of the cheese making? We´ll see tomorrow. For now, we cover the pot with a towel and get back to our first forms. The cheese got cold enough for us to form mozzarella balls with our hands, pressing out all remaining liquid. Then we have the cheese balls swimming in very salty water.
Back to the pot. Very carefully, we pour flurries with liquid into strainers covered with fine fabric. Similarly slow water starts dripping out, it will be highly nutritious for goats and sheep, who are already waiting. On and on we have to scrape along the fabric for further dewatering. This process takes several hours till we get fine, creamy cheese. A process which cannot be rushed, and still, we are not ready yet. We slightly salten the creamy mass and then pour it equally into 6 forms with the tiny holes, covered also with cloth. The tip of the cloth for cover, then we attach weights on it. Again, it takes almost two hours, interrupted by stiring each form at least three times, until almost all liquid has dripped off and we can transport the fresh cheese to the fridge in the office of our organization.
Tomorrow, I want them to do it on their own, I will sit and watch.
I stay sleepless all through the night, too many impressions, too many thoughts, too many questions: will the women be able to do the cheese making on their own? Will at all some customers want our cheese? How can production and marketing compliment each other? I get dizzy, what am I doing here?
The following day, the women have prepared all the set-up. I keep silent and watch. But of course they ask, mainly for the correct timing of the different production steps. All in all it is a promising start. I explain the process more in detail today, what happens why, when? And why processes cannot be rushed, and how important constant quality is. One complaint and a valuable customer might be lost. We all have to make sure that under the label “Produce ofUpper Baddibou” exceptional quality will be guaranteed.
During the entire day, a wedding ceremony took place only a few meters next to our production set-up. Remarkable, that all 12 women paid concentrated attention.
In the early evening I wanted to saw herbal seeds into the garden, the 1 ha big garden which had been built with financial means and expertise of our foundation Sabab Lou. Almost 100 women, youths and children water their plots in festive gowns. All dressed up, but work comes first! For a little better livelihood. How admirable.
For the next day, I call for Buja, Siri, Fatou and Khaddy to come to the office of RDO (=Rural Development Organization), where the fridge is. We had to plug it in there, because the high voltage of the fridge could not be running on solar in Dutabullu. We eventually will have to change this.
We take out the cheese and test its consistency. Great! Creamy, soothing, just perfect. Only a little bit of salt and then we prepare and pack three different varieties: fresh cheese plain, fresh cheese with garlic and pepper, and fresh cheese with onion leaves. We wipe the mozzarella cheese with salt. Ready.
I congratulate the women for their incredible efforts, they are very happy and proud too. The next two days I will have them working entirely on their own. This way I can check on their self sufficiency whereas I will do marketing for our products. But my day is not over yet. I am going to make jam and chutney in Chamen, the neighbouring village. As a matter of equal efforts for the participating villages in the Upper Baddibou District.
The jam works quite easy, whereas the chutney gets sort of experimental. Tomato, onion, eggplant, garlic, red pepper, yes, of course. May be mustard, ginger would also fit, but the green mangos make the fruity difference. More firewood please that it thickens. Our chutney tastes so surprisingly good, that the participants start dancing around the pot. Glasses filled, the rest is for the cooks.
Now it gets exciting. In my room I prepare a plate with tomatoes and our mozzarella cheese, and another one with our fresh cheese variations, our label for marketing attached.
“Produce of Upper Baddibou”
Organically grown and produced
By women and youths of Rural
Development Organization (RDO)
With German supervision.
Keep cool. Consume before_____
I enter Eddy´s restaurant, the only restaurant in Farafenni, and invite the owners for a cheese tasting. “Cheese . . . made in The Gambia?”, they can hardly believe. With every bite they like it more, while I explain the reason behind this effort: income generating for the poor village community. “How much can we buy?” Can´t believe it. And yes, it´s true. Nervously I hurry back to my room and return with 12 packets of cheese, just one sample each remaining for the marketing offensive inBanjul. They get the cheese, I get the cash. And they want more. And there is this friend, who will certainly like . . . Unbelievable, how could I expect this?Malang, our project manager, who just entered, takes the money in disbelieve, completely astonished about what just happened. He will hand out the 480 Dalasi to the women tomorrow, to encourage them to go on.
The next day my cheese team works alone, while I travel with taxi, bus and boat toBanjul. And, of course, a telephone SOS: ”it did not work, we only got mozzarella, please come”. They were completely frustrated. Quick turmoil of thoughts, no, they should continue, they will manage.
After a stressful, sweating journey, I first request Nurudeens computer to write a mail toMalangwith exact work description. As confirmed later, the women missed the right time to take the port off fire, they simply overheated the milk. No stepping back, I encourage them to continue.
Like before, at Eddy´s restaurant, I prepare again my cheese plates and enter Leybato´s restaurant. Nurudeen, our project coordinator charms owners and guests to join the tasting. “Cheese . . . made in The Gambia?” Yes. “Next Sunday is my marriage, can I buy cheese and chutney, lets say for 1500 Dalasi?” I am completely puzzled: “Eh . . . yes . . . we just started . . . eh . . . we may try . . .” Yes, we will try to complete this order. Period. “And for my restaurant I would like to order . . . “ Stop. I have to explain, that we are yet limited in capacity, but surely will work on speedy follow-up. I dare to sound ambitious, and I hope that none noticed my nervous anxiety. Nothing much should go wrong now. Incredible what´s happening right now.
In the evening I pick up Frieder and Goetz from the airport, ´Gambiabird´ flew them in fromGhana. I flew too, had my head in the clouds, full of joy about the unexpected success.
Once more a sleepless night. Only after being called: ”today it worked!”, I fell asleep in the car, returning us to the Upper Baddibou District. Till a tire burst at high speed. One hour in burning heat, then we are back on the road. I don´t mind the bad luck, difficulties in our production would be worse right now. It would ruin the hopes and expectations of many poor women.
In the office of our NGO, we plan the timetable for the next two days. Not only that we have to continue working on our first orders, we have to also hold important meetings with the villages. We have to adjust to different personal demands, to adjust budgets and workplans, and strive for sustainability of our projects. Each process should be determined for self sufficiency and sustainability, right from start. The solar pumping system has to be refinanced, investments have to be made, reserves have to build up. And we cannot just plant and produce without thinking about storage, processing and marketing. That´s why we demand responsible actions from the villagers and their committees. We gave them a vehicle, driving they have to do on their own. We will help them to be able to manoeuvre the vehicle also in many years to come. Moreover, we will help them to increase productivity and start more income generating projects. This is what we call development cooperation. “What needs to be done to achieve your goal” = Sabab Lou, that´s what we mean.
Every evening we fall into sleepless nights, grateful though for having such a great team, happy about the enormous efforts of the villagers, satisfied about the progress. Still, we have to redefine personal structures, plans and projects, our organisation has to work even more efficient. Without the valuable input of our friend Goetz, we wouldn´t have come that far. Exact, precise, planful, organised, creative, pragmatic – that´s Goetz. Our friend and partner.
For my cheese team it means consolidating the production processes, through consequent productivity, quality and marketing. As well for my deli team. For me it means working on work plans, improve means of production, control standard, design attractive labels, advice on marketing, create additional work, and else. Also, I want to work on a project proposal with Nurudeen and Goetz for government funds for our cheese processing. By the end of the year the government will revise on proposals for income generating projects, increase of local production, create labour, and promote gender issues. We have to fit in there.
“Cheese . . . made in The Gambia?”
“MADE IN THE GAMBIA”