After an extremely difficult few months marked by health issues, the death of her mother and the financial instability caused by the pandemic, Awa Sène began to resume her commercial activities in October 2021. She picked up trade by selling her fresh juices to children once schools reopened and also supplied chilled food products to weddings and other religious ceremonies taking place in her village and the surrounding area.
After clawing back much of her clientele, Awa was thrilled to see an upturn in her sales and income: a typical monthly turnover of around 240,000 Francs gave her a healthy profit of 144,000 Francs. She diverted this profit towards paying off the loan for her freezer as well as the outstanding balance with her supplier which enabled her to become debt-free by the end of April 2022.
Unfortunately, Awa has also recently been forced to contend with the rising price of raw food products which is undermining the profitability of her business. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is driving up the cost of food imports whilst suppliers typically put up their prices whilst catering for feasts during the busy month of Ramadan. The period between March and October also comprises a “lean season” during which reserves of agricultural produce dwindle and prices go up accordingly. The cost of producing her range of fruit juices has spiralled: over the last month, sugar prices have gone up by 16%, a tub of pulped bissap fruit now costs an extra 40% and dried baobab fruit has seen a 50% increase. Awa comments: “Such a dramatic rise in prices made me really worried and I realised I had to come up with a strategy to protect my profits”.
Working closely with Dominique Thiaw, her mentor at Energy 4 Impact, Awa decided the best solution would be to focus on selling milk and milk-based products given she is able to buy milk at an affordable price and make higher profits on reselling it chilled and processed. The move into milk products looks particularly favourable in the run-up to Ramadan when demand for milk and milk-based products peaks.
As Dominique Thiaw explains: “The business case for switching from fruit juices to milk is a persuasive one. While the profit margin for bissap cream is currently around 25 francs per unit, with milk she makes a profit margin of 50 or even 100 francs per unit.”
With Ramadan now underway, Awa can also turn her hand to the production of thiacry, a mixture of milk and couscous that is popularly given to children during the fasting period. Awa believes that selling thiacry during this holy month has the potential to double her usual income.
However, Awa is yet to solve another logistical problem. Her mother used to help in the day-to-day running of the two small convenience stores that Awa opened in her own village and the nearby village of Diouroup. Now Awa needs to hire a reliable assistant so she can concentrate on her cold trade which is a more lucrative revenue stream in the off-grid rural area where she lives and works.
This story has been developed by our partner Energy 4 Impact as part of our Women’s Economic Empowerment Program.