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Halatou Dem: The promising business of processing

Dossier: Agribusiness leaders


Halatau Dem's viewpoint

Thirty-two-year-old Halatou Dem has been managing the Bamako-based cereal processing company Danaya Céréales for 7 years. The Malian company – with a staff of 33 – exports its processed products to Europe, the US and throughout West Africa.

Danaya Céréales was founded by your mother in 1992. What were the main challenges facing her and how did they differ from those you are now encountering?

When my parents moved to Bamako, my mother invested in a shop using the severance pay they had received from the factory where they both worked. At the time, few local inhabitants purchased processed cereals apart from those living outside of Mali and returning home on holiday. My mother processed cereals at home for about 10 years and then in 2004 she built a 100 m2 processing unit on land she owned. The main difficulty at the time was that processing was considered a non-professional small-scale activity. It was also impossible to get a bank loan and she had to manage everything herself. We have now demonstrated that processing can be a profitable venture with a promising future. Together with our partners, we try to formalise the processing activity carried out by women, who also need training and support to become professional and generate high quality products. Financing is a major handicap for most of these women, but it is impossible to industrialise and develop with sparse funds. By contrast, the agrifood sector in developed countries benefits from government support, which facilitates expansion.

How have you fostered your mother’s entrepreneurial vision and helped develop and industrialise the company?

When I returned home after finishing school, the first thing my mother said was, “you have to come and work with me rather than looking for a job.” But I had never taken her business seriously so I first worked with a foundation that supported rural women, where I saw the impact this sector could have. In 2010 we became partners and founded the limited liability company Danaya Céréales. I helped formalise the business, set up a straightforward management system with an accounting firm handling the bookkeeping. Then I promoted the company through social networks to heighten its visibility, thus boosting its credibility in the eyes of many partners. This prompted the Malian trade bank, BICIM, to grant us our first loan of FCFA75 million (€114,346) to complete the construction of the plant. We are now in the process of qualifying for ISO certification and are striving to get as professionalised as possible. We recently began exporting to the US, in addition to Europe and throughout West Africa.

How could more women be supported in setting up and developing their own agribusiness?

I’ve noticed that all women wish to work in the same sector, but everyone cannot make cereals or fruit juice. The first step is to identify sectors lacking businesses and then encourage women to invest in them. Suitable training and financing must be available for them. In Mali, suitable processing equipment and skilled labour are not readily available, so it took us over a year and a half to find a quality manager. There are some business areas that young people do not consider, but which should be showcased.

What advice would you give young women considering investing in agriculture?

Be brave – you won’t get rich in this sector and you have to invest a lot. Financing is very slow, so you reinvest whatever you earn. Be ambitious, rigorous, patient and love what you do. Many people have not been able to hang on even for 5 years because the work is tiring and not as profitable as expected. This all has to be taken into account before getting started.