June 8, 2006: Halimata Bâ slowly stirs
a giant vat of creamy milk as it roils and churns atop a gas
stove. Halimata is the treasurer of the Fedde Rewbe Fulbe
Aynaabe (FRFA), loosely translated from the Pulaar language
as the Fulani Herders Women’s Association. The FRFA
is one of many women’s cooperatives in Senegal generating
income from value-added transformation of an agricultural
After the milk is pasteurized, it is sealed in small plastic
packets, emblazoned with the group’s name and an illustration
of a corpulent Holstein cow grazing a green pasture, and the
words “Kosam Moyyam”—"quality milk".
While the picture of the cow hardly represents the bony, humped
Zebu cows that actually graze the sparse grasses of the jeeri,
Senegal’s northeastern savanna, it succeeds in lending
the product a professional air.
The FRFA is based in Ourossogui, a dusty crossroads town
on the highway connecting the far northeastern Matam region
to the more populous west coast. The village is about 10 miles
south of the town of Matam. The vast majority in this part
of Senegal are Halpulaar or Pulaar speakers, called Fulani
in English or Peulh in French. Renowned for their business
savvy in West Africa’s urban areas, many Halpulaar continue
to live as nomadic pastoralists, following the rains and greening
grasslands with their large herds of cattle, goats and sheep.
Halpulaar women traditionally sell fresh or curdled milk in
rural markets or door to door. The FRFA has carried on that
legacy, but in an inspiring manner that capitalizes on cooperation.
The FRFA was founded in 1998 by 52 women with a vision of
increasing economic opportunities for themselves. A year later,
the group approached PRODAM (Project for the Agricultural
Development of the Department of Matam), a non-governmental
organization, in search of ideas. PRODAM sponsored two group
members’ visit to a similar women’s group in Mali,
the next nation to the east across the Senegal River. Many
of the Malian group’s members were also Fulani, but
spoke Fulfulde, a variant of Pulaar. “They could understand
us, but we couldn’t understand them!” laughs Habi
Sow, the group’s secretary general. The Malian group
trained the visiting FRFA members in organizational skills
and revenue-generating activities such as soap-making and
“That visit gave us a lot of ideas,” Habi adds.
Upon their return to Ourossogui, the members rallied together
to identify their needs. First-thing-first, they built a classroom
and found a teacher to lead classes in Pulaar literacy. These
were held in conjunction with classes in financial management
Two years ago, the FRFA embarked on its milk-production project
after hearing about the success of a similar project in the
Kolda region to the south. As in Matam and Mali, Fulani herders
play a significant role in the agriculture of the south. The
FRFA’s president and secretary general accompanied four
Fulani herders and a veterinarian to a five-day training workshop
there to learn how to make the traditional activity of milk
Soon after, PRODAM provided the group with the necessary
equipment and goods to get started—a refrigerator, three
small gas stoves, vats, milk tanks, a thermometer, and 15,000
empty sacks with the picture of the Holstein. The group provided
local herders with animal feed to supplement the cows’
traditional diet of wild savanna grasses. This boosted production.
Once they’ve milked the cows, the herders bring the
milk by bicycles or donkey carts for transportation into Ourossogui,
which may be up to 20 miles away. In exchange for the feed
(which augments milk production considerably) from the co-op,
the herders provide the group with milk.
The first day, the women received about 3.5 gallons of milk.
By the second month, up to 21 gallons per day were coming
in. “We couldn’t sell it all, we lost a lot,”
Habi Sow remembers. They’re now processing between 5
to 7.5 gallons daily. “We got 26 liters [about 7 gallons]
in this morning,” she reported, illustrating the co-op’s
adjustment to fit its current marketing capacity.
Once the milk arrives, the group pasteurizes it in giant
cooking pots on a gas stove. Once it cools, they either package
it as milk, or let it curdle to become lait caillé
(liquidy sour cream), which they sell either sweetened or
plain. They also make butter. Most sales are local: customers
either come in to the cooperative, or the packages are taken
to small shops that line the neem-shaded streets in nearby
While the milk sells for a reasonable price— roughly
50 to 70 cents for a half-liter [about 1 pint] packet, sales
provide FRFA enough revenue to pay the handful of women workers
about $20 to $30 per month. “That kind of income helps
the family out a lot,” says Habi.
The coop is also interested in expanding its efforts to include
dried milk production. Outside of milk processing, the group
is interested in offering micro-credit loans and small business
capacity building workshops to help improve petite commerce
on the Mauritanian side of the river. “AIDS education
is also very important,” another women adds.
The FRFA project, while modest, provides an inspirational
model for cooperative enterprise to women through the region.
In addition, its activities help to show young people a wider
range of economic opportunity. When asked if their daughters
have been inspired, one of the women in the group says, “Yes,
it is often our daughters who come to help. They are already
eager to learn.”