Women Entrepreneurs Challenging Gender Norms in Benin

News | Published at: November 06 2020

More nutritious than raw rice and particularly popular in West Africa, parboiled rice represents an economic opportunity for many women in the Collines Department in Benin. 

In this central region of the country, 5,300 women have come together to form various unions of women rice parboilers, becoming experts in this raw rice processing method in order to improve their income and living conditions. 

While these women’s desire for progress is unwavering, their path to greater financial independence and well-being is nonetheless full of hurdles. Indeed, in Benin, the power to make decision is mainly concentrated in the hands of men. Whether in matters of participation in the political, social or economic life, or of choices related to education, health and family planning, it is generally up to the husband to make decisions for his wife and family. This lack of empowerment and decision-making ability restricts women’s access to multiple services, as well as to opportunities for development and economic empowerment. 

It is to counter this unfavourable trend for women that the project Supporting Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Rice Industry (PAEFFR) aims to support partner associations so that they become profitable, professional and recognized businesses in the rice sector. 

“I used to be incapable of speaking in public, but now I can do it, even in front of men. The support from PAEFFR made me gain more self-confidence,” explains Elisabeth Maffon, President of the Union des coopératives communales des étuveuses de Riz (UCCER) in Savalou.

“The training sessions on positive masculinities have given our husbands confidence. They are now aware that their wives will receive training to improve their income and their living conditions, and that they will therefore contribute more effectively to household expenses,” adds Augustine Agbanrin, Secretary General of the Union des coopératives communales des étuveuses de riz (UCCER) in Bantè.

In total, 5,300 women rice producers and parboilers benefit from consulting and training services to become directors of more efficient, economically sustainable and socially just businesses. Concretely, this implies a comprehensive approach that can fulfill the various needs of women entrepreneurs such as literacy, leadership, governance and management training as well as participation in economic development.

“The capacity building on cost calculation (production costs, operations account) enabled us to know our profit margin. This motivated us to increase our parboiled rice production capacity,” explained Augustine Agbanrin.

With the project’s support, the adoption of more efficient processing practices helped improve the yield of parboiled rice. In this way, women who respect the recommended drying time of at least two hours obtain a higher rice processing rate than those who do not.

Additionally, forced to compete with imported parboiled rice and considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agricultural production market, women have been able to adapt by developing new marketing strategies with the support of the project. They have thus improved their ability to reach certain markets by adopting more effective penetration strategies. They were therefore able to market their production and to anticipate the repayment of their credit to their financial institution. These women’s ability to negotiate their loans also enabled them to build up stocks of raw materials in order to increase their production of parboiled rice. 

“Capacity building on rice quality and market prospecting have raised the sale price and the volumes of parboiled rice offered by the women producers, in turn improving their sales,” explains Augustine Agbanrin.

In fact, since the start of the project in 2017, the sales volumes of the women parboilers have increased by 226%, leading to a considerable increase in their revenues in the sector, which rose from $33,440 in 2017 to $98,202 in 2020.

The Supporting Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Rice Industry project (PAEFFR) is funded by Global Affairs Canada and supported by the Club des ambassadrices du CECI. It is built on the successes and lessons learned from the Support Project for Women Rice Parboilers of Burkina Faso (PAERIZ), which ended in 2019.

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