In April 2012, Rick attended TechnoServe’s southern Africa regional meeting in Nampula, pretty far north in Mozambique.  This included a field trip to a successful client who owns a grain milling company.*  In rural Mozambique, if people can afford it, they take whole grain to be locally milled which provides a significant labor-saving alternative to the customary hand pounding.  The few existing,  small-scale mills available in a district provide a valuable service by grinding grains and roots into meal and producing a superior tasting product that consumers prefer over commercially produced flour.

Senhora Fatima Bolacha started such a maize milling business within the village of Ribaue, Nampula province. Based on her prior experience as a vendor of used clothing, a tobacco farmer, and an accountant for a large cotton company, she identified an opportunity gap in the area.  Currently she is one of a small but growing number of women entrepreneurs who have recently entered the business.  She then diversified into packaged-flour sales and plans to invest in refrigeration so that she might bring fresh fish to the rural interior.

Indeed, her company represents a new model of maize mills, which might free people’s time while also functioning as multi-purpose business centers.  Among a range of socio-economic benefits, this model can: decrease the amount of time women otherwise spend hand pounding maize; provide better access to nutritious food; serve as an important vehicle for more gender equity; and allow men and women to have greater control over their time.  As tangential benefits, maize meal can: offer a high profit margin to mill owners; be a gateway for vertical integration into larger-scale trading and storage schemes; enable millers to hedge against agricultural risks; and potentially leverage maize production’s seasonality to their advantage.

With local TechnoServe staff’s support, Senhora Fatima Bolacha’s mechanized grain milling and related activities are helping to meet the needs of local women—who typically have one to two years of schooling–by turning the village of Ribaue into a local hub of nutrition learning and experimentation. Launched in 2011, the “Fun Food Center” fosters an environment to share knowledge and socialize–a good starting point for social and economic empowerment. At the pilot site, TechnoServe has been instrumental in creating a modular multi-purpose point of sale for ‘milling, meeting and marketing’.  This has become an integrated space that offers grinding grain as well as an array of new choices for customers, progressively making them better-informed agents of family nutrition as well as providing workforce training.

*This story is mostly derived from a TechnoServe publication.