Spotlight on Siaka Traore, Burkina Faso

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By Mien De Graeve and Julia Kurnia

Takalédougou is a tiny village in the vast interior of the desert country of Burkina Faso.  The nearest source of running water and electricity is fifteen kilometers away – a full day’s journey by donkey cart.

This is the place where a remarkable entrepreneur has his home and farm. Siaka Traore is also a very charming person and he switched fluently from French to English while he welcomed me last weekend and explained everything about his greatest passion: cassava (manioc) growing and everything related to it.

Because the national sugar company has commandeered most of the arable land in Takalédougou itself, Siaka’s cassava farm is located eight kilometers away from the village. At the foot of an imposing mass of rock, Siaka has transformed 2.5 hectares of desert into a source of food and employment for an entire community.

Siaka has divided the land into several parts, and planted cassava on each part at a different time in order to distribute harvests throughout the year. On the field with the youngest plants he mixed the manioc with watermelon in order to get the most out of the energy in the soil. This phased approach not only ensures a continuous supply of cassava, but it also helps smooth the traditionally uneven incomes of the villagers whom Siaka pays to assist with the harvesting.

Siaka used his first Zidisha loan of $963 to purchase a set of machines for grinding, sifting and pressing the manioc into a couscous-like food called attièke. Attièke is very popular and nutritious, and people in Burkina Faso enjoy it as a staple food, accompanied with lots of salt, raw onions, spices, oil and dried fish.

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In the past the women of Takalédougou were working day and night to grind as much cassava as possible by hand.  Grinding cassava by hand is not only backbreaking labor, but it is also very inefficient and produces attièke of inferior quality.  As a result, most of the harvest had to be sold unprocessed and thus at a cheaper price.

With the new grinding, sifting and pressing machines, Siaka is able to grind all of his own harvest, plus the smaller harvests of the women in the village. As the price of attièke is more than double that of raw cassava, the incomes of Siaka and the village women who use the machines have gone up dramatically.  As an added bonus, the husk grindings that are produced as a by-product are used to fatten the village’s oxen, pigs and chickens.

The first Zidisha loan was slightly more than what was needed to purchase the manioc processing machines, and Siaka used the remainder of the funds to purchase a solar panel.  The solar panel powers a light, which allows Siaka to use the grinding machine in the evenings, freeing up his daylight hours for working in his fields.  Siaka’s solar panel gives the residents of Takalédougou one more reason to congregate at his house: they rely on it to recharge the batteries of their mobile phones.  The phones, which increasingly come with internet as well as voice and text capabilities, connect the people in this remote place with the outside world – and an ever-widening landscape of opportunity for a better life.

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Siaka used a second Zidisha loan to purchase a motorized vehicle to carry fertilizer to his fields, and to transport the cassava to storage and to his customers after harvest.  Previously, he had been using an ox cart for this work, and the slowness of this form of transport had become an obstacle to further growth of his business.  The new motorized vehicle increased his production capacity so much that he has now hired a team of other villagers to help him produce attièke from the harvested cassava.

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With the resulting revenue, he built a large new home for his family, pictured below.  He insists such a home would never have been within reach if it were not for the Zidisha loans.

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Siaka has since repaid his first two loans, maintaining a 96% on-time repayment rate over the 23 months since he first joined Zidisha.  This solid track record earned him the right to raise an even more substantial amount, and his third loan of $1,567 was funded by over 30 lenders from around the world.

Siaka plans to use this latest round of financing to construct three rooms to house his rapidly growing manioc business, and protect him and his employees from the elements and from intruding livestock while they process and package the attièke.  

Siaka’s business is a beautiful example of efficiency and vision and these characteristics allowed him to really make the best out of the funds he received. He is so grateful for the chance he got and he has asked us many times to thank Zidisha and all individual lenders. He is now very confidently looking into the future and he hopes he can continue to walk along this way for a very long time. He dreams of providing jobs to more people, of arranging contracts to provide neighboring schools with a steady supply of attièke, and of traveling to Ghana and perhaps even the United Stated to practice his English.

Last fall Siaka posted this update:

Dear’s zidisha members
I can’t stop to thank you night and day. I’m so well with all of my family. As the name of your institution, I’m growing up day by day. The moto taxi makes my job to be very easy for me to transport cassava from the farm to my small factory and also to sell the attieke from the factory to my different customers in beregadougou, tarfila, bounouna, banfora and toussiana .Most of news customers are calling me in many area in Burkina.
I received two person last Thursday 29th of one project in Burkina because they hear that I’m making good attieke; and they want to know me better and hear from my mouth how I’m producing it and who is my helper? I tell them that I’m working with ZIDISHA. They were surprise to listen this name. I was too happy to give them information about ZIDISHA and tell them that I’m a volunteer of zidisha. In this cage I thank the family who introduce me in zidisha by the grace of their daughter who is the first Peace Corps volunteer in Takaledougou.
Dears ZIDISHA lenders! I’m thanking all people who give me money for my business and I’m asking them to don’t worry about the repayment. If I’m in good health with all of my family, to pay the loan is a small thing for me. My best wish today is to see one zidisha lender in my village only to know me better and know my small factory.
Yours for ever SIAKA in TAKALEDOUGOU

It is an incredible thing that a technology platform like Zidisha can make it possible for a highly motivated entrepreneur living in one of the most isolated places on earth to team up with supporters all over the globe to make this kind of change happen.

If the past is any indication, this new loan will generate great returns in the form of better earnings and growth opportunities for Siaka and all those who now earn a living from the business he and his lenders have built together.

You may view Siaka’s own account of his business growth at his Zidisha profile page.

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