Preserving Food and Preserving Lives: Improving Income through Innovative Preservation Technologies
Diakité Mariam Diarra is an agri-food processing entrepreneur from Koutiala, Mali, where she actively watched and helped her mother produce and sell homemade natural juices throughout her childhood.
“I decided to continue my mother’s passion in the field of food processing,” Diarra said. “However, my experience remained basic until 2014, when I received training provided by the the Support Fund for Vocational Training and Apprenticeship (Fond d’Appui à la Formation Professionnelle et à l’Apprentissage; FAFPA).”
Since, she has been able to enhance her ability to market locally, as well as to Bamako. Her success led her to explore export opportunities, even participating in the International Fair of Agriculture and Animal Resources (FIARA) in Senegal.
In 2022, Diarra started collaborating with the Feed the Future Mali Sugu Yiriwa Activity through an Open Day Event organized in Koutiala, where she won first prize in the culinary contest and received a 100-kilogram gas drying machine. After this, her work with the activity progressed, participating in other trade events — both nationally and regionally — where she could sell her products and establish new business relationships.
“I attended several trainings that greatly improved my food processing skills, which has enabled me to increase my income,” she said. “I particularly appreciated the session on good preservation practices for perishable products.”
Like other vendors in Sugu Yiriwa’s intervention zones, Diarra was facing significant waste of perishable products. With excessive use of fertilizers, frequent power cuts and high temperatures, the vegetables she bought would lose their freshness and quality over a period of two days, forcing her to get rid of the produce and bear financial losses.
According to statistics from the diagnostic report of market garden production systems in Mali (Rapport diagnostic des systèmes de production maraîcher au Mali, Projet SAFEVEG), market garden produce perishes at high rates in Mali, often exceeding 20 percent. To improve the availability and accessibility of nutritious and healthy products for households throughout the year, Sugu Yiriwa organized three trainings in November 2022 for 177 market actors on good preservation practices for perishable products.
During those sessions, participants worked on techniques to preserve food products in the short- and long-term, using technologies such as Zero Energy Cooling Chambers (ZECCs) and canary fridges, as well as modern methods like pasteurization, refrigeration and the use of preservatives. Brining was also presented as a preservation method.
“I put these new skills into practice by building a conservation chamber with cement bricks and sand that was available at my house,” Diarra said. “This method helped me save time, energy and money by better preserving my products.”
With these new skills and techniques, Diarra’s family is able to enjoy fresh produce regularly, including during the Ramadan season where she conserved carrots, peppers and tomatoes effectively for up to two weeks.
She also began producing brine for marketing, as well as for her own consumption.
“The brine I produce helps diversify my sources of income and provide my family with vegetables such as green beans and carrots throughout the year, even when they are not available in the market,” she said. “While others struggle to find these vegetables, I am able to preserve them year-round.”
To share her experience, Diarra organizes individual capacity building sessions for her family, cooperative members and neighbors on her volition. With knowledge from the Sugu Yiriwa training, she was able to disseminate information to 40 individuals, improving their incomes and access to nutritious foods year-round, while also building capacity.
“I am proud of the positive feedback I received and the impact these training sessions have on their lives,” she said.
Access to nutritious food year-round is essential to addressing malnutrition, especially in Mali’s southern zone, among children, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly. According to the 2022 Standardize Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART) nutrition survey, the prevalence of acute malnutrition in Mali exceeds the 10 percent alert threshold in most regions. Feed the Future Sugu Yiriwa trainings, like the one attended by Diarra, contribute to improving household livelihoods and fostering resilience by enabling households to produce and consume healthy foods throughout the year.