Juliette Ketehoundje, 35 years old and mother of five, is the founder and president of the Kpondeou women’s group. Since 2001, she leads a women’s gathering that processes and sells agricultural products in the Zou region of Benin. The technical support provided by GERES in the context of the implementation of the SETUP project has greatly facilitated the women’s work.
“We have more time to diversify our activities and increase our income”
What is the background to the KPONDEOU group?
The group was set up to improve the status of village women in the Zou area of Benin. Many young girls in this region are still given in marriage in exchange for a bride price. This practice exacerbates illiteracy and flight from rural areas. I wanted to find a way to give these young women economic and social independence as quickly as possible. This is why I suggested that they came together around a project to produce foodstuffs from agricultural raw materials by means of mechanical processing.
How does the group operate?
Women from the village have to pay a subscription to become members. Membership is vital because it creates a link between group members and ensures women’s active participation in the organization. The subscriptions also enabled us to buy land in 2001 to start small-scale palm oil production. The oil is a staple condiment in our diet and there is always heavy demand on the market in Benin. The 120 women members are paid a flat rate for a day’s work. The profits from production and sale remain in the group’s funds and are used to finance the purchase of new equipment.
How has GERES helped to improve life for women in the group?
When we started, processing palm oil by hand meant that we needed around eight hours to fill a 200 litre can. We had to crush the palm nuts with our bare feet to press out the oil. That caused us infections and injuries and took a huge amount of time. When we found out through the Zapota town hall about the GERES project to roll out multifunction mechanized platforms in our region, we immediately took note and asked for support. Now the machine replaces the physical labour. We can now produce 200 litres of oil in just 2 1/2 hours. The time-saving means that we are able to diversify our activities and increase our income. The group is now producing groundnut oil and butter that we sell in town.
How do you see the group’s future?
We are planning a five-year development project. We would like to expand our activity and grow soya and cashew. We are also hoping to bring electricity to the village to facilitate the children’s schooling and meet the community’s primary needs. For the present, our aim is to travel from village to village to demonstrate how we have achieved our success. We want other women experiencing the same problems to set up groups for themselves. It worked well for us and we can see that children are no longer leaving the village. We want to share our experience with as many people as possible.
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