My women’s association held their regular monthly meeting on November 23 with the intent of making some critical decisions about the sales strategy for their butter, which has already been produced, and the soap that they intend to make in the coming months.

The first success of this meeting was that it started only 20 minutes after the scheduled start time!  I’ve discovered that telling them the meeting starts “sogoma da fe” or “in the morning,” rather than assigning a start time of 10 am, gets them to the meeting right around 10 am.  It’s amazing how something so small can make such a big difference!

As I mentioned in a previous post, there were three batches of shea butter in the end – one, which was made on October 6 with the full group, one which was made on October 6 by the group that went rogue, and one which was produced on October 13.  It turns out that having these three separate batches actually worked in our favor, as the quality of the three batches was not consistent. 

In making shea butter, combining differing qualities of butter brings down the overall quality of the batch.  So, if the rogue group had combined their butter with the other batch that was made on October 6, we would have had a lot of mediocre-quality butter, rather than one excellent batch and one batch of poor quality.

I saw the situation that we found ourselves in as an excellent teaching moment.  At the meeting, I had about a kilo of butter from each of the three batches.  Without attaching names to the batches, I sent each around for the women to look at, smell and taste.  It was very clear to them that these three batches were of different quality.  Then, I posed the question, “Nin si tulu, bee kelen ye wa?” or “Is all of this butter the same?”  The question was met with a resounding “ayi” or “no.”

The next question that I asked of them was, “Ni aw taara sugu la, aw be nin si tulu san songo kelen wa?” or “If you went to market, would you buy these for the same price?”  Again, a unanimous “ayi.”

Our next step was to talk to each group to see what they had done to make the different qualities of shea butter.  I revealed the names of the villages whose women had produced each batch of butter and let them take the floor.  It was quickly discovered that the group with the best butter had, in fact, done everything correctly – good nuts equal good butter.

Through this exercise, the problems of the other groups were easy to identify.  One group’s nuts were not dry enough because they were leaving them out during rains, rather than bringing them in to stay dry.  The women talked through the issues themselves, and drew on their experiences from the technical exchange in June to support their ideas and give examples.  Seeing this constructive feedback happen within the organization gave me great hope for the future.  If the women understand these concepts, they can continue their work seamlessly with or without me.  This is a small, but very important victory.

After the quality control discussion concluded, and everyone pledged to follow all of the steps in the coming year, to ensure uniform quality across the organization, we moved on to a discussion of pricing.  This is what they came up with:

  • Because shea butter soap can be made with butter of lesser quality, we decided that the third- quality butter should be used to make soap. 
  • It was decided that the second-quality butter would be sold by the kilo in small plastic bags for 1,250 CFA (about $2.50). 
  • The first-rate butter, which is of impeccable quality, will be saved until early 2012 to be packaged in plastic tubs and sold for 1,500 CFA – 2,000 CFA depending on the price of the packaging. 

A good friend of mine from college is currently working on developing a logo and packaging for the products, which can be printed in Mali and used for years to come to give the “Si Teriw” products a professional look (thanks, Heather!).

We wrapped up the meeting with tea and bread, as usual, and scheduled our next meeting, which will take place Thursday, Dec. 15.  At this meeting we will be weighing and packaging shea butter in plastic bags for sale.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the sales go, as it appears that the women will likely at least double their profits from last year.  I have a feeling 2012 is going to be a great year for Si Teriw!  More to come…