Every year, around 2500 people are involved in drying our mangos from Burkina Faso. We create value where it is urgently needed thanks to external processing.
Sweet or tart with just the right bite, as a snack on the go or in muesli, smoothies, or cakes: Dried mangos are delicious all-rounders. No wonder they are among the most popular products in our online store. We sell over 33,000 packets of it every year, or around 33 tons. We even sell up to 700 tons by supplying processors and wholesalers.
Each packet of dried mangos passes through our processing plant in Bobo-Dioulasso. We source organic fruit from over 1600 family farmers in the Hauts-Bassins and Cascades regions in the west of the country. To process the large quantities, we rely on numerous small businesses. "We work with external processors to dry the mangos. This season, there are 58 farms," explains Mirjam Traoré, Head of Quality, Health, Safety and Environment and HR at gebana Burkina Faso.
Drying mangos still requires a lot of manual labour. During mango season -from the end of March to August, the employees of these companies wash, peel, cut and dry the fresh mangos. Depending on the plant, between 30 and 50 people work in processing. Most of them are women. "Many of these workers are homemakers with no education. Mango processing is an additional source of income for them" says Traoré.
A long way up to the shipping container
Patience is necessary if you want to dry mangos. It takes around 18 to 20 hours for the mango pieces to dehydrate. The employees - who are usually men for this step - rotate the drying grids every two hours so that the slices dry out evenly. After that, the workers sort the pieces and pack them in the same plastic bags that we later deliver to our customers.
At our factory in Bobo Dioulasso, around 200 seasonal employees re-open each bag and check the contents. They check the quality of the mangos and sort them again if necessary. In a process known as flushing, they fill the packs with CO2 and nitrogen to protect the mangos from pests and make them last longer.
The mangos then reach a shipping container and are transported by truck to the port of Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire, where they are loaded directly onto a ship. After two to three weeks at sea, the container arrives in Rotterdam or Antwerp and is taken to gebana's warehouse in the Netherlands.
External processing has its pros and cons
gebana Burkina Faso operates its own drying station. However, most of the drying companies we work with are external independent micro businesses. Many also supply other companies, but gebana Burkina Faso is usually their main customer. All the farms are in the wider area of Bobo-Dioulasso, more precisely around the towns of Toussiana, Orodara and Banfora in the west of the country.
"Companies generally don't have a lot of equity. They are mostly run by people who live locally. We give farms an advance at the beginning of the season so that they can buy the fresh mangos," explains Mirjam Traoré.
On the one hand, most of the mango drying is done externally, because our factory in Bobo-Dioulassou simply lacks the space for this step. On the other hand, we create numerous jobs and added value in regions where there is otherwise little local trade. Not only do the dryers get a job, but the mango transport or the equipment maintenance also supports the local economy. Furthermore, local processing makes sense because we do not have to transport the fresh mangos over long distances. Dried, they are much lighter and more compact.
Unlike the employees in our factory in Bobo-Dioulasso and our drying stations, the employees of the external drying companies generally do not have employment contracts. These informal employment relationships are widespread in Burkina Faso but give workers fewer rights and less security. Nevertheless, we rely on decentralized processing because it creates numerous jobs and promotes economic development outside the cities. We are also trying to get the drying plants to formalize. gebana Burkina Faso is currently conducting an awareness campaign with the production plants to convince them of the importance of such contracts.
Trust and control
The drying plants supply us exclusively with mangos from family farmers with whom we cooperate. "The collectors pick up the fruit from the mango farmers and transport it to the nearest drying plant. It is all traceable" Traoré explains.
To ensure that our quality and hygiene standards are met, gebana Burkina Faso employees visit the processing plants about once a month. In doing so, they also check that the dryers comply with organic production regulations and ensure that no children are employed.
We are currently planning a new larger factory near Bobo-Dioulassou, that will also include some mango drying ovens. Nevertheless, we will continue to rely on external drying companies in the future because local processing creates value where it is urgently needed.