By: Sarah Mock, Georgetown University
As we pulled up to a signless storefront on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, one of the top 100 innovators in Africa was already outside waiting for us. We were here to meet Mr. Raoumba, the mastermind behind the celebrated broyeur polyvalent agricultural machine, to talk about his product, his company, and his journey as an entrepreneur. What we didn’t expect was to be greeted with so much excitement, to be inspired by Mr. Raoumba’s passion, and to leave knowing more, not only about innovation and entrepreneurship in Burkina Faso, but about what it means to do intentional work in the world- work that speaks for you.
Mr. Raoumba led us into his office when we first arrived, and we made our introductions battling the sounds of booming business, as workers in the adjacent shop continued tirelessly to crank out parts for the broyeur polyvalent. This fascinating piece of machinery stands about four feet tall, is John Deere green, and has the power to transform families, villages, and maybe all of Burkina Faso.
It works like this. Agriculture in Burkina Faso is divided into two main groups; the planters (les agriculturalists) and the herdsmen (les enleveurs). For the herdsmen in this hot and dry Sahel country, life is difficult, they must move their herds constantly to find food. This leads to conflict with the planters when roving herds graze on planted fields, and following the herds is often done by children, preventing them from going to school. That’s where the broyeur polyvalent comes in. This machine uses agricultural waste products (basically, the plant material that’s left over after harvesting) to produce a quality livestock feed. This machine allows herders to move less (or potentially, not at all!), and livestock can be fed in sheds instead of on the meager plants of the delicate Sahel ecosystem.
The idea for the broyeur polyvalent came from shea butter. Mr. Raoumba, seeing how difficult it was for women to produce shea butter from shea seeds, wanted to find a way to make the lives of Burkinabé women easier. With no formal training, and with the mysterious blessings of the women who gave his company its name (“Kato!” Is an exclamation in Morré meaning something along the lines of “Thank God, you’ve saved us!”), he started experimenting. It wasn’t long before the first working machine was in use, not to process shea seeds, but to offer women alternative employment, namely making and selling livestock feed.
Not only did the broyeur polyvalent create jobs for women after the harvest is over, it also made their job less taxing, and gave their children more opportunities for schooling. Conflicts with planters were not only avoided, a cooperative relationship was created because keeping cattle in a cow shed enables the collection and sale of cow dung as fertilizer. The delicate Sahel climate was also protected from the damage of overgrazing, and thus desertification, one of the primary negative impacts of climate change for all agriculturalists.
We weren’t the first (nor I am sure, the last) to fall head of heals for the broyeur polyvalent. Mr. Raoumba has enough prizes and awards from national, regional, and international actors to fill a second office, but more then the prizes, his business speaks for itself. When we were visiting, Kato! was putting together 150 broyeurs polyvalent for a joint contract with the Japanese government and the World Bank. The Minister of Scientific Research and Innovation recently purchased machines that he installed in his own village because he was so impressed with Mr. Raoumba’s product, and the same minister has recently asked him to innovate a nutritious livestock feed from locally sourced products.
Mr. Raoumba has a vision that his innovation will transform not only his village and the whole of Burkina Faso, but all of Africa and all the world. You can tell by the glint in his eye, the way he speaks, and the passion that he can barely contain that it’s not about the money for him, its about helping people, his own and others. One of the reasons he started his business is because he realized that solutions for the development of his country needed to come from within, and he knew that that must start with him.
After a tour of the workshop were we saw men toiling away on the World Bank order, Mr. Raoumba told us a parable. He used the example of a bag-maker and a blind man. If a blind man comes to the bag-maker, the bag-maker need not be honest, because the blind man cannot see if he mad a poor bag, and thus there is great temptation to cheat him. However, when the blind man goes out, people will notice his bag. If it is a good bag, he will be happy and tell everyone about the bag-maker, and if it is a bad bag, people will say his bag is ugly and he will be sad and angry. This, he said, was a story about how one must work in life. Maybe you can get by doing poor work, and maybe you will gain a little, but if you do good work, your work speaks for you out in the world, and even strangers will come to know of you and to trust you. That’s why Mr. Raoumba does the work he does; he knows that we are all blind to something be it gender, education, or climate change. However, he believes his work can surpass that blindness and speak to his passion, love of his country, and hope for the future.
The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author of this article do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University or any employee thereof.