Improving the quality of "Gassirè" cheese for the empowerment of Fulani women

Sustainable agriculture
10.12.2021
The PASDeR programme aims to contribute to a sustainable increase in the productivity of family farms and pastoralists through the promotion of agri-food sectors, including milk and meat. In Benin, milk is still produced in marginal quantity despite its economic and nutritional importance. This is why the Programme supports the umbrella organisations of professional ruminant breeders in the departments of Borgou-Alibori and Atacora-Donga in order to enhance the value of milk-derived products, particularly "Gassirè" cheese, by improving their quality and competitiveness. 
"Gassirè" cheese dyed red

"Gassirè" is a dairy product that is still very much desired and is undoubtedly an integral part of African and Western cuisine. Commonly called "Wagashi" in Benin, Gassirè is a cheese originating from the Fulani, an ethnic group in Sub-Saharan Africa known for its pastoral and nomadic way of life. Thanks to a traditional technology specific to this ethnic group, it is made exclusively with fresh whole cow's milk and a filtrate of Calotropis procera containing an enzyme. It is generally oval or flat in shape, depending on the type of mould used, with a diameter and thickness that vary according to the area of production. 

Using sorghum panicles or young teak leaves, the cheese is dyed red to make it more attractive. This technique also allows the cheese to be stored in a cool place, dried, fried or smoked.

The name Gassirè has been adopted by the National Association of Professional Ruminant Breeders' Organisations (ANOPER), the national umbrella organisation of the Departmental Unions of Professional Ruminant Breeders' Organisations (UDOPER), which has developed actions to support the development of local milk through improving its quality. In its mission to promote women in the world of agro-pastoralists, UDOPER Atacora Donga (AD) supports the women members of the association, organised in groups, in the transformation of local milk into quality cheese according to specifications that respect the required quality standards.

Preheated milk
Calotropis Procera - the coagulanting agent that makes the milk curdle 

Pènon Koro, a milk processor in Djougou (North-West Benin), benefited from a training course in 2020, organised by UDOPER AD with the support of the programme, on the quality approach and good hygiene practices. The training enabled her to increase her processing capacity, improve the quality of her cheese and sell it under good conditions at profitable prices.

Pènon Koro and the members of her group

"Before the training, I was not very thorough in terms of the precision of the dose of coagulant and respecting hygiene rules. Also, I did not value my cheeses when selling them at the market. Customers sometimes complained about their quality, which led to a drop in demand and I was producing barely 10 cheeses a day. After the training, I learned how to keep my processing and selling environment clean as well as my personal hygiene. I have adapted the know-how passed on to me by my mother, taking into account all the new knowledge I have acquired, and the quality of my cheese has notably improved. The demand for my cheese has become strong as customers have appreciated the new quality and my production has increased considerably." 

At present, Pènon produces about 45 cheeses a day. Each cheese is sold at 600 CFA francs (1 CHF), leaving her with a net profit of 11,000 CFA francs (18.33 CHF).

Sales unit for cow's milk and by-products in Banikoara (North-West Benin)

The Rural Economic Development Support Programme (PASDeR) is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by the Swisscontact-LARES consortium.

Benin
Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Rural Economic Development Support Programme PASDER
The four departments in the northern part of the country (Alibori, Borgou, Atacora and Donga) cover almost three quarters of the country's surface area and are home to just over a third (33.9%) of the population. According to the Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.485, Benin will rank 167th out of 187 countries in 2016. Poverty has increased at...