What tofu can teach us about trade wars


Vegetarians take note! MEDA’s work in Nigeria is promoting better business for those growing plant-powered protein. One such power protein is the mighty soybean.

Farming is complicated; the farmer must manage pests, work in variable weather and an ever-changing climate. They often to have finance their own crop production and sometimes face economic and land barriers. Moreover, being profitable in a global economy can be difficult.

The Economist notes that farmers in North America can be a the casualty in the United States’ trade wars with China. Markets that are disrupted by trade wars are susceptible to limited profitability and stagnation. An unpredictable business arena makes running a business and providing for your family even more difficult. However, with solid market intelligence and sustained and predictable markets, producers are boosted with a steady confidence to invest in a crop or even innovate new ways of production.

MEDA’s Nigeria WAY Project is doing just that. Here’s a story of one soybean processor’s increase in business skills and success…

Lami Ayuba is a mother of six who lives in a rural area of Northeastern Nigeria. She struggled to make ends meet and provide for her growing children. One day several years back, her children brought home soybean seeds from the market where they were sweeping to earn some money. Since it happened to be the rainy season, she decided to plant the handful of seeds and see what happened. Weeks later, she had a harvest of about 5 mudus (a mudu is a local unit consisting of nearly a kg) of soybeans from what she had planted and was excited about it. She decided to use some of the soybean to make awara, or tofu, for her children and sold the remaining awara outside her home. She was amazed to see that all the awara sold out quickly within two days and she made a profit of N350 ($1.30 CAD).

After this experience, Lami decided to start a home-based business that sold awara. Things started well. Over the next few years, she sent her children to school and provided for their basic needs from the money she made from her awara business. However, her awara was not the best quality and cost of supplies and time was high. Since Lami taught herself how to make awara, her method was labour-intensive and consisted of soaking the soybeans directly in water for extended periods of time and then ground it by hand. This meant that the soya mixture was coarse and required a lot of oil for frying.

Lami registered for MEDA’s Nigeria WAY project through their partner, Zunnurrain where she enlisted in tofu-making trainings. She learned how to dry her soybeans before grinding them. This process made the mixture softer and allowed for the flavours to emerge. This made the tofu more delicious! She also cut costs because she halved the amount of oil she usually bought because the quality of her product had improved. Lami’s tofu was so delicious that her neighbour, who has been in the awara business for six years, requested she share her recipe and teach her new techniques because the tofu was tastier than hers.

When asked how the training helped her, Lami said, “I have learnt a better and more time-saving way to make my awara. My customers seem to prefer the awara from this new method, which has increased my profit. My daily profit has risen to 800 Naira (CAD $3).”

These improvements to her business saved her money because she used less oil; time because the awara fries faster, and she makes more profit because her customers buy more. She has started experimenting with soymilk production—an innovative and unique opportunity in her community! Lami is extremely grateful to MEDA for bringing this intervention to her community and she is happy to share this new-found knowledge with other women.

“I am confident that awara and soymilk has opportunities for profit making and I will continue to expand my awara and soy milk products,” she concluded.

MEDA is working to provide technical assistance and market information to tofu processors like Lami so they can make better business decisions.

Interested in replicating Lami’s faster frying success? Check out this YouTube video of how to make some delicious awara, Naija style!

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