Mauritania’s dairymaid

November 7, 2001

Nancy Abeiderrahmane, a 1993 Rolex Laureate who has already done much to improve the quality of life for Mauritanians, is set to make an even greater impact on her adopted country. Her new UHT (ultra high temperature) milk plant, scheduled to begin operating early this year, is designed to soak up a seasonal surplus of cow’s milk. Capable of producing about 20,000 litres of long-life milk a day, the plant will create about 50 jobs, plus many more “out in the bush”.

Finding Markets
In 1989, when British-born Abeiderrahmane opened Africa’s first camel’s milk dairy in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, most Mauritanians baulked at buying processed milk. They now enjoy camel’s, goat’s and cow’s milk products from her Tiviski dairy, made from milk bought from more than 700 suppliers.

Abeiderrahmane is confident she will find a market for UHT cow’s milk throughout West Africa. “We’ll also sell it in Nouakchott in winter, when people find refrigerated milk too cold.” UHT milk can be stored without refrigeration.

Forging Ahead
Since early 2001, she has concentrated on construction of the new UHT plant, leaving the day-to-day running of the dairy to Yahya, the eldest of her three sons, to her daughter Maryam and to 180 staff. The new 1,800-square-metre dairy is being fitted with state-of-the-art European equipment and is costing “big money”, says Abeiderrahmane.

So far she has managed to secure a million Euros from the European Investment Bank (the European Union’s financing institution), and half a million each from PROPARCO (Société de promotion et de participation pour la coopération économique, a French government lending institution) and the International Finance Corporation, the lending arm of the World Bank. “We are ploughing in more than a million ourselves,” says Abeiderrahmane, to make up the total cost of three million Euros.

Further Improvements
Tiviski has established an organisation to provide veterinary care and cost-price medicine to its suppliers in order to improve the quality of the milk it buys. This system, she adds, has already started working, and she expects soon to start paying a higher price for better milk.

Although the UHT plant is designed for cow’s milk, Abeiderrahmane hopes that Tiviski will soon be able to produce UHT camel’s milk, “as there can never be enough camel’s milk in the world to satisfy potential demand”.

Success for Camel Products
Camel’s milk has, she declares, “less fat than cow’s milk, less lactose, more vitamin C, more minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, iodine. Its biochemistry is closer to humans’, and it is less allergenic.” She adds that camel’s milk is better flavoured than cow’s milk, and products made from sour camel’s milk, such as cheese, are “light and fresh-tasting”.

Tiviski’s camel’s milk cheese — the production of which was supported by Abeiderrahmane’s Rolex Award — is now on the menu at the leading hotel in the region, and is proving “quite a success”.

Abeiderrahmane is now closer than ever to achieving her long-term goal of exporting camel’s milk cheese to Europe. In September 2001, the European Union agreed to include Mauritania among the countries allowed to export dairy products to Europe.

“This removes a major hurdle for us,” she says. “Although there is still some work to be done before you’ll be able to buy it in Fortnum’s [a gourmet food shop on Piccadilly, central London], we hope 2002 will be the decisive year.”

Learn more about Nancy M. Abeiderrahmane

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