Struggling to keep business alive in Mauritania

Jun 19, 2009

woman selling her products in mauritania
Photo: UNDP

Before the economic crisis, Khadijetou was well on her way to achieving her dream of opening up her own shop. But despite losing her business and falling into debt, she is still optimistic that it will happen one day.

Khadijetou, her husband and their five children live in Dair Naim, a poor district outside the capital city, Nouakchott. Her husband’s modest income as a carter was not enough to meet the family needs, and so in 2007, she gathered ten other women from her neighbourhood and applied for financial support from the UNDP-supported Professionalisation of NGOs Support Fund (Fapong).With the US$ 1,000 credit they received, Khadijetou and her partners set up a cooperative selling fish and vegetables.

Initially, the business was successful. Khadijetou earned between US$8 to US$10 daily, a sizeable amount in a country with a minimum monthly wage of about US$75. She would spend half of this amount on her family’s needs and deposit the other half in a savings account, hoping to start her own shop. Then things changed.

Her husband lost his cart, and Khadijetou could not save as much. The economic crisis started to squeeze wholesalers who raised their prices, forcing Khadijetou’s cooperative to hike its own sale prices. Fewer customers could afford the fish and vegetables they were selling. She describes her dilemma at the time.

“If I don’t sell products on credit, they would perish because we don’t have any means of preservation, and my customers see me as a mean person. On the other hand, if I don’t bring in any earnings my partners see me as a bad manager or accuse me of squandering their money.”

This vicious cycle eventually led to the collapse of the cooperative. Khadijetou remembers the past with nostalgia.

“Everything was going great. Our group provided the whole district with fresh supplies. Now things have changed, including at the social level. A lot of women owe me money and avoid me,” she said.  

At present, the cooperative members are seeking ways to repay their pending debt to Fapong, which fortunately is not a substantial sum. And far from giving up, Khadijetou and her friends plan to start other economic activities, hoping that this time round, the global economic situation will have improved.

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