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New jobs thanks to a water filtration system

Ein Mann in einem hellbraunen Oberteil lächelt in die Kamera. Er steht vor einer grau-gelben Wand.
Mbaye and his family have managed to build a business in Senegal.

New jobs thanks to a water filtration system

My name is Mbaye. I’m 64 years old and live in Senegal. I came back to my home country after spending a long time in Europe. I didn’t have any specific expertise when I decided to travel abroad in the 80s. I went to Guinea in 1986 and worked as a tailor. From there I went to Morocco, and then on to Europe. I worked in a water filter factory there.

I went to Senegal on holiday in 2009 and bought a water filtration system. I made sure I had all the necessary permissions and thought it would be possible build up a good business with a water filter in Senegal. I also had experience in this area. My water filtration system filters the water and packages it in small plastic bags (250 or 450 millilitres). In local currency they currently cost 25 and 50 CFA Francs, which equates to around 4 and 8 euro cents. People can afford that, even those who don’t earn much.  

Ein Mann in einem hellbraunen Oberteil legt eine große Plastiktüte, die mehrere kleine Plastiktüten mit Wasser enthält, zu vielen anderen Tüten auf einen Holzwagen.
Ready for transport: Mbaye loads the filtered water in plastic bags onto a wooden cart.

I left the filtration system with family members after my holiday. Business was very promising at first. But it wasn’t well managed and the turnover decreased more and more over the years. The Senegalese government had plans to ban thin plastic bags in 2015. I heard about this and realised that the business needed new impetus if it was going to survive. In 2018 I decided to return to Senegal and take control myself.

The path to success: knowledge and accessories

I was looking for help after my return. The Senegalese-German Centre for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration (CSAEM) offered me further training in business administration. It was a one-week training course for returnees and locals. I learned about better management of your own business: what to consider in terms of marketing, how to find new customers and what you should know when hiring staff.  

Ein Mann in einem hellbraunen Oberteil schaut in die Kamera und hält eine kleine, mit Wasser gefüllte Plastiktüte hoch. Vor ihm liegen viele dieser Plastiktüten aufeinandergestapelt. Hinter ihm sieht man eine Straße und eine Mauer.
Mbaye presenting his product: filtered water in plastic bags.

I also received donations in kind from the CSAEM and the Senegalese Youth Employment Agency ANPEJ: plastic bags that meet international standards; filter cartridges; two 2000-litre water tanks and clear water pumps. These accessories enabled me to revitalise my business. In summer or on public holidays I sell up to 440 water bags a day. It’s around 200 a day in quieter times. Business is good, so I now have 6 permanent employees and 15 temporary assistants. They do things like operate the machinery, or sell the water bags in my shop or at markets.

Affected by the pandemic

Single-use plastic has been prohibited in Senegal since April 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the government decided to exclude the packaging of filtered water from this prohibition. I didn’t receive any state support during the pandemic. And my business was severely affected by the global lockdowns: the plastic bags were in short supply and the material became more expensive. The fact that there were no family celebrations or gatherings meant we had far fewer orders and had to halve our production. I had to deal with a difficult situation, but I didn’t give notice to any of my staff. The CSAEM assisted me during this time.  

Expanding the business in Senegal

I’m optimistic, even despite the pandemic, and have plans to expand my business. Soon I’ll be installing filter systems in towns in Guédiawaye and Kaolack. Then I’ll switch from plastic bags to bottle packaging. I’ve already looked at the market in detail and believe it’s very promising. I’d also like to buy a vehicle. I’m currently renting horse-drawn carts to take my water to customers. With a vehicle I could reach more distant shops and wholesalers. I can’t complain when I compare what I’m earning in Senegal with what I used to earn in Europe. I can live well on my earnings in Senegal.

Wenn ich meine Einnahmen in Senegal damit vergleiche, was ich in Europa verdient habe, kann ich mich nicht beschweren. Ich kann in Senegal gut von meinen Einnahmen leben. 

As of: 05/2022

I can’t complain when I compare what I’m earning in Senegal with what I used to earn in Europe.
– Mbaye

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