Reneé Wassen, Linda Hilbrands and Nele van Ingen all three study Food technology at Wageningen University and all three they did their graduate research on a food product from Benin, Africa. In continuation of their research, they decided to organise a study trip to Benin to see how production and processing of food products takes place in practice. Reneé will tell what they all have been through during this self-organised foreign advanture.
“On account of our graduate research at the department Product Design & Quality (PDQ), Linda, Nele and I organised a study trip to Benin, in Africa. After the Wageningen University Fund pledged us to refund part of our trip and after the necessary vaccinations, Sunday the 6th of March finally was the day of departure; On 10.30 at Schiphol, we were ready for our trip to Benin!
Now you are probably thinking: why Benin? Indeed, it isn’t quite a common location for a study trip, but I will tell you exactly why we did go to Benin. Linda, Nele and I are all three students of the master ‘Food Technology’, with the specialisation ‘Product Design’, and all three we did our graduate projects on a product from Benin.
As such, Linda has investigated the quality of pineapple juice and looked for possibilities of improving storage for export to Europe. Nele scrutinised the composition of amino acids in cow peas, a type of beans, and what happens to this composition when you cook cow peas with bicarbonate. I myself have searched for the possibility of making gari from yam bean bulbs in stead of cassaca.
The projects of Linda and Nele were organised in collaboration with the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin, and my project was set up in collaboration with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Benin (IITA-Benin). Since in the Netherlands little was known on the production and processing of fresh pineapple juice, cow peas and yam bean bulbs and since our research demanded to actually come to see these products and there local processing, we got to the idea of organising a study trip together. With help of two Beninese PhD students – Yann Madodé and Harold Hounhouigan – and many people of the department of PDQ and several research institutes, it has succeeded!
After a bad start – two of the three suitcases didn’t arrive, the car wouldn’t start at first and we had a night with only five hours of sleep – our first day in Benin began with a symposium at the university. We could get acquainted with the Beninese climate straight away, for the air-conditioning malfunctioned! The remainder of the trip consisted of many excursions. Among others, we have visited all kinds of pineapple fields for Linda’s research and we went to several pineapple juice factories. Such factories often are no more that some kind of ‘shed’ in which several devices are stored. The juice is stored in used Heineken bottles, sealed manually and pasteurised. Nobody really knows for how long and how hot, hence there is much potential of improvement therein. Also, we noticed many problems with the equipment used. Few people are trained for process developer, thus nobody really knows how to fix the device, should it crash.
For Nele’s research, we went to two different types of cow pea processors; a conventional processor with a stand on the street selling produce directly, and a somewhat more professional processor. These people too didn’t know how long to cook the beans and much was regulated by simply feeling, such as the right water temperature. The produce they make out of beans is, among others, a type of flower which can be used to make some kind of savoury fried dough balls. Especially combined with onions and some spices in the dough, they are really tasty. Nele got quite the hang of it when she could fry the balls herself in a big pan of oil.
To get to know more of the yam bean to which I conducted research myself, we went for a visit to the IITA-Benin in Cotonou. The difference in how things were handled at the institute and the locals was huge, for the IITA-Benin is very professionalised international organisation. We got a guided tour across the fields where the institute carries out research to how Beninese farmers can grow their crops best with the highest possible yield. Next to this visit, we went to a village where a female group produces gari in traditional manner. The first thing that struck us was the foul stench. Gari is produced by fermenting rasped cassava in open air, bringing about a sour kind of smell. Though it was very impressive to see what tough a kind of labour the females had to execute to process the cassava."