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Humans · Technology

Barikamà: a journey from exploitation to entrepreneurship

May 20th, 2017
in:Humans, Technology
by:Federica Tedeschi
located in:Italy, Mali
tags:Barikamà, immigration, Suleiman Diara, Yoghurt

Barikamà is an African migrants’ cooperative which produces organic & African-style yoghurt in Rome (Italy). Its name means resilience in Bambara, Mali’s most widely spoken language and is a tribute to the hurdles faced by its founder and his business partners during their journey to Italy and while experiencing life in this new country.

Fairplanet has interviewed Suleiman Diara, the founder of Barikamà, to find out both the secret of their success and how the business is currently expanding.

What main challenges have you faced since arriving in Italy?

I arrived in Italy from Mali by boat, in 2008, and after a short-stay in Sicily, I reached Rosarno, also in the South, where I worked for two years as a farmer with many other immigrants. We lived in cardboard & plastic shacks, unable to rent a place as we only earned 20 euros a day for a 12-hour shift. Finding a regular job was difficult even for those immigrants with a residency permit and local people did not seem to like us. Things changed in January 2010, when a native inhabitant shot four African men, and straight after that, hundreds of immigrant farmers participated in a revolt against brutal working conditions and racism in Rosarno. Further racist attacks followed, until we managed to leave and moved to Rome, where a homeless shelter welcomed us after the initial tough period; we stayed there for two years.

How did the idea of Barikamà come to be?

We all struggled to find a job in Rome and one day we picketed in front of the Ministry of Labour for it to liaise with the central police station to be granted a humanitarian residency permit. During the one-year waiting period before the document was released, I went back to farming in south Italy and realised I had to find a way to stop being exploited while staying financially independent. Then I came out with the idea of producing handmade African yoghurt, something I had always enjoyed making in my hometown in Mali. I started with a business partner from Gambia in 2012, while still living in the homeless shelter, and now it is seven of us, including an Italian young man.

Tell me about your secret recipe:

Barikamà Yoghurt is handmade according to the traditional sub-Saharan methods, but with a twist: we add lactic starter culture to stimulate the milk as Italian cattle are vaccinated and their milk does not contain the same live microorganism as the African one. Today’s successful product is the result of several attempts and tasting sessions and current demand amounts to over 200 litres per week.

How has the business grown during its first five years and how has it improved your lives?

Our business has grown slowly but consistently and we currently supply several markets in Rome, as well as solidarity-based purchasing groups, also known as G.A.S. We do home and office delivery, too. Our main advertising channel has always been the farmers’ group, terra Terra. We hold markets with terra Terra on a regular basis. Friends and customers’ word -of-mouth has also played a role in our business success.

Barikamà has benefited from different types of funding, particularly from Chiesa Valdese, who provided us with most of the equipment needed to produce yoghurt, and we are currently based in Casale di Martignamo, a farm which is 40 kilometers from Rome.

It has been a really hard path and our lives are not so easy at present. However, we are proud to have gone a long way by surviving the difficulties we have been facing. Instead of waiting for someone to employ us, we took the initiative to start something from nothing.

You deliver Barikamà yoghurt by bicycle all over Rome. What is the main advantage of such a choice?

Delivering by bicycle is our way to respect the environment while staying on budget. Besides, our customers usually return the yoghurt jars, available in three different sizes, and we can reuse them again and again.

Who are your main customers, locals or foreigners living in Rome? What have the best comments been so far?

All Barikamà customers are Italians who love our plain, artisanal yoghurt. It does not come cheap, but it is worth the price, according to our customers who say that it reminds them of the delicious, preservatives-free yoghurt they ate in the past.

Do you think Barikamà has contributed to change Italians’ negative attitudes on immigration?

At least 20 per cent of people who come across the word Barikamà, in Rome, already know our brand and appreciate our products. I believe it has contributed to give a positive image of migrants in a country where they are often discredited.

In 2014, you started growing organic vegetables at the farm. What will the next step be for Barikamà?

Barikamà is now an agricultural cooperative as we started producing organic vegetables over two years ago. We deliver by bike, whenever required, and we would like to keep growing as a business but we are not in a hurry. In fact, staying artisanal and being environmentally-friendly is fundamental to us.

Article written by:
Federica Tedeschi
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
"I went to farming in south Italy and realised I had to find a way to stop being exploited while staying financially independent."
"I started with a business partner from Gambia in 2012, while still living in the homeless shelter, and now it is seven of us, including an Italian young man."
"Our business has grown slowly but consistently and we currently supply several markets in Rome, as well as solidarity-based purchasing groups."

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