Let Them Eat Cake – Bakers on Strike

24 September 2010 at 13:54 3 comments

By Abigail Salisbury, KF12, Senegal

We all know the story of Marie Antoinette’s callous response upon being told that the people of France had no bread, right?  “Let them eat cake!”  Except she never actually said that, and the attributed saying didn’t involve cake, it referred to brioche, a rich bread made with eggs and butter.  Well, when Senegalese bakers went on strike this week, the only alternative really was eating brioche, and it made me think a bit about the limitations of microfinance.

Because Senegal spent many years under French rule, elements of French culture are visible in many aspects of daily life.  That staple of French cuisine, the baguette, is also vital to Senegalese people, and the price and weight of this basic food is set by the government.  This system helps to keep food affordable, but the problem is that the cost of flour goes higher and higher, but bakers are not free to raise the prices of their bread accordingly, so that what is already a razor-thin profit margin gets smaller every day.

A week ago, people living in the capital city of Dakar awoke to find that there were no baguettes to be had, because the bakers had gone on strike in an effort to make the government raise the price of that basic bread from 150 CFA to 200 CFA (from 30 cents to 40 cents U.S.) in response to increased flour costs.  I am told that a few bakers chose to continue producing regular baguettes during the strike, but in my neighborhood the only bread available really was brioche.  Bakers resumed production of baguettes after four days, and talks continue on possible price adjustments.

Reflecting on the bakers’ strike, I tried to think about whether microfinance could help their businesses.  When we were trained at Kiva headquarters in San Francisco, we were taught that it is a popular misconception that microfinance is for the poorest of the poor, because it is not a cure for all types of poverty.  When the price and exact nature of your product are set by the government, it seems to me that there is little room for creative business maneuvering, whether you have access to capital or not.

Entry filed under: KF12 (Kiva Fellows 12th Class). Tags: , , , , , .

Working to Closer Tolerances, Observation #3 “We Started Education.”

3 Comments

  • 1. Abigail  |  27 September 2010 at 06:00

    @Casey – My understanding is that there is a national association of bakers, but that not everyone participated in the strike.

  • 2. Fehmeen  |  26 September 2010 at 10:46

    Strikes really are the last resort for the public and the government should never have let the situation deteriorate like this. I watched a movie today where a group of people went on strike to protest against high wheat prices, and the people in power simply said, ‘raise their wages and further raise the price of wheat as well’. Eventually, this happens everywhere.

    P.S. Marie Antoinette never said ‘cake’? She got hanged for all the wrong reasons! 🙂

  • 3. Casey Unrein  |  25 September 2010 at 11:15

    Do you know how the bakers organized? Is there a bakers union, was it just word of mouth, did the flour distributors start the conversation?


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