x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Working to add spice to lives

The Life: Souad the spicemaker talks about doing home business in Umm Al Quwain.

Souad Rabee Belal Al Budoor demonstrates how to make one of her spice mixes in her home in Umm Al Quwain. Sarah Dea / The National
Souad Rabee Belal Al Budoor demonstrates how to make one of her spice mixes in her home in Umm Al Quwain. Sarah Dea / The National

During summer, when the sun is at its scorching high, Souad the spice maker is at her happiest.

A whiff from her spice jars tingles the senses. But behind that enticing scent is a lot of work.

Souad Rabee Belal Al Budoor cleans and washes the seeds that are the source of the spices, then lays out cumin, red chillies, black pepper, fennel and coriander in the sun at her expansive courtyard in Umm Al Quwain. No sun, no spice for life.

After the spices have been in the sun for a couple of days, the 52-year-old cleans them again, then puts them in the oven to dry roast. The spices, in the right proportions, go into a grinder and through a sifter for a heady cocktail of the spice mix.

"After all this, a customer asks why does a kilo of my normal spice mix cost Dh60," Ms Al Budoor says. "By the time I am done with one kilogramme of the mix, my shoulders and back are in pain." Small entrepreneurs such as Ms Al Budoor in the emirates outside Abu Dhabi and Dubai tend to lack funds for marketing and use Empost and the phone to make up for their lack of mobility.

For Ms Al Budoor, there is no excuse for compromising on the quality, and the hunger to learn more entrepreneurial skills keeps her going.

"When I started I did not have business cards," she says. "And then started putting business cards and stickers [on the jars], and that helped a lot."

Her jars of spices are labelled as "Umm Mohammed".

She now supplies friends, families and some businesses and sends her products to exhibitions.

Every six months, Restaurant Beleid in Dubai orders about 20 kilograms of her spice mix. Individuals usually buy in amounts of two to three kilograms.

Not counting her labour, she makes a profit of about 50 per cent above the cost of raw materials.

"I want to grow my business," she said one sunny morning in her family's comfortable new majlis, fitted with red velvet on Arabesque furniture, heavy curtains and golden wallpaper.

At a meeting between female entrepreneurs and representatives of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development in the emirate a few weeks ago, Ms Al Budoor inquired about obtaining a small amount of capital to expand her business.

To this end, the Khalifa Fund is testing a micro-loans project for Emirati small-business owners who are based at home.

"We were getting lots of applications for home business," explains Noor Al Jallaf, senior business counsellor for entrepreneurship development at the fund. And most of the demand was coming not from the big cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but from the Northern Emirates and Al Gharbia, the Western Region.

The micro-loans project started last year, and so far has given out loans of Dh10,000 to Dh50,000.

The loan amount "depends on the projects and the ability to repay," Ms Al Jallaf says.

Though these are interest-free loans, entrepreneurs such as Ms Al Budoor are concerned about repayment even for loans of Dh4,000 to Dh5,000. Her worry is that she has a fixed income and the prices of containers and raw materials fluctuate. That makes it difficult for her to make a good estimate of capital needs and business costs.

For instance, her fish mix used to sell for Dh35 for five kilogrammes two years ago, and now she needs to sell it for at least Dh105 (US$28) to make a small profit.

Under its micro-loans project, the Khalifa Fund is looking to boost businesses in three sectors: production of spices, oils and Arabic food; trading, which can include products such as clothes and scarves; and services, such as tailoring and taxi services.

Because Ms Al Budoor does not drive, most of the raw materials are delivered to her home from shops in Sharjah, Al Dhaid or Ras Al Khaimah. If they do not deliver, she buys the material in Umm Al Quwain. She places her orders over the phone.

"The best thing is many friends cannot imagine eating without my spices," she says. "The beautiful thing is to do something, and work on it, there is no such thing as work without being tired."



Anyone wanting to order spices from Ms Al Budoor can contact her at 055 271 1881