Agriculture. In Côte d’Ivoire, women cocoa producers are emancipating themselves

The Leadership School is a program for women to help them achieve economic independence, financially supported by the movement of Fair trade Fairtrade / Max Havelaar, and since this year by the French Development Agency (AFD). Interview with Anne-Marie Yao, head of the cocoa sector in West Africa for Fairtrade Africa and founder of the School of leadership in Ivory Coast.

Why did you create a school for women working in cocoa cooperatives?

In these cooperatives, it is mainly men who are affiliated, however they work with their wives. Women do 80% of the work with their husbands, but this work is invisible. Our objective is to support and train women from cocoa cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire so that they obtain their economic independence, their autonomy in producer organizations and a greater place in their community.

Anne-Marie Yao, during a course. © Fairtrade Germany

We speak to vulnerable women: single mothers, widows, going through divorce… of all ages. The project had already been carried out in Latin America and Asia, it had to be adapted to the context in West Africa.

What does this training consist of?

The program runs for one year, four days per quarter. We give them information on their law, finance … Too many women ignore the financial resources of their home. However, they must know how to save, be aware of children’s education projects, discuss birth control with their husbands …

Are some discovering their rights?

Yes, they don’t have the information, no female role model to turn to. The first training took place in eastern Côte d’Ivoire in 2017. There, women inherit the land but they do not know that this is the case, so men take ownership of their land. At the end of the training, two women claimed their land. One which had been plundered by her husband, the other by her uncle. They dared to assert themselves and the authorities agreed with them!

photo anne-marie yao: “too many women ignore their household's financial resources.  »© fairtrade germany

Anne-Marie Yao: “Too many women ignore their household’s financial resources. »© Fairtrade Germany

The second edition took place in the west (2019-2020). There it is different, women do not own land. The goal is for them to understand their potential. We now want to increase the number of training courses, and recruit 144 women and men for the period 2021-2023.

Have you seen any concrete changes on the ground?

Today we have sixty-two graduates, 90% women, who themselves have trained nearly 7,000 individuals in their community. Some have decided to launch their own business: making attiéké (cassava semolina), planting corn, food crops, producing soap from cocoa… We have helped finance seven projects.

The training transformed their vision of entrepreneurship. They take decisions on the education of children, on their marriage, demand the repayment of debts. They are also gaining in importance within cocoa cooperatives, are consulted and integrated into the board of directors. Our goal is for women to be trained in the 252 cocoa cooperatives which have nearly 252,000 producers in Côte d’Ivoire.

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