As the cocoa harvest gets fully underway in Côte D’Ivoire, we hear from Fairtrade cocoa producer Mme Yao about her experiences and how Fairtrade has empowered her to take up leadership positions in her co-operative, as well as in her community.
My name is Yao Amenan Yvonne. I am married with four children – two boys and two girls – and live in Gbogokro, Côte D’Ivoire. I am a cocoa producer and have been so since 2012 when my husband acquired three hectares of land. My husband is also a producer.
I joined CAUD (Coopérative Agricole Unité de Divo), one of the primary co-operatives that came together to form ECOOKIM (the Fairtrade certified Entreprise Coopérative Kimbre), in 2017. I am also a recent graduate of the Fairtrade Africa Women’s School of Leadership and since 2018, I have represented my co-operative as the person responsible for cocoa purchases.
Even though the land belongs to my husband, we share the responsibility of supervising the farm. When my husband is not there, I manage it by myself, taking frequent visits to make sure everything is okay. I also sometimes hire day labourers as and when I need them to help at the farm and make sure they work well. I don’t do any of the manual labour myself.
Aside from cocoa I too grow yam and cassava. I am also a tailor and make children’s clothing during the Christmas period.
Unfortunately, my husband is not in good health, so at the moment I mostly supervise the farm alone.
Life as a cocoa producer
Life as a cocoa producer is not easy at all. The cocoa needs a lot of care. I spend up to eight hours per day working at the farm during harvest season, not including the one hour walk to the farm from my home and back again.
The harvest period is the busiest time and there are many different tasks to make sure it runs smoothly. During the day I have meetings with the daily workers and explain what I expect from them. I show them around the farm before they start working and then I check in on them during the day.
Last harvest, I sold 750KG of cocoa on Fairtrade terms. This year I expect to sell even more on Fairtrade terms! Last year’s cocoa price was good but I hope for more money than last year.
1,000 CFA (£1.30) for 1KG is my hope for this years’ harvest.
Women in cocoa
There is no big difference between what a woman and man producer can do, except that women have different physiques to men, so cannot do as much of the physical labour. What women do most often during the harvest period is removing the cocoa beans from the pods. Next, the women ferment the cocoa for five to seven days, in order to change the colour and taste. After that, they dry the beans for another 5 to 7 days. Next, the beans are packaged in jute bags and stored at my warehouse. The bags stay there until ECOOKIM, via CAUD co-operative, sends a car to the farm to collect the beans.
Challenges I face
The harvest time can be quite lonely as I’m the only person taking care of the farm. It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s also difficult to find daily workers that are trustworthy people. Workers in the past have stolen from me. The cocoa trees are also getting older and not producing as much in previous years and climate change is not favorable for new seedlings. I’m not sure what kind of yield we will get in the coming years.
Fairtrade and me
Fairtrade helps me to tackle some of these challenges. With Fairtrade’s help, I am able to take care of my family, buy things for the house, pay my husband’s medical expenses, send our children to school, and pay for daily workers. Training in budget management also allows me to take good care of the farm – at least half of my income goes back into the farm and its upkeep.
Since joining the co-operative back in 2017, I have become very involved in its activities. I am one of the few women who represent the co-operative in my community. I am responsible for encouraging my community members to join the co-operative. I also manage the purchases, deposits, and supply of cocoa for the co-operative members living in my community. I am also part of the Village Saving and Loans Association where women pool their financial resources in order to help others. This helps women to start income generating activities.
Graduating from the Women’s School of Leadership means I am able to help neighbouring villages to run training sessions and get other women involved in the co-operative. It is also a great opportunity to address gender matters in the co-operative and in our communities. I am very pleased that people in my community are so trusting of me and rely on my expertise. Following graduation, I was made President of the Women’s Association and the Vice President of the Youth Association.
When they asked me to be the Chair – the delegate of all members of the co-operative in my community – I felt very shy. But following some training in self-confidence, I am now a very strong leader. This training program has definitively increased my capacities to be a good leader. Since then, I have led the Women’s Association on lots of different activities, including planting and trading cassava for extra income, for the past two years. My position also allows me to solve conflicts I encounter in my community. And if I attend a meeting, I share what I learn with other producers and women.
My hopes for the future
I hope the best for my family and children and sufficient money to send my children to university so they can all get a PhD! There are lots of widows and orphans in our community and I would like to set up an initiative to help these women look after their families. It’s particularly difficult for widows to access land. When their husband dies, all possessions are given back to his family, not to his wife. This is something I’d like to change. I want to help these women. For it to be a reality, not just a dream.
Mme Yao’s words were translated from French to English during a telephone interview in September 2020.