At the end of last year C&A, a Cotton made in Africa demand alliance partner, organized a Christmas contest through its social media community, asking users to vote for one of three initiatives. CmiA received mostof the votes by a long shot, taking first place and wining the funds now being invested in a public private partnership project to support women’s cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire. In the past Cotton made in Africa already initiated four social projects aimed at promoting the educational infrastructure of sub-Saharan Africa. The current project in Côte d’Ivoire is the first specifically focused on strengthening women’s rights in Africa. In cooperation with the German Investment and Development Society (DEG) and the Ivoire Coton cotton company, 1,250 women and 12,500 family members will profit from financial start-up assistance inside of a year. The goal is to help women achieve economic independence.
In an interview Dr Didier Kême, Project Coordinator and Ivoire Coton employee, explains how women’s cooperatives are being promoted.
Dr Kême, could you please start by giving us a short overview of your work: What do you do at Ivoire Coton and what does a typical workday look like?
In 2008 Vamissa Diomandé, CEO of Ivoire Coton, gave me the responsibility for organizing public private partnership projects to ensure coordinated project implementation. Our project office (CAS) focuses primarily on women’s rights, fighting illiteracy and improving basic medical services. One of the things we do is set up health stations in villages. These provide first aid services for rural populations and help fight HIV and malaria. We also take care of maintaining drinking water pumps in the villages and install additional hydraulic pumps. As occupational physicians we also work to promote the health of our employees and their families. Our team comprises seven project technicians (TAS) and the head of the office.
Who do you work with?
We work very closely with cotton farmers, our core target group. Until the start of 2008 Ivoire Coton implemented the projects for fighting poverty alone. Since then we have received active support from the German Investment and Development Society (DEG), which has allowed us to expand our activities to a larger target group. In cooperation with the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) this assistance will now also benefit and support women. We are very grateful to both these partners for their assistance.
Could you give us a brief description of the women’s projects supported by the DEG, AbTF and C&A?
We continue to have limited funds at our disposal for the pressing and very complex issue of reducing poverty. There is still great need, especially with respect to the working conditions for women in the fields: the women here labour hard, day in, day out, to feed their families — unfortunately with limited success due to a lack of funding. This is where the women’s project comes in. The goal is to provide women in the cooperatives with concrete support in expanding their fields, improving yield and increasing income. Additionally we want to create executive committees (COGES) to run the cooperatives.
The project will be completed in two phases: the first involves bringing 12 women’s organizations on board, the second plans for 13 cooperatives. These must consist of at least 50 members. The DEG and Aid by Trade foundation are providing the financing which will be topped up by Ivoire Coton.
How did you arrive at the idea of supporting women’s cooperatives?
We determined that women have always been the lynchpins in providing for families. From sunrise to sunset they work to put food on their husbands’ and children’s plates every day. They have come together to make optimal use of their fields and make the work of their hands more profitable. Because of the financial and material limitations they face, their success and as such their income is often very limited.
How did you select the women’s cooperatives to receive financial support?
Initially we put together a five-person committee to select some likely candidates. The committee met a number of times to assess the applications of the individual cooperatives. If the criteria were fulfilled, then the committee members voted to determine which cooperatives to recommend to the board of directors, which made the final selection.
What criteria did the cooperatives have to fulfill?
Women’s cooperatives in cotton-producing villages were selected. The cooperatives had to fulfill some criteria, such as having articles of association and rules of procedure and agreeing to participate in a brief training. A lot of aspects were important for the selection process, such as the name and number of members, the area in which the cooperation worked, yield to date and income in previous years and the organisation’s goals.
What are the cooperatives using the funds for?
The cooperatives are using the money they received primarily to invest in production that will benefit the cooperative and its members.
What are the chances that cooperatives not selected in this round will receive support in future?
Any cooperative in the areas CmiA cotton is grown is eligible assuming they fulfill the necessary criteria and work for the common good.
What challenges do women in Côte d’Ivoire face and what do these women need the most in your opinion?
There are many challenges: first and foremost is still a lack of education for young girls in rural areas. Many women in Africa are still in need of basic things such as literacy programmes, organizational support, advising services or financial support. The danger of unemployment and poverty is still therefore very high.
One final question: What do you hope for the future in connection with CmiA and COMPACI?
We are very happy to report that we are already providing some women’s cooperatives with the necessary funds. These women are real fighters. But additional assistance and the permanent provision of advising services are still very important for our work since financial support is a huge step towards independence for Ivorian women. Promoting exchange with the members of similar cooperatives in other countries would additionally mean enrichment for the future and ensure that women could profit from the experience of other women.
Karidja Thomas, Chairwoman of the Djiguiya Kabada Cooperative: “Membership has made our lives easier”
Karidja Thomas, the Chairwomen of the Djiguiya Kabada in Boundiali, describes how women experience their work in the cooperatives.
Ms Thomas, could you please describe your typical day?
My day always involves a lot of different activities. I start by watering the plants in the morning, then loosen the soil with a hoe and transplant the seedlings. I also take care of almost all the family business, such as school fees for the children and food, and generally also organise everyday activities.
What do you plant in the field?
The things I plant include onions, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, parsley, peppers and cucumbers along with dry goods like cotton, rice and corn.
How much of your harvest do you keep to feed your own families and how much do you sell?
We harvested three tons of rice, for example, kept one ton for ourselves and sold the rest. We keep around one third overall of our yield to feed ourselves and sell two thirds at the surrounding markets to earn some extra money. What women’s cooperative do you belong to and what has your experience with it been like?
I belong to the Djiguiya Kabada cooperative from Boundiali where I work as the chairwoman. Most of us learned about it from our husbands who are organized in cotton cooperatives.
How often do you meet and what is on the agenda?
In the beginning we met twice a week, now we meet twice a month on the first and the last Sunday of a given month.
And what does your husband think about your participation in a cooperative as its chairwoman?
He is very supportive of my working in the cooperative, since it enables me to help him a great deal in providing for our family and contribute to improving our family’s standard of living.
What are the advantages of being in a cooperative?
There are a lot of advantages. I don’t have to worry as much as I used to about supporting my family and many other things. Membership has made our lives much easier since we are learning how to organize ourselves better, to run a more economical business and get both financial and organizational support.
How will you use the funds provided by the DEG, AbTF and Ivoire Coton?
We will use them to purchase additional work implements, buy high quality seeds, produce composted soil and finance fertilizer and other agricultural equipment as needed.
I would like to ask you the same question in closing: What do you hope for the future?
I would like to see the financial aid we have received bear fruit and see our families do better financially. I also hope that we can use future aid to increase our investment volume and expand our activities even further.