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In this village of Western Côte d’Ivoire, cocoa was considered a man’s crop even though women worked on the farms – caring for the trees, weeding, and helping with pods and beans. But things are changing thanks to the Village Savings & Loans Association (VSLA) promoted by a chocolate company as part of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative.
When the “Awa” VSLA group was first set up in Kossoyo in 2016, villagers like Lucie, a 44-year-old mother of nine school children, were skeptical about joining due to previous bad experiences with other organizations. Robust security measures convinced them to start saving small amounts and they were rewarded after the first cycle. This gave them the confidence to continue.
Alongside individual loans, the group decided to do a collective income generating activity (IGA). Using the learnings from one of their trainings focused on entrepreneurship and management, they developed a business plan and rented a one-hectare cocoa farm for a period of five years, spreading the cost amongst the 30 group members.
“We had a clear plan in mind – work hard to make the farm a success,” says Lucie.
In the first year, the group only earned about US $600 from cocoa, which they used to buy fertilizers and hire workers to weed the farm. The rest was divided equally among the group members who had contributed to the startup of the activity.
The second year was much more productive, earning them US $2,000, which they used to reimburse their members for their initial investments and provide them with additional income. They also bought 35 new seats and a table for their meetings and hired a permanent laborer to help on the farm.
Now the group has started negotiations with the farm owner to expand their plot from one to two hectares. They even hope to buy the farm if they have a successful harvest! They also want to get into agroforestry and plant other tree crops.
“We are so happy to have our own farm! It’s complicated for women in our village to get a piece of land, so this is really important for us,” says Lucie. “Thanks to the VSLA we can save money and decide for ourselves what to do with it. What’s more, the men and women in our village are working together and talking more, we see less conflict in the households and people get along better – it’s a great reason to continue.”
The group chose an informal uniform adorned with a flying bird because, for them, the sky is the limit.