Issiaka NGuessan | February 23, 2015
Scorching winds whip at Daniel Konan Yao’s clothes as the gardener scans the skies and gazes over his one-and-a-half hectare plot.
Mr. Yao farms in the village of N’Guessanpokoukro, in northern Côte d’Ivoire. He is pleased that he has already prepared his land for the next crop of tomatoes. He explains: “This year I bought a [water] pump from the profits I made from my tomatoes. This pump means [that] I can increase the size of my field … I will use compost [as fertilizer] because customers who suffer from hypertension and diabetes do not like chemicals.”
Mr. Yao was able to buy the motorized pump and double the size of his farm because he joined a farmers’ marketing organization called in French “Bureau de vente des producteurs” in 2007. The organization combines member harvests and sells them in bulk. Farmers join because the co-operative negotiates with buyers on their behalf.
The organization was formed to fight the low prices which were undermining farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, and to reduce farmers’ frustrations with the constant negotiating. Mr. Yao explains: “There was a tendency to sell off our products cheaply, and it discouraged me. There were buyers who ran off with our produce without paying.”
But the success of the marketing organization means that these are only bad memories. Mr. Yao says: “Now [that] we have gained experience in marketing … I am less frustrated, and I earn more because today I sell a kilogram of tomatoes for between 350 and 900 Central African francs ($0.60 to $1.50 U.S.)”
Mr. Yao first heard of the organization in 2007. He recalls: “Alexis N’Guessan, the marketing organization’s leader, came with a farmer from a neighbouring village to raise awareness of the importance of combining our produce to influence prices on the domestic market. I quickly understood that their pioneering initiative would work. The organization was exactly what I needed to solve [my] marketing problems.” Mr. Yao joined, though many others were reluctant.
Alexis N’Guessan says that, over the past eight years, 7,000 farmers have created 132 groups and improved their lives. He continues: “Things have really evolved. When we started, the country was still in crisis. [But] today, the village of Ken’dekan spent 16.5 million francs ($28,700 U.S.) building a three-classroom primary school, thanks to the farmers’ marketing organization. [And] the state is renovating service roads so that tomato farmers can get their crops to market.”
Mr. Yao makes enough now to send his four children to school and pay for medical care. He plans to expand his acreage and buy better equipment. He is thinking about moving to the Marabadiassa region. This region has vacant land where the former State company, Sodefel, used to grow tomatoes. Mr. Yao explains, “I can get large areas and thus produce enough – at home that’s impossible.”
After seeing how Mr. Yao’s life has improved, more farmers from N’Guessanpokoukro are joining the organization. Mr. Yao is proud to be recognized as a trailblazer. He says: “Our brothers who are not members … trust us to market their products … Membership costs only 500 francs (87 U.S. cents). I’m so sure that I can make good sales that I increased my acreage.”