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Côte d’Ivoire: Women plantain farmers form a co-operative to increase their profits

It’s Saturday and night falls in Kanzra, a village in Côte d’Ivoire’s Zuenoula sub-prefecture. Trazie Lou Chantal, a bundle on her head, returns from her plantain farm. She’s been working the farm for about ten years now, since the death of her father.

The eldest of six siblings, Ms. Chantal uses her profit from selling plantains to take care of her brothers and sisters. She harvests about five tons of plantain every three months, which she can sell for up to 65,000 FCFA (US $109 per ton. 

She explains: “I inherited the plantation from my parents. When they passed away, there were five hectares in production. Today, thanks to the help of some local youth I hired to help me clear the fields, I have expanded my production to 10 hectares.”

But plantain production has its challenges. For women like Ms. Chantal, the dominance of men in the sector, the lack of available financing, and the lack of access to land mean that some women struggle to earn a living. In response, many women who grow plantain organize themselves in co-operatives, where their strengths—and their earnings—can be combined.

Adoni Apo Josiane Clarence, in her late fifties, is the president of the Union of Cooperative Societies of Food Crops and Livestock in the Mé region, also called USOCOVIEM. The group  includes more than 113 member co-operatives and represents more than 35,000 women members in the region, located just over 100 km from the capital, Abidjan. In total, the members work an estimated 30 hectares of cultivable land, producing both plantain and cassava, as well as rearing livestock.

Mrs. Clarence says that she was able to create USOCOVIEM because of a woman pioneer and the good will of people in the Mé region. 

She explains: “The television helped me a lot. Having not gone to school, it allowed me to follow the progress of Rosalie Irié Lou Nanti, who was at the forefront of Côte d’Ivoire’s plantain supply chain in the 1970’s.”

Mrs. Clarence says she was inspired by Mrs. Nanti’s model, which also united co-operatives from across the country. 

She adds: “I followed her example with the help of an executive from the Mé region who I approached and who agreed to give us the funding we needed to begin. We started by working in just 14 villages and today we cover all four sub-regions of Mé.”

The women pool their produce and sell together at the market to save on individual transportation costs. This collective marketing also enables the women to negotiate better prices with buyers and middlemen for their produce.

The co-operative distributes the profit from plantain sales fairly among its members, subtracting a small fee to contribute to the group’s savings. The women in the co-operative use these savings to reinvest in their plantain operations and further improve their profits. 

Mrs. Clarence explains, “Before, we used to rent 16-ton vehicles, which cost us 200,000 FCFA (US $335) per load. Today, we have purchased several vehicles to transport our products.” 

Purchasing the vehicles reduced the cost of transportation, and also enabled the women to earn more money, more frequently by bringing their plantains to market every two weeks instead of only once a month.

Maria Ouattara is a representative of the Ministry of Women, Family and Children in the Aries region of Côte d’Ivoire. She says that there are two types of plantain production in Côte d’Ivoire: industrial production dominated by men, and local production dominated by women.

he adds that two major problems small-scale women plantain producers face are storing their plantain and the lack of trucks and good quality roads to transport it to market. 

According to Mrs. Ouattara, plantain producer co-operatives enable women to overcome some of these challenges by helping them save money. They can use their savings for communal purchases which increase the co-operative’s profits, including trucks and cold rooms.

For women like Mrs. Clarence and those in her co-operative, this makes all the difference. 

Mrs. Clarence says, “Really, this co-operative saves us.”

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.

Photo: Plantains in a market in Uganda, 2016. Credit: Sylvie Harrison.