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COTE D’IVOIRE: Rural Women in Need of a Helping Hand

Fulgence Zamblé

ABIDJAN, Jan 2 2007 (IPS) - From morning, Thérèse Allangba starts checking on members of the Cooperative of Women Farmers of Marahoué (Coopérative des femmes exploitantes agricoles de la Marahoué, COOFEEAMA), based in Bouaflé, capital of the Ivorian region of Marahoué. These women work in teams of five to supply leading markets with food.

“I ask those who are responsible for bringing the attiéké (a local meal made of cassava flour) to hurry up. As for vegetables and fruit, I tell people in charge of these…to make a record of the products that are going to go out,” she tells IPS on one of her demanding days.

“We are late. Since five o’ clock this morning, three trucks of food should have made their way to Abidjan, and we are still running behind,” adds Allangba, who coordinates the activities of the cooperative on a daily basis.

The main women’s organisation in Bouaflé and its surrounds, about 200 kilometres north of the economic capital of Abidjan, COOFEEAMA comprises more than a thousand women – most based in rural areas.

In 2005 it made a net profit of close to 30,000 dollars. “We expect, at the end of 2006, about 50,000 dollars,” Allangba notes.

According to her, these results are the fruit of efforts by educated women to teach those in rural areas how to manage themselves. “When we started the project, many women were reluctant (to take part in it). But we showed them that with the cooperative, not only could they increase their earnings – they could also be financially independent,” she says.

But obtaining funds for the endeavour was problematic: “Even getting the minimum of credit was a nightmare.”

Allangba says women who have no guarantees or people to stand security for them do not obtain loans, while illiteracy also undermines their prospects of getting credit. This is despite the fact that the loans requested only amount to between 100 and 300 dollars each – to maintain a market garden, perhaps, or buy fertilizer.

Estelle Tra Lou, a producer of plantains (a fruit similar to a banana) and member of COOFEEAMA, has experienced similar problems.

“In the course of my first experience in a cooperative, we asked a local bank for assistance to buy a cassava mill. Not only did it request a guarantee, it also asked us for bank statements from our husbands, because we did not provide any guarantee,” the mother of four, who is the only bread winner in her family, told IPS.

These difficulties come despite the fact that rural women play a key role in the food security of Côte d’Ivoire, according to the Ministry of the Family and the Child – which also notes that although these women make up 25 percent of the Ivorian population, they account for close to 30 percent of national food production.

“Unfortunately, this participation by the rural woman in development is not understood because of its informal character,” says Euphrasie Yao, director for the promotion of gender and equality in the Ministry of the Family and the Child. And as they do not benefit from any technical assistance, she observes, these women remain financially dependent on men.

Notes Allangba, “If we had people like Muhammad Yunus, there is no doubt that the task would be a little easier.”

Known as the banker to the poor, Yunus is a Bangladeshi economist who received the Nobel Peace Prize last year along with the bank he founded in 1983 – the Grameen Bank, meaning “village bank”. This was in recognition of his efforts to help millions of people, mostly women, escape poverty by providing them with micro-credit through the Grameen Bank.

“We expect that this will set an example here,” says Allangba.

According to the Ministry of Economy and Finances, Côte d’Ivoire had only two micro-finance institutions in 1995. By 2004 the number had grown to 70; these were making use of 116 savings banks that had collected about 80 million dollars for some 500,000 beneficiaries.

But, says Tra Lou, while “We do not say that these establishments do not exist…they do not play the role that we expect of them, especially towards women.”

This view isn’t accepted by all. “In our records, there are several women’s associations that have benefited from our assistance,” says Marcel Aka, manager of a micro-credit institution. “The procedures to obtain credit have even become more flexible. As long as we are sure of being reimbursed, we will give credit.”

Still, claims Christiane Bitty Kouyaté, much remains to be done. An advocate, she is also president of the Women’s Platform to Win (Plate-forme des femmes pour gagner) – a non-governmental organisation based in Abidjan.

Kouyaté calls on government and donors to focus on enabling rural women to be productive and on extending micro-credit to them, while improving the procedures to obtain finance still more: “Not demanding too much paperwork would be a good step.”

Allangba agrees. “People should know that in some way, we are taking part in the development of the nation. Daily, we produce almost 10 tonnes of food to feed a part of the country, so we must also be helped.”

Côte d’Ivoire has been divided in two by an armed rebellion since September 2002, with rebels occupying the northern half of the country. They claim to have taken up arms to fight against the alleged exclusion of people in this part of the nation.

Just before the crisis, in January 2002, the first bank for women was set up in Abidjan – with 20,000 clients.

The outbreak of war did not permit branches of this institution to be established in different regions of the country to assist rural women. Nonetheless, the bank still exists in Abidjan; according to its officials, it has loaned about 200,000 dollars to some 2,800 women over the past four years.

 
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