10 March 2021

Koffiyaokro – Supporting women entrepreneurship with village savings and loans schemes

It is shortly after 9 am in Koffiyaokro, a community located 30 km from Soubré in the Nawa region of Côte d’Ivoire. Mrs. Kouamé N’Guessan Félicité, President of the Women’s Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), is busy going back and forth between her house and the village square. Today will be a full day, combining household chores with pressing her cassava paste and sifting the crushed cassava so it can dry in the sun, in addition to some work in the cocoa fields. A few years ago, this daily routine was very different. Félicité did not have the means to support her husband, cocoa planter Yao Konan Jacques, in providing for their family in the way she does today.

Félicité and Jacques did not go to school, but that did not stop them from believing in the VSLA and convincing their friends and neighbours to participate. In fact, thanks to the savings obtained, Félicité has devoted herself to the production and marketing of attiéké (a Cassava-based dish popular in Côte d’Ivoire).

Supporting family finances and women’s empowerment

Although many of the women joined the VSLA after the first introductory meeting back in July 2019, it wasn’t always easy. But they did not give up. With determination and courage, the members of the VSLA of Koffiyaokro held firm. “We started with a contribution of 500 CFA, others paid 1000 CFA. It wasn’t always easy to make the contributions, but we didn’t give up,” Félicité explained.

Established in many cocoa communities, the VSLAs aim to enable women to develop alternative Income Generating Activities (IGA) to both support the family finances and facilitate their empowerment. In Koffiyaokro the VSLA has been set up as part of Hershey’s Cocoa For Good programme with support from its supplier Barry Callebaut, implemented with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI).

The impact of the VSLA

With contributions ranging from 500 CFA (0.9 USD) to 2500 (4.6 USD) CFA, the women in Koffiyaokro had managed to save a total of 2.5 million CFA by the end of the first year. “The day they “broke” the fund, we were all surprised at the amount they had saved. We invited people from neighbouring villages to come and see,” Félicité’s husband told us. “We informed the people in the neighbouring camps. Initially, there were just the 30 individuals in this group. Now there are three more groups and a fourth is being set up. I’m happy with the interest in this project, it’s good work and I’m proud of my wife… When I have difficulties, she supports me with her cassava business. I’m happy because before, it wasn’t like that,” he said.

Indeed, having obtained the savings of 120,000 CFA (222 USD) from the group, Félicité was not only able to help with household expenses and those related to the children’s schooling, she was also able to rent a field for her cassava production. She was surprised by the amount she received: “At the end of the contribution cycle, when we opened the fund and saw how much money we had saved, I was personally surprised. We were all happy. We celebrated that. We even brought out a uniform to celebrate.” This year with the savings obtained from the VSLA, Félicité plans on starting a new small business: “This year with the money I get from my savings, I would like to buy cloth and children’s clothes and resell them here in Koffiyaokro,” she explained.

This first experience with VSLA led to the creation of three others in the community. According to the coach Kouamé Ahoutou Simplice, the women generally used their savings not only to support the schooling of their children, but also to develop an Income Generating Activity (IGA) such as fish and clothing businesses. For him, the renewal of the VSLA shows the determination of the women and he has no doubt that they will go far.

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