27 September, 2017

What's the last thing you'd expect to see in a cocoa growing region of Cote D'Ivoire?

Women's School of Leadership & women cocoa farmers in the Cote d Ivoire
by Cat Rayner, Fairtrade

For Cat Rayner, Fairtrade employee of 15 years, it was a MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra), something she sees only too frequently in her hometown of Hitchin, Hertfordshire but an unexpected sight in this part of the world. There was the dancing too, but that’s another story!

Cat gives us her personal take on the many more things we have in common.

On a trip which was designed to understand the impact that Fairtrade and Ben & Jerry’s is having for Fairtrade cocoa farmers, I was reminded that I have more in common with everyone involved in an ice-cream supply chain than I thought... not just the cycling and the dancing but the fact that we all need each other and we all have a collective responsibility to address the issues facing humanity today. Now.

Family

And these issues are plentiful for cocoa farmers like Pauline Ahi N'da from Capressa. Like me, she is a mother. She has been a cocoa farmer for 10 years and told me that the cocoa farm is the only thing she has to get money. That can make life really hard when she isn’t paid what she needs. But since Fairtrade things have improved.

“I didn’t go far in school but today I have been trained. I can write and I can speak French. I have used the Fairtrade premium to pay for my children’s school fees and fertilisers for the farm.  I have recently purchased a piece of land. Little by little I will build my house.”

Pauline Ahi Nda, cocoa farmers from Capressa, & her children in the Cote d Ivoire

Pauline told me that she wants her children to succeed at school. Me too.

Climate change

The rains came up time and time again on this trip. Bali Sam Toh was one of many cocoa farmers who was animated in explaining the impact of climate change to us – not just in relation to the ability to grow cocoa but also the effect on growing food for his family.

“This is a real problem. Production is down and many farms have been destroyed. My farm is dying.” Bali Sam Toh, Capressa Cocoa Co-operative

Bali Sam Toh Capressa Cocoa Co-operative in Cote d Ivoire

Driving back to our hotel we saw for ourselves the challenges farmers are facing in relation to unpredictable rains. In fact we couldn’t get to the co-operatives on one of the days because the roads were so bad. Climate change is something we’re all worried about. I’m doing my bit in my everyday life (I’m sure you are too) and I feel reassured that companies like Ben & Jerry’s get it. Fairtrade gets it too – our standards and the Fairtrade premium support farmers in adapting to climate change and mitigate its impact. Good job too, given how badly it’s taking its toll on vulnerable farming communities.

Equality

When I reflect on other things I have in common with Ben & Jerry’s and the cocoa farmers I met – it’s our belief in equality. Equality is something that Ben & Jerry’s have always stood up for, whether it’s campaigning for marriage equality or asking their fans to come Together For Refugees. It’s something that Fairtrade works towards with farmers too. 

Yvonne Eda told me “Before Fairtrade I didn’t know my own rights.  Now we have our rights and nobody can take it from us.  Sometimes we minimise ourselves but everybody is important.  Everybody is useful in society.  Through Fairtrade we have been taught in all of these aspects.”

When I got out of our vehicle on the first day I was met by a sea of incredibly colourful shirts, dresses and big smiles. I will never forget that warm welcome. 

And on the last day, one of my colleagues at Fairtrade Africa, Konan Kouassi, who seems to know everybody everywhere told me that Fairtrade is a family. I would agree. Wholeheartedly.

Konan Kouassi of Fairtrade Africa delivering training in Cote d Ivoire for cocoa farmers

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