Fairtrade certification has improved our lives

COOPAGA “I can attest to the impact that comes with being Fairtrade certified. As the Vice Chairman of Cooperative Agricole de Gabiadj (COOPAGA), together with our membership, we learnt about Fairtrade certification after witnessing the improved quality of our neighbouring certified cocoa farmers and most importantly, the impact they were having on the community through their Fairtrade Premium investments.

We then reached out to one of the Fairtrade field support for our country Mr. Mr. Edmond Konan, now the Business Development Advisor for Fairtrade Africa based in Cote d’Ivoire. He took us through the required process and in July 2005, we became certified.

Over time, we have been trained on Good Agricultural practices, Internal Management Systems, Fairtrade Standards, Financial Management, Good Governance, and Gender issues. As a result, the quality and quantity of our cocoa has increased, we are more organized as a cooperative, and we are aware of social compliance. COOPAGA now has a policy for empowering women. Two women associations have been formed, whereby women and men of the cooperative engage in cassava-farming projects that are geared towards earning extra income. This income comes in handy for our families especially between cocoa seasons.

Utilisation of Fairtrade Premium Funds has brought remarkable efficiency at COOPAGA. We constructed a fully functioning warehouse for storing and packaging cocoa beans. When cocoa beans are picked from farms using the eight trucks that were also purchased using Fairtrade premium funds, they are delivered to the warehouse. Farmers no longer have to walk long distances to the warehouse to bring the beans. Five spraying machines and 20 protective gears used by the pesticide applicators have also been purchased, and they are used on the members’ farms.

One of the most vital Fairtrade Premium Projects in our community has been the construction of a health center with a maternity facility and a pharmacy. A daily average of 30 expectant women receive pre-natal care, besides other patients. In addition to the health center, the funds were used to purchase an ambulance that has saved many lives in Gabiadji. One of the beneficiaries of the ambulance services that I know is my colleague Konan Kouakou Etienne, who is a board member at COOPAGA. A few months back, Etienne was not feeling well and there was one particular night when his condition worsened. Upon examination at the local health center in Gabiadji there was need for him to be operated and this could only be done in San-Pedro, which was the nearest referral hospital, 39kilometres away.

Lady luck smiled our way because he arrived in good time. We do not want to imagine what could have happened if we did not have the ambulance.

This Fairtrade Premium has come through for us in many ways. As a cooperative we have constructed two primary schools:  EPP Broukro which has a total of 190 pupils (80 boys and 90 girls) and EPP Mathieukro which has a total of 203 pupils (114 boys and 89 girls).These schools were constructed at sections of villages where the nearest schools were too far away for especially the young children to walk. My two children have obtained an education in one of these schools. COOPAGA has also partnered with the Ivorian government to build a college in Gabiadji. So far, eight classes are complete and are already in use. Construction of more classes and an office block is ongoing.

One of our most outstanding initiatives as a cooperative is the banking system which our members to access their finances most efficiently. The bank operates separately from our office and it is located at the heart of Gabiadji town where farmers go to the market. The farmers are now able to save their money, contributing to their financial planning.

We are happy that through Fairtrade, our farming makes a difference not only for our families but also for our communities”

M’Bra Kouakou, Vice-chairman of Cooperative Agricole de Gabiadj (COOPAGA)

*****

In 1999, a few cocoa farmers in Gabiadji, San-Pedro region of Bas Sassandra District in Côte d’Ivoire, came together to form Cooperative Agricole de Gabiadj (COOPAGA). This cooperative unified farmers and brought more order to their farming activities. Over the years, COOPAGA’s membership has grown to 2,864 cocoa farmers. Their total cocoa bean production volume in the year 2015-2016 was MT 33,964.