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A conversation with Djeneba Sawadogo, a cacao farmer in Cote d’Ivoire

Blog | Sun, 15 Oct, 2023 · 10 min read

Ms. Djeneba Sawadogo, aged 57, has been a cacao farmer in Cote d’Ivoire for most of her life.  She is from Affienou, a village in the south-east in Sud-Comoé Region. She is the mother of six children: 3 girls and 3 boys. Moreover, she’s already a grandmother to 4 grandchildren! Since most of her children are still in school, Djeneba shares the farm work with her eldest son.

Djeneba is one of the beneficiaries of a FAO project called PROMIRE, launched in 3 regions of the country in 2022 and funded by the Green Climate Fund. PROMIRE supports agroforestry to promote more sustainable cultivation that would increase income to smallholders while at the same time reducing pressures on Cote d’Ivoire’s dwindling forests. Djeneba has received training and inputs from the PROMIRE project to revitalize her cacao plantation and diversify her income through introduction of other tree species.  These species should provide a stable long-term additional income to Djeneba and her family, thereby increasing the household’s resilience.

The PROMIRE project aims to be gender responsive to ensure that women also benefit equitably from the agroforestry interventions and technical support.  Understanding the gender context and women’s perspectives is a critical ingredient to make this happen, particularly in a country like Cote d’Ivoire where women are often excluded from resource governance and land ownership. 

Recently, we interviewed Djeneba to learn about her experience in initiating agroforestry, including the challenges she faces and her hopes for the future. 

Please tell me about your agroforestry activities

I first learned about agroforestry from the PROMIRE project. I have a 2.8-ha parcel of land for conventional cacao cultivation that I have recently converted to agroforestry with fraké (Terminalia superba), framiré (Terminalia ivorensis), orange trees, and avocado trees.  I don’t have a deep knowledge of trees and tree planting; I just understand that the trees planted with support from PROMIRE are good for the environment and also profitable.  Generally, I use trees for fuelwood if they don’t produce fruit. The bark, leaves, or roots of certain trees like fraké can be used to treat some illnesses like malaria. 

In total, I’ve planted 30 trees over the last year in my 21-year-old cacao plantation. Some of these haven’t survived, but overall, everything is fine, and the trees are growing. 

What are the main challenges?  Is climate change affecting you?  

These days, I have many problems linked to (cacao) productivity that often make us want to take out the cacao and grow other things like oil palm.  But for now, I’m trying my best to protect these trees and get the maximum benefit. As for the cacao plantation, I need more support to make sure they continue to produce.

The hardest challenge is finding quality plants and gaining technical knowledge on agroforestry, especially the rehabilitation of cacao with advanced degradation. I’m really trying to convince myself to keep the cacao plantation because the challenges are heavy…too many diseases, trees dying, etc. 

Due to climate change, the rains are often violent and abundant and that leads to floods in the plantation but also on the roadways, making them impassable.  Some cacao parcels near the waterways have been devastated by flooding.

 Do women have a particular role or responsibility in agroforestry?

Women typically help to transport the nursery materials along small tracks that are impassable by tricycle. Women also collect stakes and plant the trees. They also help harvest cacao and edible fruits from the trees on the plot.

What about any challenges particularly affecting women?   

In our culture, women certainly have the right to express themselves and to own land, but they are rarely heirs to it. I am fortunate to own land that my grandfather left me before he died. 

The majority of chieftaincy bodies [the local governance structure] are run by men, but women are increasingly taking part in chieftaincy meetings and their opinions are sometimes listened to. There are some women's associations that exist to better convey women's ideas and promote the creation of income-generating activities. 

Women are not the only ones who struggle for money, as the population as a whole is poor. However, women are more affected because they are more likely to stay in the village and to do small jobs (trade, catering, etc.) whereas men tend to go on adventures to the towns to earn more money.  

The meagre income we earn is not enough to buy quality seeds, so we make do with what we have. In my opinion there are many inconveniences linked to being a woman [with regards to agroforestry].  These are similar to those in agriculture in general…for instance, weak access to land, lack of physical force for some heavy tasks like land clearing. 

Do women and men share household duties?

I do most of the household chores, which means I can't get to the cacao plot very often. I get help from my son or from a paid laborer if there are any available and if the price is affordable.

These days, things are gradually changing, with young men helping their wives more with household chores.

Do you have a land title? How secure is your land?

I don't have a land certificate. I don't yet have any information about the process and my financial capacity is limited. I'm interested, but for the time being I'm relying on my village authorities to guarantee the security of my land.

What advice would you like to give to other rural women on agroforestry or other subjects?  

I'd like to tell them to do agroforestry because it will bring back the trees and enable them to earn more money in the future. I intend to urge my children and grandchildren to take an interest as well. 

Interview conducted by: Couhoulé Serge Allou, Agronomis for the PROMIRE project based in Sud-Comoé Region