Early in the mornings, vegetable farmer Charles Koukougnon, can usually be found walking to his field located near Gnipi 2, a cocoa community around 13 km from Soubré. He walks happily, with his head held high, to the field he has been developing with support from ICI. Today, his joy is doubled because his son has graduated to the senior class at school, which he did not expect.

Charles, married and a father of 5, used to be a cocoa farmer. Unfortunately, due to a family conflict he was no longer able to manage the family’s cocoa farm, and he found himself struggling financially to take care of the daily needs of his family: “I was a cocoa farmer and there was a problem in the family, they stripped me of the family farm, and I had nothing to care for my children,” he said. In fact, with no financial resources it was also difficult for him to pay expenses related to his son’s schooling. “To even have enough to eat was difficult,” confided his wife, N’zi Affoué Léa.

This distant memory, however painful, has been calmed by the support he received from ICI to start his farm. He describes the circumstances: “During an awareness raising session given by ICI in the cooperative I used to work with, when I was a cocoa farmer, the cooperative management mentioned my situation and ICI promised to help me. When they promised to help me, I didn’t believe it, I doubted it. NGOs sometimes promise to help, and they do nothing,” he said.

Support to start the farm

To help him start cultivating vegetables, Koukougnon received equipment and cash: “They gave me 10,000 Fcfa for the purchase of tomato and okra seeds. They also brought 5 bottles of liquid fertilizer, 5 bags of granulated fertiliser, 2 basins for harvesting crops, 2 pairs of gloves,” he said. In addition, support was also provided to help Koukougnon pay for expenses relating to his younger son’s education, including a pair of shoes as well as school supplies such as textbooks for Math, English and French.

In addition to these actions, Koukougnon was regularly visited by the ICI representative: “the ICI officer advised me how to maintain the field and to grow more.” The advice received allowed him to enlarge his plot and diversify the crops with yams and ginger. “You see, I made another nursery on the other side. Tomato production lasts three months and it is harvested and sold in the fourth month. For okra, production takes two months, and we sell it in the third,” he explained. Before starting this activity, Koukougnon had some knowledge of the crops, but consulted with people who were already working with the same crops. “I learnt about the different cultivation periods,” he explains.

Covering school costs

From the sale of the first harvested crops, Koukougnon had a profit of 80,000 Fcfa. With the amount received, he used a small portion (3,000Fcfa) to pay a tutor to help his son revise his lessons. “When I got the money from the first crops, I was so moved that I bought a can of soda, I did it to strengthen myself... I employed a tutor for my son. From getting an average mark of 10 in the first term, he increased to 14 in the last term. It really gave me the courage to persevere,” Koukougnon told us. He also explained he plans to diversify further his crops: “I plan to grow aubergines and Roma tomatoes. For the tomato nursery already planted, the harvest will be done in December, while the harvest in this section will be in September. I will sell this for 9,000Fcfa/10,000Fcfa the bowl,” he said. For his partner Lea, the hard times are now far away: “When he first started this activity, it was difficult but now it’s okay, he can now cover the household expenses, he takes care of those related to the schooling of the children and our medical care.”