“We go to the parents’ fields to work in place of the children. We exist to prevent children from being used as labour,” this is how Kouassi Kouamé, president of the Affiakounou Community Service Group (CSG), explains the creation of the group in his cocoa-growing community in Côte d’Ivoire. A farmer since 2014, Kouassi Kouamé was co-opted by the International Cocoa Initiative, after consultation with the members of the community and their agreement, to chair the CSG group due to his charisma and dynamism within his community.
Being president of a CSG requires a certain number of qualities to be able to organize his team; motivate them and make them capable of providing support to the other farmers in the community. All this to prevent cocoa farmers from resorting to child labour on the plantations. “There are 12 of us. One of our members is in charge of looking for interested farmers. He meets with them to propose our services and we go to their fields to work,” he explained.
Protecting children, helping farmers
Community Service Groups are an essential tool in the work of ICI. Forming part of a strategy within the community development approach, ICI seeks to equip teams of young workers to replace children who work in the fields. In this way, these groups contribute to the reduction of child labour in the communities where they are set up.
“For each day of work, for one hectare, we take 5000 CFA. This is to prevent children from being used as labourers,” added Kouassi Kouamé. Created since 2016 by the ICI Foundation, this group has received equipment to facilitate its daily operations. “ICI equipped us with 10 pairs of boots, 10 machetes, 10 files, an atomizer,” he said.
Before, it was possible to see children, machete or knife in hand, cleaning the foliage around the local school. But since the CSG was launched, you do not see this anymore, he says. “When weeds fill the school yard, we clean it. If there are also damaged benches, we repair them. This school year, we also gave packets of chalk to the school to help the children work.”
The Community Service Group also supports the construction of school infrastructure in the communities. In Affiakounou during the construction of the kindergarten class, the school latrines and the housing of the school director by ICI, the CSG showed its know-how. “During the construction work, we were the daily labour force. We did all the manual work. Because we work in the place of the children,” says Kouassi Kouamé.