“I hesitated on the bank matter because I can't read or write and I've been cheated several times. (...) I finally accepted and received 350,000Fcfa. With this money and my husband's financial contribution, I planted a yam field and a cassava field. Things are going well now.” These are the words of Valérie Sontoaho, married to a cocoa farmer, mother of 3 children and trader in Pinhou, a cocoa-growing community located 24 km from Téady, Côte d'Ivoire.
Valérie Sontoaho is a member of the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) Aboussouan. She explained how the 350,000 Fcfa loan she received from microfinance and her husband's 100,000 Fcfa support enabled her not only to have a business, but also to diversify it. She was reluctant at first, but today she is more confident. She is convinced that her future is positive, thanks to the establishment of VSLAs in the community and the linkage with a banking system that followed: "There are no more misunderstandings at home with my husband. The children go to school, and I see a brighter future," she told us.
This qualitative leap in Valérie Sontoaho's family life is due to the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) project, organized with Nestlé’s support. The project focuses on empowering women, supporting the creation of income-generating activities and increasing access to financial services tailored to the needs of women living in cocoa-growing communities in Côte d'Ivoire. Its implementation in these communities has had a positive impact on the day-to-day management of the households that have signed up.
From the VSLA to the formal banking system
Every Tuesday, thirty women come together for the meeting of the VSLA (known as Moayé) at a venue in Assemanou, a cocoa-growing community 44 km from Abengourou.Sitting in a circle, they brighten up the meeting with laughter, as they explain how accessing bank loans has given a boost to their respective activities. This is the case of Kaboré Djénébou, president of VSLA. At first, she was “afraid” of being linked with a bank. From rejecting a bank loan due to a lack of knowledge of the system, Djénébou has now become a fervent advocate of using banking services among women: "At first, I was afraid; but later, following the example of the other women in the VSLA, I took out a loan of 150,000Fcfa. With this money, I planted a corn and peanut field. We all repaid these loans before the 6-month deadline," she asserts.
Encouraged by this first promising experience, the women of VSLA Moayé asked the microfinance institution to grant them a second loan: "The women said that the first loan was insufficient. It was therefore a question of increasing the amount of the second loan. Instead of the 2 million Fcfa of the first cycle, this time we obtained 3.75 million Fcfa of credit in the second cycle. For my part, I took 550,000 Fcfa. Today, there is trust between the bank and us (...) ICI has helped us a lot. We thank them.” With this substantial loan, Djénébou has diversified her activities, selling plates, drapery, shoes and kitchen utensils, all of which she buys in Abidjan (Adjamé). "It's doing well, especially during the cocoa season. There's been a change in our lives. Before, the women of the village had no activities, but now they're all active. I'm also continuing with my corn and peanut fields. I've also planted a field of cassava and rubber trees. Some of the maize I harvest is used for trading. I sell a bag at 17,500Fcfa and it is working well. For the first production, I made over 100,000Fcfa in profit", she added.
Men have not been left behind when it comes to VSLAs' dynamism and play an important role. They support their wives, giving them advice and sometimes even making a financial contribution: "In Assemanou, the women were afraid to work with money. We encouraged them to take out loans at the bank. Some trade on tables, while others go around households to sell. We give a lot of advice to women here," says Mr. Sawadogo Adama, a cocoa producer and father of 8, married to VSLA member Sawadogo Djénéba. Other women benefit from additional support from their husbands, as was the case with Valérie Sontoaho (mentioned above), who received 100,000Fcfa from her husband.
The importance of linking VLSAs to financial services
According to Mr. Roland Kouassi, Project Manager at the ICI Foundation, linking VSLAs to banking systems is important for two reasons. Firstly, it resolves the issue of securing women's funds, and secondly, it makes it easier to obtain larger funds to undertake diverse and more profitable activities. "Some of them are in their second cycle, and we're delighted that the women have taken ownership of the project", he said, before looking ahead to the introduction of a literacy program for the women.