Portio is a village in northern Côte d’Ivoire. Located roughly 30 miles from the border of Mali, Portio is nested in a remote region with a very hot and dry climate. Like the majority of the world’s rural population, people in this region are heavily dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Many farmers there rely on rainfall for water to farm their crops, making them highly vulnerable to changes in weather patterns, natural disasters, and other uncertainties.

In an effort to enhance the resilience of communities in this region, the Aga Khan Foundation, in partnership with the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation and Ivoire Coton, launched the “Multiple-Use Water Service In Northern Côte d’Ivoire” project. The project aims to increase sustainable access to safe water and sanitation, improve the use of water sources for food security, and strengthen capacity of select communities to respond to socio-economic and environmental shocks.

Since 2016, the project has worked directly with women’s gardening groups in the Bagoué region. During the past three years, the project has provided these groups with training and water points. The goal of these actions is to increase the women’s incomes, resilience, and ability to manage community water sources.

Collaborating for better results

Madame Koné is the vice-president of the Portio women’s vegetable gardening group. She has been practicing agriculture for many years. Prior to participating in the project, she cultivated peanuts and cotton on her own. As an individual producer of these crops, her experience was often difficult.

“Before I joined the group, I faced issues selling my products,” she says. “Each of us [individually] would produce 5 kilograms [or 11 pounds] of produce, and we were unable to sell it. There was no market for it.” These difficulties motivated her to find a different approach and become part of a collective.

Madame Koné joined the group in January 2017. Prior to the group’s integration into the larger project later that year, the women did not possess the necessary technical knowledge to pursue farming effectively. Through the project, all of the women learned about best agricultural practices, as well as conservation and marketing techniques.

“When the project came with the trainings, we learned all the techniques to better produce,” Madame Koné says. “And also it opened our minds.” According to her, the activities have allowed the women to grow closer and collaborate better. She describes their relationship: “There are more than 100 women in the group, and we communicate well. We know each other, we talk to each other, and that has an impact.”

Women's Gardening Group in Cote d'Ivoire

Creating economic and social connections

Like many villages in the north of Côte d’Ivoire, Portio is not well connected to larger urban areas by the national transportation infrastructure. This situation makes it difficult for producers to reach consumers and get good prices for their products. Taking this into account, AKF and its partners promoted the creation of links between the women’s collectives and market actors located in the same zone, such as buyers and input suppliers. This was done with the goal of ensuring the long-term sustainability of the groups’ economic activity, and building the groups’ capacities regarding the procurement of basic agricultural supplies.

Madame Koné explained how things have changed as a result of the relationships established by the project: “Through the project, AKF and its partners put us in contact with market actors, so we accessed the market. Before we faced problems, but with the project […] we can call people to come and buy the produce from the group. With the project, we were able to open up outside the village.”

She also insisted on the fact that the creation of connections went beyond expanding market access. In her experience, it also led to an “openness with contacts outside the village.” For Madame Koné and the other members of her group, the reinforcement of market linkages led to the development of bonds with communities they would not have reached otherwise.

Enhancing community wellbeing

The benefits experienced by the members of the vegetable gardening group did not only remain within the collective. The women in the group decided to use their newly increased revenues to improve the quality of life of their community. Madame Koné discusses how the vegetable gardening group achieved this: “Through the sale of the onions, we made money, and with that money, we fixed the broken water pumps in the villages. The amount we spent fixing the pumps is around 150,000 FCFA [or roughly $267]. We also gave rice and money for the condiments for sauces to the school canteen.”

By improving the capabilities and increasing market access for the women’s vegetable gardening associations, the women in these collectives earned higher incomes and decided to invest their resources in their community. The project put in place the conditions for the members to contribute to and strengthen the resilience of their communities.

Throughout the three years of implementation of the project, the Aga Khan Foundation and its partners have worked with 17 women’s vegetable gardening groups across the region of the Bagoué. Through the project’s activities, the groups have diversified their production, augmented their yields, and improved the quality of their produce. All of this in tandem has led to higher revenues. On average, the women farmers involved in the project have seen a 232% increase in revenue since participating in the project. The increase in income has allowed the members of the groups to become more involved as leaders in their communities.

To date, the project has improved the capacity of 919 women farmers—and hopes to convene a total of 17 women’s gardening groups. To ensure its success is sustainable, AKF has put in place lasting links with market actors for continuous market access and established village loan and savings associations to increase members’ access to finance. AKF has also set up revolving funds for the financing of agricultural inputs, and provided capacity training for the women to build on the success of their achievements. Moreover, AKF and its partners will provide improved water points to each of the women’s vegetable gardening groups. Access to improved water points reduces the women’s dependence on unpredictable surface water. Additionally, the water points will boost the production capacity of the groups and improve the conditions of the vegetable gardens. AKF and its partners will continue to make strides to ensure the sustainable future of the project until the end of 2018.

Melissa Salazar is Grants Associate with the Aga Khan Foundation in Côte d’Ivoire.