For the benefit of the female producers
Josia Coulibaly on sustainability in the cotton business, women in Africa and her assertiveness in the village
Ms. Coulibaly, you are responsible for corporate responsibility and sustainability at SECO, a cotton branch of a company of the Olam Group and a wholesaler of agricultural goods. What is your main role?
Together with my department, I develop and implement programs and activities to benefit our partners. The focus is on creating living landscapes where prosperous farmers and thriving communities live in harmony with healthy ecosystems.
One aspect of working in-line with the CmiA standard is empowering female farmers. How are the female cotton farmers organized?
We work with registered individual producers as well as with organized women’s associations, registered under the name of their president. In addition to their fields where they grow food crops, they have a common plot where they work one or two days a week — often earning their own income for the first time. Revenue is collectively spent to benefit the community, such as fixing water pumps and other social actions.
Are there any initiatives you have set up to specifically assist female cotton farmers?
Yes, selected women’s groups are trained by us with the support of external partners in associative life, entrepreneurship and the establishment of ‘Village Savings and Loan Associations’ (VSLAs). Although these initiatives are carried out for the benefit of female cotton producers, they are also open to other women in the villages. In 2018, 543 women participated in these activities. At the end of the season, there is a celebration in which they were officially recognized and rewarded to encourage other women to do the same. I am proud that our work to support women even attracted the international press – our work got featured in the newspaper “The Telegraph” among others.
Do you get different feedback from men and women?
Some producers report significant improvements in their living conditions. They also participate financially in community projects and are more involved in meetings on decisions. It is a great challenge to undertake activities that are culturally undesirable, for example access to land. That’s difficult.
How did you manage to be accepted as a woman in the villages?
My first experience was in the village of Yedandiekaha. I was there for a broken water pump. People were amazed to see such a young lady and wondered what she was doing here. But when I came back again and again, the villagers learned that my visits are always linked to a social initiative or a project for them.
And how does SECO work on equal opportunities for men and women in their own company?
Olam International has a non-discrimination charter that promotes equality for all people without discrimination. An internal mentoring system called ‘GROW’ (Globally Reaching Olam Women) has been set up in order to coach women to take on greater professional responsibilities.