Profile: Therese, CAVA, Côte d’Ivoire
Therese is a member of CAVA co-operative in Côte d’Ivoire.
Therese believes her children deserve more. So that’s her priority – doing everything she can to offer them better chances in life. In her words ‘to leave them higher’.
Perhaps the single most important thing that happened to Therese – or didn’t happen – was that she didn’t go to school. ‘This was devastating to me.’ She knows the opportunities that education can offer, the choices it can open up. And it’s left her determined to do whatever she can to make sure her children have those chances.
As an Ivorian cocoa farmer and a woman at that, Therese is one of the fortunate ones. Both she and her husband own their own cocoa farms. She belongs to a group of farmers who have a market for their beans through Fairtrade. Most importantly, this means that she has a safety net in the form of a minimum price for her crop. This is vital, as prices for cocoa are some of the most volatile on the market and frequently plunge to levels that leave farmers like Therese hungry and out of pocket.
It’s this security that allows Therese and her husband to support eight children. The oldest is at university in Côte d’Ivoire’s capital city, Abidjan. The others study in the biggest nearby town, which is still a bumpy two-hour drive away. They stay there, which means not only that she must pay for their fees and books, but that she must find a place for them to stay and pay for their food. Most of her money goes on their education but there’s no question that the sacrifices she makes are worth it. ‘I am suffering at the moment for my kids to have a good job in cities so that they will not come back here and suffer again like me.’ She and her husband supplement their income with other crops, because the money from cocoa only comes in a couple of times a year and more often than not, doesn’t last that long. ‘When there is no more cocoa at all I do peanut farming. I do bean farming, I do chilli farming, I do okra farming, to earn money, additional revenue than what I have from my cocoa farm.’
‘At the moment life is very hard around here. My husband is making money from cocoa himself. I am making money as well. I am here to support my husband with the money I earn so that we can leave the children high in their studies.’
As is so often case across the world, the responsibilities of cooking, washing and cleaning the house also fall to Therese. Collectively, the co-operative she belongs to earns extra money through Fairtrade, called the Fairtrade Premium. Together they decide what they should spend it on for the most benefit to their community. For Therese, one of the biggest changes brought about by this is the water pump. The village she lives in has seen an improvement in child health: ‘In the past the water we used to have to drink, even if people were asking you to do their washing in it, you would have refused because it [the water] was unclean, but we used to boil that water before drinking. Thanks to the co-op CAVA, today we can have clean water in our village to drink. In the past when we used to drink the dirty water from wells and rivers the children were getting sick all the time, but today, because of the water coming from the pump, children are feeling well, healthier, and everybody is happy about that.’
For Therese, the price she gets now for her cocoa is better than before. She illustrates how powerless the cocoa farmers are in the supply chain. They were at the mercy of whatever anyone would pay them: ‘Thanks to co-operative CAVA, we can say that CAVA is respecting the government’s price, but before the co-op we used to have here, private buyers, that were hiding to come and buy, who would not respect or enforce the price. Now CAVA is respecting the price and our revenues are increasing.’
It’s not all about the Fairtrade price though. Therese is keen to highlight the other benefits of being part of Fairtrade. It’s not just the Premium that farmers like Therese value. It’s the way the co-op is organised, and how it ensures health and safety and other rights at work are upheld.
‘When I am selling through CAVA co-op, the price is respected. In addition, the co-op is in charge of the treatment, they provide pesticides, they provide boots, they provide machetes, they even provide cash money to the farmers so that they can handle the farms, this is called the Premium and I really appreciate that.’