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Cocovico market hall improves women’s lives in Ivory Coast

Zian Lou Bonan is a vendor selling various fruits and vegetables at the Cocovico market in Abidjan, Ivory CoastNovember 04 2014

By providing a loan, Oikocredit not only contributes to improving the lives of numerous female traders in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), but also making a major contribution to social and economic development in the country.

Zian Lou Bonan is a vendor selling various fruits and vegetables at the Cocovico market in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

During the 1980s, many women made ends meet by selling vegetables on the streets of Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s largest city. Usually, a market stall could be found between empty buildings or undeveloped plots of land. However, the authorities repeatedly threatened to remove many of the women’s pitches, causing them to work daily under a cloud of uncertainty. The situation worsened by the political crises, which caused deep-seated unrest throughout the country.

Shortly before the coup d'état in 1999, a few women traders approached Oikocredit’s local office. Together with seven women, they had established the cooperative Cocovico, a women’s fruit and vegetable traders’, with the aim of finally securing a safe workplace - a market hall. To do this, however, the women needed capital.

Oikocredit as finance pioneers

Mariam Dao (right) with Cocovico president, Madam BottiWhen the women first approached the Oikocredit office, staff were quick to realize that as well as improving the lives of the traders, a new market hall would also have a far broader social impact. Representative for West Africa, Mariam Dao, said: “we were looking for an investor to co-finance this project with Oikocredit, but even we couldn’t find one. No bank was willing to take on all of these challenges.” Besides the fact that the majority of Cocovico’s now nearly 200 members were illiterate, there was also the high cost of building a market hall.

Oikocredit stays despite the crisis

The 1999 coup d'état was followed by a civil war which made it impossible for Oikocredit and the Cocovico cooperative to operate. Despite the still volatile and uncertain social situation, Oikocredit decided to go ahead with financing, disbursing the first tranche of the loan to Cocovico in 2004. An expert hired by Oikocredit oversaw the construction of the market hall, which finally opened in 2008.

2000 traders; male and female

The market hall, which is located in the heart of Abidjan in the Cocody district, has evolved into a busy, central hub where fruit, vegetables, fish and meat are traded. The range of products sold includes everything from cosmetics to fabrics and household goods. Today, the market hall provides a safe and clean working environment for around 2000 traders.

Protection during the civil war

Even during the more recent troubles which, in the wake of the elections, cost the lives of around 3000 people between December 2010 and April 2011, Oikocredit continued supporting the women. Cocovico was the only market in the capital that continued selling goods during this difficult time. For 600 women and children, the hall also provided a safe refuge. Today, the trading point is thriving once more, with more and more traders setting up around the hall. The constant support and flexible repayment terms, along with the hard work of the indefatigable Cocovico women, has been crucial to its success. “If you want to support people, there’s no point in running ahead of them”, explained Mariam. The same is true of crisis-torn Côte d’Ivoire. “The colonial era is behind us. Now, we have to find our own way. We have to find out who we are,” Mariam expressed. Cocovico is just one example of how they are going about this.

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