Silué Tiewa lives in the sprawling mining community of Tortiya, in Cote d’Ivoire’s landlocked northern region about a day’s drive from the nation’s capital. Seeluwen is the head of the 39-member Fotemowoban women’s farming cooperative, whose name means “there will be nothing to stop us from moving forward.”

Rural areas like Tortiya have been left behind from the strong economic growth that Côte d’Ivoire is otherwise experiencing and women in rural areas face particularly daunting obstacles, including a lack of education and limited literacy, language barriers and under local customary law women don’t have rights to own or use land without the permission of a male relative. This leaves many women out of the economy and limits their ability to grow cash crops or meet the criteria for a business loan. But women’s groups, like Fotemowoban, aren’t taking no for an answer.

With support from USAID, Fotemowoban and other women’s cooperatives began working towards the future that they wanted. USAID helped Fotemowoban to come together and negotiate with the village chief who awarded the group 12 hectares of land that diamond miners had abandoned. USAID helped the women to fill the diamond pits and rehabilitate the land to grow rice, maize and vegetables and taught the cooperative farming techniques to significantly increase their crop yields and make money for their families and community by selling their surplus.

A woman waters the community garden from reclaimed mining land.
Two women from Tortiya on the community plot.
A women from the Fotemowoban collective stands proudly on their new land.

Once the cooperative started to have a taste of success, USAID showed Fotemowoban how to save a portion of their profits to build longer-term financial stability and provided them with equipment that they could lease to the community for an additional income. The women are using some of the money they have saved to invest in their small agri-business. They have begun purchasing equipment and making loans to other community members, for which they are always paid back. The women of Fotemowoban are currently saving to buy the community a school by 2020.

Women from the Fotemowoban collective celebrate their harvest in Tortiya, Côte d’Ivoire.

The community, which was initially skeptical of the women managing their own land, now sees how important this women’s group can be to their community. Success has helped to give these women a voice in decision-making that they weren’t empowered to exercise before. Seeluwen Jiluwa believes that USAID is providing the skills that their community will need to thrive and brings them closer to a day when they won’t need development assistance anymore.

“The people did not believe before, we gave the group a nickname because people said you will not progress, you cannot move forward, so the name we gave the group is Fotemowoban, which means what there will be nothing to stop us from moving forward. I am not discouraged, I will carry on.”

— Silué Tiewa, Tortiya, Cote d’Ivoire

Silué Tiewa