Yeo Nakoni

“When we go to the bank to ask for a loan, we’re denied because we have no collateral.”

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Yeo Nakoni, 51 Ivory Coast Storyline

We zigzag through the dirt roads of Korhogo in the north of the Ivory Coast to find Yeo. We arrive at dusk at her brother’s house, where he sends us out into the fields to look for her. We find her hard at work, bent double, tending to her cabbages, with her son assisting her. There are several other women in the surrounding fields equally hard at work and she proudly tells us that she has expanded her plot. She takes us on a precarious walk through the muddy fields to another large cabbage field which she is due to harvest shortly. The light is spectacular as the sun sets across the fields and we walk back to her brother’s house where family and friends have gathered for the evening.

Yeo Nakoni (51) is a vegetable farmer from Korhogo in the north of the Ivory Coast, mainly growing cabbages and carrots. She is married and the mother of six children. Four of her children still live at home and she also takes care of two nieces. Her husband sadly lost his job as a cook, so she is the sole breadwinner for eight people. Yeo explains this in a very matter of fact way, she doesn’t seem to view this as a particular achievement or a hardship.

Yeo grew up with six brothers and sisters and her parents were also farmers. “When I finished my primary education aged 15, my father wanted me to stay on at school, but my mother refused.  She wanted me supporting on the farm.” Her destiny was already set.

"I got married at the age of 20 and used to sell vegetables at the market until my mother-in-law advised me to grow these vegetables by myself and sell them for more profit. That was a good idea, and she arranged a plot of land for me. I’ve worked this land now for 35 years, but the land doesn’t belong to me. In our community women don’t own land, it belongs to men.”

As she started out, Yeo knew she needed to be more business-minded and, following conversations with women in her neighbourhood, they set up a savings group. Sadly, there was little structure to the group and some women who borrowed from the group did not pay back their loans.

It was years later that Yeo found out about CARE’s support and she established a new savings group, based on CARE’s flagship Village Savings & Loans Association model. She adds: “This approach allowed us to strengthen our group spirit, savings and especially the repayment of loans taken out from the group. Every Sunday we each put in 500 francs (0.86 USD) and from that we are able to give each other loans. We repay our loans with interest, so our fund can grow. Within the group we can help each other. What we can do as a group, you can’t do by yourself.” Thanks to the success of the group, Yeo’s association was selected for further support from CARE, supported by H&M Foundation, including enterprise training.

Yeo excitedly adds: “I not only had a lot of knowledge, but I also had many ideas to embark on my entrepreneurial journey.” In addition to the training, CARE organised for Madame Sekongo, a successful entrepreneur from the region, to come and give motivational talks to Yeo’s and other groups. Yeo explains: “Madame Sekongo has given us a lot of advice, she has taught us not to be afraid to approach the banks for credit, but to borrow within our means. We love and respect her.”

Yeo wanted to take out a loan but she didn’t have the collateral required as she doesn’t own a house or the land she farms, she adds: “When we go to the bank to ask for a loan, we’re denied because we have no collateral.” However, thanks to CARE’s partnership with a local microfinance provider, Yeo was able to take out a low-interest loan of around 2,500 USD to expand her enterprise. She is now confidently repaying her loan and she is extremely proud of what she has achieved:

“Thanks to my fields I have been able to send my children to school and put food on the table.  My fields have given me so many things, and a lot of strength. I am optimistic for my future. I see myself as a woman entrepreneur who makes decisions and contributes significantly to the expenses of her family. I see myself owning a home in five years and I know I am on the right track.”