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Ivory Coast's street wise business women

 Street News Service 28 November 2019

In a nation where females are often denied education, the Guro women of Ivory Coast are ranking among the most successful food crops entrepreneurs. Their efforts go largely unnoticed, despite the fact they are saving thousands of their countrymen from starvation. (861 Words) - By Selay Marius Kouassi

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Malike aided by a porter at Guro market, Ivory Coast.Photo: Selay Marius Kouassi

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Malika with two of her daughters and her son, Ivory Coast.Photo: Selay Marius Kouassi

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Guro Market, Ivory Coast.Photo: Selay Marius Kouassi

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Malika with her child at Guro market, Ivory Coast (Portrait picture - Download to see full image).Photo: Selay Marius Kouassi


It is a cloudy evening and trucks loaded with tons of plantains, cassava, cabbage, eggplants and tomatoes arrive at Guro Market, a large open-air vendor space in the district of Adjamé in the heart of Abidjan, the economic hub of the Ivory Coast.

Malika and her friends squeal with joy and run up to the trucks and as they help to unload the fruit and vegetables, their singing fills the air and adds to the ambience of a vibrant marketplace. These are the Guro women of the Ivory Coast and in a nation where females are often denied education they have become of the most successful food crops entrepreneurs in the country.

Indeed, they have almost a monopoly on the growing and trading of food crops in the Ivory Coast yet their efforts go largely unnoticed despite the fact they are saving thousands of their countrymen from starvation. Malika Tra Lou, a 37-year-old Guro woman, is one of the workers whose business skills and diligence are making a difference despite her lack of formal education. "I am from a family of three girls and four boys. I never attended school. None of my sisters did. My dad thought his daughters were only good for the kitchen," Malika says.

Being born a female can be a huge disadvantage in the south west of Ivory Coast where families prefer to educate boys over girls. Indeed, the Guro tribe has among the highest illiteracy rates for women in the country. "But our men are wrong most of the time,"  Malika says adding that she wanted to be a lawyer but was denied access to school. "My daughters would have a different fate. I will send them all to school."

Malika and her colleagues have almost total dominance of the Guro market which they set up in 1987 without the support of municipal authorities. This is the largest market in Abdijan with some 730 traders here of which around 700 are female and it attracts up to 4000 people each day who buy groceries.

"The Guro market emerged from stalls scattered here and there. The Guro market has become the place where many people go for affordable basic foodstuff; it is the biggest market for fresh foods, the main food outlet for the crowds," says Malika.

Many Guru women only attended only primary school, if they were lucky, so most of them cannot read, write or even speak French properly. A handicap, some might think, but many seem to have a flair for business. "Most of us don't have academic education, but we have a strong flair for business and when it comes to figures, calculation, we're are unbeatable. What other skills do we need to start a business?" says Doka Zamblé, another Guro trader.

The food business is something that is helping these women to educate their children whom in most cases are left behind by deserting or unemployed husbands. "My first daughter will enter Abidjan University this year. She makes me proud", says Malika, who has been using income earned from her food crops business to support five children and also an unemployed and alcoholic husband.

Like many of her co-traders, Malika proudly asserts she decided to engage in the food business to break a gender taboo. "Some years ago, the food sector used to be a male affair. It's no longer the case. Men have left the sector; they cannot compete with us. We are getting deliverance. It's an outstanding victory over male supremacy," she says.

But above all, there is another major reason to push Malika and other Guro women to engage in this business: to ensure food security in Ivory Coast. "It is true that we make a living from this business, but what makes me more enthusiastic about it is the fact that we are saving the whole country from famine. Urban markets are always supplied with food because we are there," argues Malika.

The women's activity is not restricted to supplying of crops to urban markets but also extends to the fields where the crops are grown. Looking after the sales at the Guro market is just part of the wide range of activities covered by their trade in food.

Malika explains they have friends in rural areas who are involved in farm work while others are tasked with collecting the produce and storing them in warehouses. Next, they rent trucks to transport the goods to Abidjan and other urban markets. These trips from remote areas to urban centres comes with its fair share of troubles including mostly the forces of nature.

When it rains heavily, the roads are not traversable, meaning crops are sometimes left to rot in warehouses. Other obstacles include the many police checkpoints on the roads where corrupt officers demand bribes from the women before they allow them to pass.

The Guro women say a lot of time and money is wasted but that they have to give bribes to be able to reach their destinations. Above all, what strikes Malika most is the fact that Guro women are still ignored. "Despite the great amount of job we are doing, it is like we are invisible".

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