How does a Swiss company share its turnover with 2,500 family farmers in Burkina Faso? It takes a plan, modern technology, a fair share of patience and lots of enthusiasm. Text & Photos: Eleonora Gallo, gebana Berlin
Ousseni Porgo looks nervous and tense as he exits the dust-covered ATV and walks the few metres separating him from Tapogodéni village in South-West Burkina Faso, located almost two hours away by car from Bobo-Dioulasso. "Will the money transfer work? Have we thought of everything?" he asks himself more than his companions.
Ousseni leads the agronomy and purchasing department at gebana Burkina Faso. His team advises and trains family farmers, supports them in the certification process and purchases their cashews and mangos. Today’s visit, however, is far from ordinary.
With his left hand, Ousseni covers his eyes from the sun as it shines in a cloudless sky. It’s October and over 30 degrees – nothing unusual in Burkina Faso, where the thermometer rarely dips below 20. Ousseni’s gaze turns to the village square, where 50, maybe 60 plastic garden chairs, stools and rusty metal chairs are lined up in the shade of a large mango tree. The tree is the village’s cultural centre. It’s where everything takes place. Weddings, birthdays, dances, plays. Villagers are seated in some of the chairs, eagerly awaiting Ousseni and his team. It doesn’t take long before the entire village is gathered.
The reason for the gathering? The family farmers are to receive a share of gebana’s turnover. It’s a new approach to trade that started some 5,400 kilometres away in a snow-covered hotel in Preda. After some hard work, we arrived at a concept aimed at changing the unfair global trading system. We developed ideas, set them aside, brought them back into the mix and held in-depth discussions. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that rather than paying additional premiums, we prefer to share.
In Tapogodéni, Ousseni explains to the villagers why they are there. "gebana will pay you back a share of the sales revenue of your cashews and mangoes. But please don’t spend the money on beer or to marry another woman, " says Ousseni, provoking hearty laughter among the men once the gebana Burkina Faso employee was done translating for him.
Ousseni Porgo may be Burkinabé himself, but he does not speak all the languages of the country. How could he? The people of Burkina Faso belong to – depending on the counting method used – 30 to 60 different ethnicities speaking over 60 dialects and languages. The official language is French, but that won’t get you far in villages like Tapogodéni. "We recommend that you invest the money in your work. Pay for helpers during the harvest, buy new tools, think about the future," concluded Ousseni at the end his speech once the men were calm again.
The farmers are now standing around Mirjam Traoré, the agronomist responsible for the certification and training at gebana Burkina Faso. Mirjam takes the farmers’ names and makes the payments. The farmers who can write will see her later to confirm the reception of the payment with a signature. The others put their fingerprints next to their names.
The money – every farmer gets the same amount – is transferred to the farmers via mobile phone. It’s a widely used method for money transfers in West Africa. It works without a bank account and the transfer is usually completed in a matter of minutes.
Everyone stares at their phones. Nothing happens. Not after five minutes, not after ten. Ousseni can feel the sweat on his forehead. This is precisely what he dreaded. If it doesn’t work in the first village, how can it work in the 52 others?
Ousseni spends over an hour reassuring the family farmers that the money would be there soon. But he soon starts having his own doubts. "gebana money nana," a farmer suddenly yells, "the money from gebana is there.” One by one, others yell out as well. That’s the signal for the men on the balafon – an instrument similar to a xylophone and seen all over West Africa. To accompany the warm, woody sound of the balafon, there is also local beer and food is served for all. Men, women and children dance, sing and take photos with their phones.
Ousseni takes a seat in a garden chair. He is content. Everything worked and he can relax. But a part of him is already thinking about the coming days and weeks. He still has 52 payments to complete.
From November 2019 to the end of January 2020, Ousseni Porgo and his team visited 53 villages and paid out close to 124,000 Swiss francs to 2,554 families. The amount represents 10% of the sales revenue from our cashew products and dried mangoes on our online shop. The money was distributed among all the family farmers – even the ones who deliver to wholesalers who don’t share their turnover. The families received between 2 and 160 francs. The share is based on the volume of cashews and mangoes an entire village delivers. Within a given village, every family received the same share. By way of comparison, agricultural day workers earn 1.55 francs per day, and the minimum wage for formal work comes close to 54 francs per month.
Most payments were made by mobile phone, though a few were paid in cash due to a lack of phone, network coverage or payment kiosk. Four farmers did not receive their payments because they miswrote
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