Around 60 employees in Togo and Burkina Faso pay regular visits to the family farmers who supply us with their mangos, cashews, cocoa or soy. Our business model wouldn't work without these field agents. We spoke to two of them about their day-to-day work and the challenges they encounter.
As soon as the first mangos and cashews appear on the trees in Burkina Faso, things start to get extremely busy for Sidibe Hassane. He travels to the producers' fields, some of them in very remote locations, where he inspects their plants and provides advice. He visits the villages to provide family farmers with training in organic farming using posters, photos and his own sketches, and answers their questions. Hassane is one of 20 field agents who work for gebana Burkina Faso.
"I live with the producers for seven to eight months of the year," he tells us. gebana Burkina Faso rents the houses at the production sites where Hassane stays. For the rest of the year, he lives in Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina Faso and the headquarters of our subsidiary. He is a trained agricultural consultant. "I was interested in the job at gebana because local processing is important to me. And I can work outside in nature. I learn a lot about the working conditions of the farmers while on the job."
Advising and inspecting right in the field
What Sidibe Hassane does in the mango and cashew fields in Burkina Faso is what Komi Eyram Kpomedzi does on cocoa farms in Togo. As one of 40 field agents who work for gebana Togo, he lives in Kpalimé in Togo's southwestern Plateaux Region. In addition to advising and training family farmers, his job is also to check whether the standards for organic farming are being met.
"We visit the producers every day during the cocoa season," he says. He ensures that the farmers are not using synthetic fertilisers and that the plants are free of diseases and pests. "We also check whether the cocoa beans are being properly fermented. You go with the farmers from the fields to their homes and see where they are drying and storing the beans."
Sidibe Hassane carries out similar inspections in Burkina Faso: "We check whether the fields are properly cared for and if the harvest workers are doing well. Are there washbasins and toilets for the workers? Are they wearing suitable workwear?" He also arranges the purchase of our mangos directly from the family farmers.
Local revenue sharing
We share 10 per cent of our revenue from the sale of cashews, mangos and cocoa in our online shop with the family farmers. They receive this payment in addition to the organic and Fairtrade price for their products as part of our gebana Model. The field agents are also responsible for distributing these payments to each producer at the end of the season. They hold ceremonies for the producers, and the entire village community gathers to celebrate.
The field agents pay each producer the amount they are due. "We have a list of all the producers, including their names, addresses, photos and the amounts they delivered. Each producer signs to confirm that they have received their share, so we have a record of all the payments," explains Kpomedzi. Most of the payments are transferred directly to the producers' mobile phones so that the field agents don't have to carry large sums of cash while travelling to the remote villages.
Tactful approach is needed
Now and then, the field agents encounter difficulties on the job, as Kpomedzi explains: "Sometimes you visit a producer and he's not there. That means you have to go again the next day." Inspections can also be met with some resistance: "Even if a small part of the field is tainted by pesticides or diseases, I'm required to report it because it could end up contaminating the entire farm and an entire shipment. It's not always easy. We need people to understand that they are responsible for the quality of their beans and that any degree of contamination is unacceptable."
Trust is our most valuable asset
We have been working with a great number of family farmers for many years now. It hasn't always been easy, but we have the field agents to thank for their role in our success. "Other companies show up repeatedly to sweet-talk the producers and then leave again. But we stay with them and share meals with them. We have a foot in the door in every village. The farmers have grown to trust the gebana system. But it's been an uphill battle to get to this point," Sidibe Hassane says. The success of the training provided by field agents is one indication of the trust they have acquired. According to Sidibe Hassane, only about 10 people showed up for his training sessions three years ago; today, he has over 100 participants at each one.
Kpomedzi has also established a good relationship with the family farmers by now. "Everyone is quite relaxed when we carry out our field inspections. It also helps that we all speak the same dialect. The farmers know that we can stop by at any time. They also know that they can always call us whenever they have a problem and that we'll come over right away to answer their questions or lend a hand."
Hassane, Kpomedzi and their colleagues perform precious work in the fields and villages of West Africa. Our field agents enable us to stay in touch with thousands of family farmers. They ensure that we meet our standards in terms of farming, quality and working conditions, while offering the producers a stable income and agricultural support at the same time. Their efforts make it possible for us to ship products directly from farms across the world.