Radius: Off
km Set radius for geolocation

Massogbè Touré Diabaté: Ivory Coast

Massogbè Touré Diabaté: Ivory Coast
Farming Inspiration Post Harvest Handling

Massogbè Touré Diabaté is a key figure when it comes to the cashew (cashew) sector in Côte d’Ivoire. By promoting the cashew tree, the boss of Sita SA has become a captain of industry who is taking up some of the most current challenges facing African countries: industrialization and the economic emancipation of women.

Above all, do not speak of a success story to Massogbè Touré Diabaté! Even if the Ivorian is a pioneer in the cashew processing industry, also known as cashew nuts. After creating a cooperative with women in 1981 to plant cashew trees, since 2000 she has been running the Ivorian Cashew Processing Company ( Sita SA ), one of the industrial prides of Côte d’Ivoire. 

Today, “98% of production is exported and we are developing savory-grilled products on the national market where there is growing demand. Before, people didn’t eat cashew nuts because it’s a luxury product. Its processing is a noble profession which is not, for example, comparable to that of peanuts. Each almond you eat is treated in a unique way. It is selected, graded and classified . Massogbè Touré Diabaté is inexhaustible when it comes to cashew nuts, a product that made her a businesswoman. 

” When I arrived in this sector, it was not easy, remembers the 53-year-old entrepreneur . It is often men who work there. But it was above all a culture unknown to us and which was the subject of a lot of prejudice. It was often said of the fruit of the cashew tree, the cashew apple (which overlooks the nut, Editor’s note) , that one could die if one consumed it and then drank milk ”. Until then, the cashew tree was only used to reforest the savannahs of his hometown, Odienné, located in the north of Côte d’Ivoire. “The cultivation of the cashew tree has made it possible to fight against the advance of the desert. But there was little interest in its fruit.

“ At the start, it was not a sector, continues Dame Touré . It was during one of my trips to India, to Madras, in 1987, that I realized that we had the same climate and above all that the dynamic economy of this region was based on cashew nuts. Massogbè Touré Diabaté then decided to try the adventure at home. 

“Having a hard shell, believing in yourself and loving what you do”
This new challenge rhymes with going back to basics and making sacrifices. She resigns from her job in a multinational – madness for many – and returns to Odienné. “When I came back, we barely owned a few hectares. We had to explain to our parents that other uses of the cashew tree were possible. But to convince the community that it was an opportunity, you had to lead by example. My husband supported me a lot. He also resigned from the bank of which he was authorized representative and converted to the distribution of foodstuffs. They also called him crazy because he had left an air-conditioned office for dust. I had days of 27 hours a day, it was so hard. You had to have a hard shell, believe in yourself and love what you do. » 

It is therefore somewhat thanks to her that Côte d’Ivoire is the second largest producer of cashew nuts in the world, after India. The country is expected to produce 750,000 tonnes in 2018. “All modesty aside, we have contributed to it,”  admits Massogbè Touré Diabaté .

” By popularizing agricultural techniques, by providing leaflets in the vernacular, by creating a radio and a television channel to explain the benefits of the cashew tree to the population, we have succeeded in our bet. Our first harvest was not sold. It was used to provide seeds. Thanks to the expansion of this culture, people can build hard today in the villages. It is a pride for us. The kilo which was sold at 100 CFA francs (0.15 euros) rose to 1,000 CFA francs (1.52 euros) in 2017, more expensive than cocoa. And I tell myself that we cannot stop on such a good path. If we are unable to transform this raw material on site, we will not be able to capitalize on all these achievements.” 

Transform at all costs
The challenge of industrialization that Sita has been trying to meet for years is a question of survival.  “Today we sell our harvest to Asians, among others. But if for some reason they don’t come to buy, what are we going to do with our production? If we continue to give all the raw materials to Asia, it is their economies that will develop, whereas we need to create wealth and jobs in our country” , stresses the vice-president of the General Confederation of enterprises of Côte d’Ivoire (CGECI), the Ivorian employers, of which she is the only woman member of the executive board.

Sita’s main competitor is the Singaporean giant Olam. But for Dame Diabaté, things have to be put into perspective.  “I am an ant next to this elephant. Today, we are at less than 10% of processed raw material. So I can’t talk about competition. There is enough room for all of us. And I don’t have the same vision (as the multinational) because I am morally and psychologically committed to my community. We have an obligation of results. We don’t have the same financial means but we hope to become Olam.”

For this, it relies on political will. It is essential, according to the boss of Sita, because industrialization is an expensive process. “We must facilitate access to financing so that farmers become industrialists,” argues Massogbé Touré Diabaté who also has a message for bankers. “A good bank must be like a fashion designer today. It must be tailor-made. The good banker is also the one who knows how to take risks . 

“It is never wrong to trust women”
And she knows what she is talking about. The Sita SA group also includes a microfinance institution, Cedaici. “ It’s the farmers’ bank. Being myself a peasant in a rural environment, I very quickly understood that this was important. This is why since 1991 we have set up this structure. The capital of this SA is today 500 million CFA francs(762,245 euros) . We finance agricultural projects by making small structured loans. Again, women are the best. We have less than 1% unpaid. It is never wrong to trust women.” 

If there is one who trusts them 100%, it is Massogbè Touré Diabaté. His company, whose turnover is approximately 3 billion CFA francs (4.6 million euros), employs some 800 people, including 750 women.  “We cannot have sustainable development without the effective involvement of women. If someone tells you otherwise, walk away from them!”

The proof:  “Côte d’Ivoire has experienced a decade of crisis, explains the entrepreneur . Why did the country not experience a famine? It is thanks to women. Neighboring countries still came to supply us during the crisis. It is the fruit of the efforts of women. The president who will understand that it is necessary to deal with them, in particular with the entrepreneurs, is assured of having a great political longevity.

Within the Ivorian employers, only a dozen companies run by women are registered, according to Massogbè Touré Diabaté, who is also the president of the commission for the development of female entrepreneurship (Cdef) of the organization. The body, which campaigns for more women in the business world, only started in 2011.

“Until today, it is one of the most dynamic commissions. The Ivorian experience is a source of inspiration in the sub-region. When a woman says she wants to do something, she does it wholeheartedly. This is what makes us special” .

Article by: Falila Gbadamassi, France Télévisions  Rédaction Afrique