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She belongs to the class of the fighters. A seller of fruit and vegetable from childhood, she never attended school. But neither her age, nor illiteracy stopped her from following the path of her predecessors in organizing her sisters of the commerce sector. Her objective: Organize the women, who are the major producers and sellers of supplies and food in all the markets in Côte d'Ivoire.

“Everyone in this country knows me as Irié Lou Irié Colette from Gohitafla,” starts the leader of an 1,800 strong agricultural union that spans 19 regions of Côte d’Ivoire. The 54-year-old woman sitting in front of me looks much younger, with the smile she offers me softening her face. I am impressed by the beauty and simplicity around her. Samples of maize, rice and beans cover the table, a representation of products sold in the farmers’ area of the market.
Irié Colette started her journey in 1983, after learning from one woman who inspired and taught her the basics of agricultural work for many years. She then created her own market of food supply in Treichville, where today stands the Culture Palace in Abidjan. Her work was to buy from farmers and sell to people in her market. This experience confronted her with two major problems:
“Most of the time, women would come to me and ask for money to feed their families. It was very difficult to see them in such a desperate situation,” explains Irié Colette. The second problem was the farmers’ refusal to sell to women, as they believed the women would not be able to repay them. “That is where my inspiration came to organize the sector.”
According to ActionAid, an international anti-poverty agency, each day over one billion people go hungry, most of whom are women. Women worldwide are routinely denied the right to own or inherit land, even though they are responsible for 60-80 percent of food production in the developing world; furthermore, IFAD’s Factsheet on Women reports that less than 2 percent of land in the world is owned by women and rural women in Africa receive less than 10 percent of the credit available. Women’s almost nonexistent access to land and control of resources to feed their families must be addressed worldwide before moving forward with the fight against hunger.
Facing the women’s needs and the farmers’ fear of losing profit led Irié Colette to start an agricultural union: CODIPRAL. “Instead of giving them money, what I don’t have all the time, I asked those women to come and sell in the market the goods I was ordering from the farmers. I was solving two problems,” explains Irié Colette. “I was giving a net to women to fish themselves and helping the farmers sell their products without any loss.”
This achievement did not satisfy her, though. In her market, she was not able to sell all the products from the different regions of her country. She then started developing the idea of promoting her country’s staple foods with constant availability and ended at the implementation of a rice factory in Tiassalé. From the day the factory was inaugurated on 13 September 2010, 2.5t of rice has been produced per hour.
“We have in all regions, the appropriate soil for rice cultivation and secondly, we import a lot of rice in Côte d’Ivoire. It is just the right thing to think of making it available from here,” exclaims Irié Colette. The factory brings an obligation to rice farmers to organize themselves and change their traditional methods to modern and innovative methods to provide good quality rice. “We need to learn and become professional because in five to 10 years, we want to export our rice. And it demands a lot.”
Irié Colette’s statement pushed me to ask her how she intends to achieve this goal with the post-electoral crisis we are facing. (As I write, the African delegation—led by presidents from Sierra Leone, Cape Verde and Benin—was leaving my country without having convinced our president, Laurent Gbagbo, to step down and allow Alassane Ouattara to step into the presidency as ordered by the international community. We fear our country may be plunged into another draining civil war.) Nonetheless, Irié Colette smiles and the brightness in her eyes gives me the answer before she opens her mouth.
“My only strength and weapon is the love I have for all these women and for the country. I never attended school to use strategies and rudiments in this work, but if I do not work I have nothing left on this earth,” she says. “Without love you cannot achieve and succeed in any dream or vision.” And her vision for the federation today is to be a means of development for food supply in Côte d’Ivoire.
“By development I mean producing in quantity and quality all kind of food we have in this country, not only to produce, but to be able to make all our production available the whole year and also sell them at affordable prices.”
Selling food at reasonable prices and freedom for women to go to the market without fear are issues heightened in times of political conflict. “Women are very sensitive because any time there is something like what we are facing today, it takes their children, brothers and sisters, parents and husband’s lives, if they are not taken for targets themselves. And all this affects their ability to work,” explains Irié Colette.
The country will not move forward without food. So if women are not going to the market, if they cannot go to the farms, we will not only lose what has been built, but we will be walking toward famine, especially now that many nations have cut off or threatened to cut off their relations with Cote d’Ivoire if Gbagbo does not step down.
“I would like to challenge you to use your arms, legs and brain, literate and illiterate women: Our duty is to think and find out what we can do to improve life. After finding that, we have to pass it on to other women, help and advise them,” says Irié Colette. Today, regarding all that is happening in our country, she has one piece of advice: “In all countries, women should seek peace, advocate for peace, fight for peace. Peace is essential.”

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.



HARMONY's picture


First assignment done Finally. Thank you Lydia.

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

mrbeckbeck's picture

Well done!

What a wonderful profile Harmony! You've shown us an amazing woman in Irie... her leadership work is inspiring, and your excellent writing and style brings it to life.

I also love how you managed to weave in statistics, and tied the interview into current-events. This really helped me to understand the importance of the issues she is working on, and has been working on. Well done!

Thank you so much for your hard work on this assignment! In the midst of everything, you've managed to craft a wonderful, informative piece.

Happy New Year! I hope to connect again soon!

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

HARMONY's picture

Thanks Scott

Your encouragement helped me go ahead amidst all. I think I was gained by that wonderful woman enthusiasm. I am happy I was able to do it.
Thanks a lot.

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

Angela U's picture


I really enjoyed your piece and was impressed by both your strong writing skills and your powerful ability to introduce Irié Colette to the reader. Thank you for doing such an amazing job of bringing her story to us.

I especially liked how you chose to end the profile with Colette's own words, calling people to action - very inspiring and uplifting.

I look forward to reading your future writing!

HARMONY's picture

Hi Angela,

This woman said so many things that I didn't know what to add and what to remove. Happy you like her story and thanks!

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

Angela U's picture

I know what you mean. It's

I know what you mean. It's often very hard to edit an interview, especially when the subject has a lot of interesting things to say. You did a great job of deciding what to include and what to leave out - the mark of a good journalist!

HARMONY's picture

Yes Very hard!

You said it: very hard. But it help also!

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

carol adams's picture

powerful writing, powerful vision

I feel as though I am in the room with you and Irié Lou Irié Colette. Well done! Your writing is skillful. You are able to weave statistics, issues and a heartful story seamlessly.

I love how you concluded the profile with optimism, courage and a call to action. I am left with a deep sense of promise for you, your subject and your country.

Carol Adams

HARMONY's picture

Hi Carol


Irie Lou is just amazing with her soft voice. I wish you were in the room with me to hear her!
Thanks for apreciating

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

SAsong's picture

Great job!!!

It's good to see your first assignment posted. Very beautiful and inspiring read. Women driven by their basic innate abilities to create opportunities for others to succeed. Thanks for posting the piece and bon courage to Mmm Colette.

HARMONY's picture

Merci Song!

You said it: Good to see it posted!

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

vivian's picture



am glad you finally made it with your first month assignment despite the trouble in your country. Well done and keep the spirit up. Your woman is great, a woman of love “Without love you cannot achieve and succeed in any dream or vision'.


''Every woman have a story at every stage of Life''

HARMONY's picture

I was so excited to finish! I

I was so excited to finish! I hope all be well soon in my country and pray Love prevail in these days...
Yes without love we cannot achieve anything.

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

Zaisho's picture

Inspiring Work

Dear Harmony what a beautiful job introducing mme_irie_lou_fenacovici. She really does belongs to the class of the fighters. Warrior Women, Leaders like you taking your jobs seriously and going forth. I am very inspired by your work as a writer and i am encouraged to try harder in my own work that i am doing. You are amazing and strong keep up the great skill of writing it is good work. I am looking forward to reading more about mme irie lou fenacovici and what she can accomplish with her fierce determination and courage.

Many Blessings with Creative Love & Light,
Lisa Bull

"Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold / your own myth...." -- Rumi

"Illuminating the Light of Peace..." --LAMB

HARMONY's picture

Hi Lisa

Not always easy to write all we want to write but when done you can only feel encourage by all your comments.
I feel like doing only he writing so we all hear about women like Irie Lou...
Thanks for giving me more reasons to write!

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

Amei's picture

Worth waiting for you post :-)

.....“My only strength and weapon is the love I have for all these women and for the country. I never attended school to use strategies and rudiments in this work, but if I do not work I have nothing left on this earth,” she says. “Without love you cannot achieve and succeed in any dream or vision.”

I love her strength. This is so so so good :-)

Hope all is well with you too. Happy New Year. Wish you all the best. HAPPY 2011 ♥ :-)

With love

HARMONY's picture

Hi Amei, I am fine and hope

Hi Amei,

I am fine and hope you too!

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

Rudzanimbilu's picture

Well done Harmony

“Without love you cannot achieve and succeed in any dream or vision"....oh such is a strength of a woman and mme Irié Lou Irié Colette is an inspiring woman who is doing a marvelous work for women in our African country. Thank you for writing about her Harmony, your writing is beautiful as always and I applaud you for finishing this assignment. As for what is happening politically, let's all hope that, this too shall pass and with women doing amazing things like Mme, i'm positive we will find a solution.

Rudzanimbilu Muthambi

HARMONY's picture

Thanks Rudza!

Irie Lou is a blessing to women in this country. We pray that she gets all the time and chance to do her work...

Thank you !

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

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