Patrice's favourite activity is to spend time in the lush green fields of the Cité Verte (Green City), near his home village of Gobada, in the Savalou district. When he is off duties from his customs officer job, he dedicates himself to agriculture and cashews.
The so called Cité Verte (Green City) covers 32 hectares out of Savalou, 20 of which are occupied by cashew trees. The first plantations date back to 2011 and were seeds produced by cashew nurseries in Benin. Agriculture has always been a great passion of the Ahokpossi’s family. Patrice’s father worked as farmer in the Ivory Coast and his uncle, who took care of him in Benin, was a forest ranger. Already before becoming a customs officer, Patrice had a good deal of experience within agriculture. Thanks to the Cité Verte of Gobada, that was right outside his doorstep, he could accomplish his dream of creating a modern cashew plantation. The BeninCajù team, which has been supporting the development of the Cité Verte throughout the years, praised Patrice’s and his management team’s efforts. The plantation applies the latest cropping techniques and uses high tech machineries; it also functions as a "training field" for students to perform their internships. In 2017, the Cité Verte welcomed visitors from the annual African Cashew Alliance Conference (ACA).
"My greatest hobby is farming"
"Agriculture was all I wanted to do and thought I would do in my life, before going into the public service" says Ahokpossi, who sees working in the fields as his only hobby. This explains his ability to perfectly combine his work and tasks as customs officer with the demands and challenges of owning a cashew plantation. “Agricultural entrepreneurship is very promising if well organized”, assures the entrepreneur, who always tries to encourage other civil servants like him, who are eager to invest in the cashew sector, to embrace the “farmer spirit”. This is one of the strategies that will allow Benin’s agricultural industry to increase not only its annual cashew nuts production but also and above all, its orchard yields. “Owning a cashew plantation doesn’t automatically link to success, what makes the difference is adopting best practices”, concludes Patrice Ahokpossi.
Thérèse Orou Ali has always «dreamt of becoming a successful woman». Her dream came true when she decided to venture herself into the cashew apple industry and eventually discovered Sweet Benin, the first African brand for the promotion of cashew apple juice and its by-products.
Thérèse lives in the outskirts of Djougou, a small town 450km north of Cotonou. Her small cashew apple processing factory is next to her house. Every Saturday morning, she goes to town to teach high school students nutrition and technological transformation. She loves teaching and passing her knowledge onto the young ones. Once she is back home, Thérèse has to breastfeed her 11-month-old daughter, check all the cashew apple juice orders with her commercial agent and give interviews to journalists.
Thérèse’s father was a very busy farmer, so she spent her childhood with a host family from whom she learnt all about food processing and agricultural products. After school and during breaks, she would walk around the city, and go from door to door to sell those products. It was at a very early age that Thérèse started to acquire hands-on experience in the transformation and distribution of agri-food products. Thérèse’s path to success did not come without difficulties; being a mother, a teacher, and an entrepreneur is rewarding yet very challenging. She remembers the years when she had to work as a gardener for the Djougou Council to support herself and not having to ask a man for help. She always tells her students, particularly girls, about the difficulties and challenges she faced along the way, to inspire them and make them stronger. Thérèse is well-known outside Benin and is a reference for women and young entrepreneurs across Africa. In 2015, she was nominated Francophone Africa’s best entrepreneur.
Watch below the video about Thérèse
"Cashew apples are good money and allow me and my family to live well"
Over 500 women were trained by Thérèse on cashew apple collecting techniques, and more than a 1000 were hired to work in her apple processing business. In 2017, she discovered the label Sweet Benin, launched by the international NGO TechnoServe and funded by the U.S government. Through this powerful initiative, Thérèse was able to hire five permanent employees, and produce and sell over 55,000 bottles in 2018.
Thérèse was the protagonist of the National Cashew Marketing Campaign’s launch in Djougou, where she showcased and promoted all her cashew apple products, triggering the interest of two Ministers who later decided to visit her factory. Thérèse believes that cashew apples are not only a great source of revenues but also a means to women empowerment, especially in Benin’s most rural areas. Women working in cashews can make a living with it and also build confidence and expertise that they can apply to other jobs in the future. Thérèse wishes to develop her network of women employees further and expand her production unit. For 2019, she is foreseeing to produce over a 100,000 cashew apple juice bottles.
"Being an entrepreneur is definitely not more important than being a mother"
Thérèse believes that women empowerment does not and should not preclude women from being wives and mothers. A financially independent woman can actually support her husband in meeting the needs of the family: "I fully commit to my responsibility as a wife and a mother," says Therese.
Polygamy is a wide spread practice in rural areas of Benin and financially independent women who are left by their husbands can better support their children. Thérèse is convinced that the cashew apple industry can help many other women like her to become independent. Only 10% of the 800,000 tons of cashew apples produced in Benin every year is processed. The industry’s potential is huge and is yet to be exploited. What it needs now is many more women like Thérèse to take advantage of it.