The Cocoa Series: The Power of Empowered Women Featured

The Cocoa Series: The Power of Empowered Women Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

More often than not, the contributions of women farmers go unnoticed in a world where their male counterparts take dominance. Yet despite living among the shadows, women have been contributing to the development of society in ways that cannot be ignored. In the second part of The Cocoa Series, we explore the role that women play in the cocoa industry and how empowering them can lead to tangible changes not just in their family, their community, and the cocoa industry, but to the world at large. By Sherlyne Yong 

If you were tasked to think about the people who impacted your life, who might you think of? Regardless of what role this person played, there is a high likelihood that it is a woman who takes the spot. Yet, if you were asked about prominent figures in society, males would more likely than not come to mind. This is where the disconnect lies. 

Despite the vast contributions they make, women work silently in the shadows of their male counterparts for the family and community. This holds true across the world, but in some places more than most, one of them being West Africa.

In a statement that epitomises the role given to women in that region, Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist and the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, said that she was often told, “If your husband brought rice, you must be able to bring the charcoal to cook the rice.”

This not only describes the secondary duties that women are so commonly given in society, but highlights the fact that they play an equally important role in making things work. 

Unfortunately, in top cocoa-producing countries such as Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, the efforts of women are often under-valued, unrecognised and undermined as duties that a wife, or woman in the family, should undertake anyway.

“With all of the contributions that women make, from the home to the community, from the community to the nation, they continue to be seen as second class citizens, their contributions are never considered in any calculations,” said Ms Gbowee.

But the world is changing, and people have to change along with the world. The same goes for the cocoa industry, where the onus is on them to change, and change for the good.


Women Farmers

West Africa is one of the largest producers of cocoa, supplying approximately two thirds of the world’s cocoa crop, and among this trade, women farmers play a crucial role. 

They are regularly involved in 12 out of the 19 key stages of cocoa production, as noted in a report by Oxfam, and take a leading role in the areas of planting and maintaining farms, opening harvested pods and overseeing fermentation and drying of the cocoa beans. 

These processes are essential for productivity and quality, where early plant care affects future yields and fermentation and drying determine the final flavour of the beans. This in turn affects the quality of the chocolate and its retail value. 

Everjean, Antwerp, Belgium

Everjean, Antwerp, Belgium

Everjean, Antwerp, Belgium

However, a gender assessment report conducted by Mars Chocolate has revealed that although women in Cote D’Ivoire account for up to 45 percent of the labour on cocoa farms, they are not perceived as farmers due to cultural norms. This severely limits their access to factors such as credit, training and other resources which are crucial to productivity.

Likewise, the World Cocoa Foundation has found that despite women performing 66 percent of the world’s work and producing 50 percent of its food, they only manage 10 percent of its income and own one percent of its property. 

Men tend to be the ones handling production and income when their crops enter high value export markets, while their wives focus more on handling young crops and post-harvest activities.

In most rural areas, society often takes for granted the contributions of females by failing to note their true value and offer due compensation, even though they have been working as much as 13 hours more per week as compared to males. 

The World Bank estimates that if the domestic work undertaken by women were monetised, it would come up to annual contribution of about US$11 trillion to the world economy. 

Yet, women farmers continue to be unrecognised and compensated inadequately. This has far reaching effects on both society and cocoa production. 


The Marginalised Sex

Due to cultural norms and civil inequalities, women farmers are often denied the same access to resources that their male counterparts enjoy. This includes an access to land, capital, training and equipment — all of which are pivotal for productive crop yield. 

For instance, the lack of access to land or capital makes it difficult for women farmers to buy seeds, fertilisers and irrigation systems, or to invest in practices that can help to increase yield. This puts them at a disadvantage to male farmers, who are in turn more productive as they do not face the same limitations. 

To make things worse, the income of women farmers are further reduced when they have to engage hired labour, who are typically men, to help on the farms. In contrast, other women who are not growers and landowners often work on their family farms without pay, which also negates the need for extra hired help. 

Because cocoa farming has traditionally been seen as a man’s work, less wages are given to tasks that are typically undertaken by women. As a result, women cocoa farmers receive far less monetary compensation than their male counterparts, even though they make up half of the labour on farms. 

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

A study conducted by CARE International on cocoa farming n Cote d’Ivoire found while 86 percent of men had legal rights to their plots, only 33 percent of the women owned land that they worked on.  

Meanwhile in Ghana, researchers at Harvard University have suggested that farmer training and access to finance are key agents of change and strong predictors of productivity and income. However, they have also found that women farmers in Ghana go face lowered levels of training (by 25 percent), lowered loan approval rates (by 20 percent) and reduced access to farm inputs such as those mentioned above (by up to 40 percent).

Yet despite these challenges, women farmers have persevered. 

“To those who are making decisions in this industry, the women upon whose back this industry is built, their resilience in the face of certain political realities, is something that we must applaud. When we talk about women farmers, the narrative overlooks their ability to persevere through challenges,” said Ms Gbowee.

She believes that perseverance is the key trait of women farmers that will help bring the cocoa industry further. “There is no lack of intelligence and knowledge amongst women,” she said. ”Give them the opportunities and they will help you turn this industry around, in a way that you’ve never thought about.”


Agents Of Change

In recent years, more are speaking up and rallying for the empowerment of women as it affects more than just women. According to the World Cocoa Foundation, gender equality produces a double dividend — it benefits both women and children.

“Women’s role historically, in the growth and development of their societies cannot be understated. Women have always been the pillars of strength, the foundation of growth, the calming wind and the centres of change. They play these roles with no complaints or requiring any benefits. All of these have been done and are currently being done for the greater good of their communities,” said Ms Gbowee. 

Continuous evidence has shown that women divest most of their disposable income towards the wellbeing of their families and communities, such as food, health and education. As such, empowering women is more than righting a moral wrong, but also opens the door for greater societal change, which includes better public health, raised education levels, as well as reduced mortality rates. 

For instance, the Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that if women had equal access to agricultural resources, the total number of hungry people would fall by 100 to 150 million. 

From the business point of view, equipping women with their own rights and removing them from the oppression of silence will lead to greater productivity and a more secure supply chain in the future. This holds particular importance to the industry as adequate cocoa supplies are needed to cater to the boom in demand expected over the next decade, which are expected to outstrip supply by 2020.  

Already, large MNCs are starting to face problems with procuring quality cocoa at a productive rate as younger farmers are moving out of agriculture. It is therefore essential that chocolate manufacturers invest in gender equality, so as to protect a continuous stream of quality cocoa supplies in the future. This, they can achieve, by positioning women such that they are able to earn the same income. 

According to Ms Gbowee, this can take many forms, such as offering training, equipping them with the right tools and supporting landownership. Essentially, the industry has to recognise women as farmers, provide equal access to resources, and compensate them fairly. 

But more importantly, allow them to lead. 

“That is one of the biggest problems we have in Africa. When people come, they come with their ideas. Give them (women farmers) the opportunities to tell you exactly what they want, that this is how they want to do it. Now, we just need you to journey with us,” she said.  

Women farmers in cocoa production are well aware of the challenges that gender inequality brings; most of them understand it at a personal level. Even though women are regaining more of their voices and contributing to many areas globally, there is still much to be desired. 

Ultimately, it is still in the best interests of the cocoa industry to release women cocoa farmers from the oppressiveness of silence and to accelerate their inclusion into the cocoa community, if not for morality, justice and societal good, then for productivity. As Ms Gbowee aptly said, “Life comes back to us in full circles. That change will impact some of the lives of your daughters in very significant ways.”


This is the second part of The Cocoa Series, part one can be found here

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  • Last modified on Monday, 20 October 2014 13:07
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