Farming families, the cornerstone of sustainable cocoa

Boosting the sustainability of the cocoa sector has until now focused on working with smallholder cocoa farmers including farmer cooperatives which are largely dominated by men. Agricultural services, trainings and inputs often don’t reach women. Yet women play a vital role both in cocoa production as well as in the livelihood of the household including by generating alternative income.

Farming households in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – where over 60% of the world’s cocoa is produced – cannot rely on cocoa alone to achieve a living income. However, it remains the attractive crop option for 90% of smallholder farmers (KIT “Demistifying the Cocoa Sector”).

To secure the future of cocoa and ensure farming communities can thrive, sustainability initiatives must therefore endeavor to strengthen the wellbeing and resilience of farming families. This means, looking at, for example, helping them diversify their income-generating activities, as well as improving access to the necessary tools – be they training or finance. This is especially a priority for the most vulnerable household members: women.

Access to affordable financial services for women is key. To become income generators in their own right, women require access to savings products and affordable and appropriate credit, combined with financial literacy programs. This is already happening through a partnership in Cote d’Ivoire where IDH and Cargill are working with Advans, a microfinance group, and CARE, an international NGO dedicated to fighting poverty.

The joint efforts of this partnership focus on the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) which are supported by CARE and managed and governed by local communities. The VSLA model plays an important role in local capacity building – providing simple savings and loan facilities in communities that does not have easy access to formal financial services, thus equipping whole communities, with the necessary resources to save and invest in income-generating activities. In Cote d’Ivoire alone, CARE and its partners have mobilized nearly 230,000 VSLA members, 80% of whom are women. These members have amassed the capacity to mobilize in savings every year the equivalent of nearly USD 1.4 million. Through its regional initiative, Women on the Move (WOM), CARE aims to reach 1,150,000 VSLA members in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2020. Collectively this represents a business in itself with important entrepreneurship opportunities including potentially linking to cocoa cooperatives.

In addition to savings and loans, IDH, Cargill, Advans and CARE are working with cocoa producing communities on innovative solutions such as mobile money accounts or digital loans, as well as connecting the VSLAs to more formalized financial lending systems and institutions. Through the IDH Farm and Cooperative Investment Program (FCIP), Advans has so far worked to date with over 3,200 women through VSLAs in cocoa producing communities in Cote d’Ivoire. Those women have benefited from access to formal finance including bank accounts attached to a mobile banking service with savings up to 10.000 euros and total loans of over 30000 euros. By 2019, this project is expected to reach 400 additional VSLA groups in the cocoa area, benefiting over 10,000 members.

Supporting farming families requires investing in women – not only for additional income but also to address major livelihood challenges such as food and nutrition security. Through the IDH Cocoa Nutrition Initiative established in 2017 with GAIN, companies like Cargill have the opportunity to capitalize on their engagement with women in cocoa farming communities through already established VSLAs to promote better nutrition via increased knowledge and opportunities for collective entrepreneurship activities around diversified and nutritious foods.

Working with local partners to understand local sensitivities is also essential in enabling effective capacity building for women, thus ensuring they can better contribute to the overall household income. Cargill has looked into understanding how gender barriers may limit access to skills, information and inputs amongst women in cocoa-growing communities, working with CARE to specifically understand barriers that prevent female cocoa farmers from attending professional training. Cargill has since trained over 70,000 Ivorian cocoa farmers with the support of ANADER (Côte d’Ivoire’s national agency for rural development), to raise awareness of gender issues and provide practical steps for agents and farmers to use.

Cargill also provides women-only training for female farmers to help them improve their agricultural and business skills, supported by the African Cocoa Initiative, a World Cocoa Foundation-led program. The training focuses on teaching better agricultural practices, supporting cocoa tree nursery development as an income-generating activity, providing business skills training, and improving literacy – all in a female-only environment to build women’s confidence and leadership skills.

Working together to enable an integrated approach revolving around different farmer household members and their varying needs – including the specific needs of women in rural farming communities – is critical to building resilience of farming families.

There is still work to be done to ensure that women – along with all members of cocoa farming households – can thrive from their work. But by working together – companies, financiers, NGOs, and governments – we are already on the right track.