Taco Terheijden, Director of Cocoa Sustainability at Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, assesses why a thriving cocoa sector is predicated on successful female role models.
With assistance for cocoa farming communities remaining high on the industry’s agenda, women’s economic empowerment is key to sustainable cocoa.
According to Mr Terheijden, the issue is a cornerstone of the Cargill Cocoa Promise, which aims to support those working on subsistence wages in key markets such as West Africa.
Women’s economic wellbeing builds the capacity of the farms, and is directly linked to a more productive crop, increased household income, better-educated children, and enhanced health and nutrition.
Data from The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations shows that if women had the same access to resources as men, farm yields could increase by 20% to 30%. What’s more, increased income to mothers in farming communities can have a tenfold impact on children's welfare, compared to income held by men. Therefore, empowering women in cocoa growing communities is imperative in tackling child labour and protecting children.
Mr Terheijden said: “At Cargill, we champion women across the cocoa value chain – helping them to get the recognition they deserve for their contribution by giving role models more visibility and, ultimately, challenging the gender stereotypes that so often hold women back.
“The company is taking a leadership role on women’s economic empowerment. Our programmes are distinct and different. We’re working – systemically, at scale and across the value chain – to offer the skills, the tools and the resources to empower women on cocoa farms. Our evidence-based approach also means that we can quantify the difference we’re making across the cocoa value chain.
“We are taking a sector lead by conducting gender assessments and developing specific gender approach within our action plans. These are aligned to our overall contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals, one of which, Goal 5, focuses on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls across the world. As a result, our efforts are dedicated to doing more to support women across the cocoa sector. It’s a challenge we are well-placed to help with, as a result of working with partners from civil society, NGOs and government on the ground, over many years.”
As he explained, the company’s strategy has been to develop scalable, practical interventions specifically for women. These are insight-led, based on a clear understanding of the barriers they face and help communities take training in agricultural skills.
For example, Victoria Awine is a 62-year-old cocoa farmer from Sefwi Asawinso in Ghana. She has been growing beans on her three-hectare smallholder since 1980. Three years ago, she had the chance to participate in the Cargill Cocoa Promise. She last year she has seen the performance of her plantation increase three-fold.
According to Mr Terheijden, Cargill is helping women to confront cultural norms that act as barriers in cocoa growing countries; notably how roles as mothers and caregivers can clash with paid employment and involvement in community decision-making.
He added: “Practical measures to give women access to affordable credit is a key stepping stone in their empowerment. That’s why we introduced community-based Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs). These self-managed groups provide women with safe ways to save money, take out small loans and access emergency loans.”
In addition, he explained that the company has more than 90 VSLAs in place supporting over 4,000 farmers, of whom over half are women.
The VSLAs also play an important part in boosting women’s self-esteem and pave the way to a new generation of female entrepreneurs, who are role models in their own right.
“I teach other women how to make savings and credit. The women’s association is really very important for us because it allows us to have some money and do business,” Yvonne Loulou Amenan explained to Mr Terheijden on meeting him to discuss the initiative. She is a cocoa producer and in charge of the ECASO-Soubré VLSA. “This allows us to help our husbands educate our children, take better care of ourselves in the event of hardship or in cases of urgent necessity.”
Mr Terheijden added: “We recognise that there is no silver bullet to ensure that women are championed and fully supported in the cocoa value chain. All of the leading companies in the sector –including Cargill – are increasingly focused on understanding what works and what doesn’t through CocoaAction, in order to learn from initiatives. At the same we remain focused on our own distinct programmes.
“For example, we are piloting new training and funding programmes in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon. Through these, we will be able to define best practices and scale them in West Africa and other cocoa growing regions. In short, women’s empowerment is a key part of our commitment to helping farmers and their communities achieve better incomes and living standards.”
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