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This article first appeared in the September 17 issue of C&CI, click on subscribe now if you wish to read other informative articles in the September and future issues of C&CI. 

Women’s economic empowerment is critical to a sustainable cocoa sector, says Cargill

According to Cargill, the economic wellbeing of women involved in the cocoa sector 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 Organization of the United Nations shows that if women had the same access to resources as men, farm yields could increase 20-30 per cent.

“What’s more,” said Taco Terheijden, Director of Cocoa Sustainability at Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, “increased income to mothers in farming communities can have a tenfold impact on children’s welfare, compared to income held by men. Empowering women in cocoa growing communities is imperative in tackling child labour and protecting children.

Championing the role of women

“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,” said Mr Terheijden.

“Cargill 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.

Gender assessments

“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.

“Our 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. Take training in agricultural skills. CARE helped us to identify distance and timing as two key obstacles. As a result, we adapted our training approaches to more convenient times and locations.”

Mr Terheijden said Cargill is helping women to confront cultural norms which act as barriers in cocoa growing countries; notably how roles as mothers and care givers can clash with paid employment and involvement in community decision making.

Self-managed savings groups

“Practical measures to give women access to affordable credit is a key stepping stone in their empowerment,” Mr Terheijden said. “That’s why Cargill 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. Currently, we have 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.”

“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,” Mr Terheijden explained.

“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.

Giving women a voice

“Ultimately, we believe that is vital to give women the platform to be visible, vocal and understood. We are showcasing the contribution that women make to cocoa sustainability across the value chain with the publication of our interactive storybook.”

Bringing together stories from women working across West Africa’s cocoa sector to highlight the progress, as well as the challenges of gender equality in the sector, it can be downloaded here.■ C&CI

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