Helping Women Cocoa Farmers Reap More from the Fruits of Their Labor


When Madam Kate was a girl growing up in a cocoa farming village in Cameroon, she saw the injustice under which women toiled all year on cocoa farms. Women cleared the land for plantings, culled the seedlings and tended the plants throughout the growing season, carefully weeding the cocoa fields and looking out for diseases that could decimate the crops. Once the fruits matured, women began the tedious work of harvesting and drying the cocoa pods and sorting the beans.

Yet women profited little from all their hard work. In Madam Kate’s village, tradition dictated that men took home most of the earnings from the cocoa value chain. For supplemental income, women would manually process cassava into cassava starch—known locally as garri—that they would then take to the local market to sell. Madam Kate vowed to do something to improve women’s livelihoods.

“The best way to help women cocoa farmers is to empower them to improve their economic status,” said Madam Kate, who grew up to become the Managing Director of Telcar, Cameroon’s largest cocoa trading company

Processing cassava into starch is painstaking work that requires them to manually peel, grind, and dry cassava roots in large volumes. Madam Kate installed cassava grinding machines in ten cooperatives to make life easier for women. Women farmers in the nearby areas organized themselves and formed management committees so they could learn how to use and maintain those machines and pass that knowledge on to others. While these machines made it significantly easier for them to process cassava, such interventions were one-off that benefit a limited number of women. Madam Kate wanted to do more.

The opportunity came when Telcar and IFC signed an agreement for IFC to design a program—which was made possible by support from the Canada’s Department for Trade, Foreign Affairs and Development (DFATD)— to help Telcar work more effectively with the cooperatives that supply them with cocoa. As part of the program design, IFC’s gender team collected data through interviews, focus groups, and surveys to not only understand the roles and needs of these women farmers, but also to shed light on the burden of household activities, which women undertake disproportionally.

Armed with a strong understanding of the needs of women cocoa farmers, IFC’s gender team made a set of recommendations for how Telcar can help improve their incomes and livelihoods. The IFC team advised Telcar on how they could better recruit women farmers into financial literacy training programs and make training materials more relatable and accessible to women farmers, who tend to be less literate than their male counterparts. To support women’s cassava enterprises, IFC’s gender team also encouraged Telcar to work with microfinance institutions to increase women’s access to finance through saving and cooperative societies. The team also advised Telcar on ways to help more women take on leadership positions in their respective cooperatives.

The IFC gender team’s recommendations were ambitious, and Telcar needed help with implementation. A team of training specialists customized IFC’s proprietary financial literacy training materials for Telcar’s cooperative training program. To support Telcar’s women cocoa farmers in establishing alternative livelihoods, IFC is identifying suitable microfinance institutions that could provide these women with access to finance. Finally, to increase the number of women cooperative leaders, IFC is developing culturally appropriate content for Telcar’s training program to sensitize cooperative leaders to recognize the importance and benefits of including women in leadership positions.

For many of the women cocoa farmers who belong to the cooperatives Telcar works with, the journey towards better incomes and livelihoods is likely to be winding and a little bumpy. But Madam Kate remains hopeful. “With help from IFC and like-minded partners, success for these resourceful and resilient women, though not guaranteed, is almost certainly within reach,” she said.


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Published in May 2018