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March ’20 Editorial Comment: Women ‘invisible’ in chocolate supply chain

March ’20 Editorial Comment: Women ‘invisible’ in chocolate supply chain

C&CI has often highlighted the role women play in the production of coffee, but they also play an important role in the cocoa sector.

Gender equality is a key plank in the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Bridging the gender gap to empower women and provide equal opportunities is a basic human right, one that the International Coffee Organization has begun seriously to focus on. Now it’s also time for the International Cocoa Organization and the chocolate and cocoa sector to focus on it too.

Like the coffee sector, cocoa also has major gender issues to address, issues that were highlighted by research published by Fairtrade. As Fairtrade noted, in addition to the fact that the ‘sweet delight’ of chocolate hides the fact of child labour, deforestation and poverty, production of cocoa also relies on gender inequality, injustice and exploitation. Women account for two thirds of the labour force in the cocoa sector, and many women in it face an even worse situation than their male counterparts, especially those groups who are completely ‘invisible’ to market, research, and policy actors.

Far from being a ‘male crop’ when men do all the ‘hard work’ as commonly depicted, women’s labour is crucial for cocoa production. Male farmers are able to intensify their cocoa farming, and expand and upgrade as farmers, because they rely on women (single or multiple wives, sisters, daughters, other younger women in their care) growing food crops and doing the household work, while also undertaking certain cocoa farming tasks.

As fairtrade put it, “it takes two to grow cocoa, it’s a partnership crop that needs both the man and the woman to successfully see it through to harvest. Yet often the woman does two thirds of the work for less than a third of the income. If the cocoa industry is serious about a long-term sustainable future then it must ‘sweeten the deal’ and invest more in the women behind our chocolate.”

Women do the lion’s share of the work in cocoa but they see little return – from weeding and preparing the land; planting cocoa seedlings; caring for young trees and intercropping of food crops; harvesting; pod breaking; fermenting and drying and bagging the dried beans. In fact, there are few tasks which are mostly undertaken by men alone.

Only around a quarter of women cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire own land. Even those who do own their land tend to have smaller, more remote and less productive farms. The size of their plots makes them less able to achieve economies scale. They face greater land tenure insecurity and tend to have less ability to mobilise (whether it be unpaid labour from other family members, or wage labourers). As a result, they face more restrictions in accessing inputs, extension services, training and credit, meaning lower returns from cocoa production. Women who do not have a partner to share the farm work need to hire more casual labour, increasing their costs. On cocoa farms owned by male partners, women will not usually have the ‘passbook’ documentation needed to participate in farming and community-related decision-making, through participation in farmer organisations or development programmes.

Sharecropping is a very widespread practice in cocoa production, and the wives of farmers who are sharecroppers lack access and agency. Sharecroppers, usually migrant farmers from poor areas neighbouring the cocoa lands, give two thirds of each cocoa crop to the landowner as rent in exchange for labour they provide. They are unable to access co-operative membership, agricultural extension services, inputs, training, financial credit and premium payments from certification schemes because they do not own the land on which they farm. It’s also common for sharecroppers to be polygamous and have more than one wife or partner, and these women are seen as providing additional unpaid labour. Research suggests that as ‘junior’ wives they may have little choice or control and are particularly disempowered, making them invisible.

Responding to the many issues women in cocoa face, it’s tie for chocolate and cocoa industries to play a leadership role and join the Alliance on Living Incomes in Cocoa. It’s also time for human rights due diligence legislation in cocoa and time to make sure that interventions on the ground reach women. It is also only right that the industry as a whole designs and implements gender sensitive programmes to help enhance economic empowerment of women cocoa farmers.

Women everywhere can play a key role bringing communities out of poverty. Its time the chocolate and cocoa industries enable them to do so.

This Editorial comment  first appeared in the March’20 issue of C&CI. Click on subscribe now if you wish to read more informative articles in the current and future issues of C&CI.

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