Fairtrade sees record number of women training as cocoa farmers in West Africa

Record numbers of women are gaining training in advanced cocoa farming techniques in Ghana and Ivory Coast-based sessions, amid ongoing major challenges, according to the Fairtrade Foundation’s latest studies, reports Neill Barston.

As the global social justice movement noted, its latest analysis showed that around 40,000 farmers (30% of them female) had taken part in its latest West Africa Cocoa Programme, which is now in its seventh year, and is needed more badly than ever, as agricultural communities face up to the after-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, major inflation of prices for key fertilisers, and market uncertainty surrounding the Ukraine war.

Notably, sales of Fairtrade cocoa have been under pressure, as Fairtrade Africa Executive Director Isaac H. Tongola notes, the overall picture is ‘extremely concerning,’ with high inflation and low prices threatening the future sustainability of the sector. 2022 saw a drop in profitability from 93 percent to 87 percent compared to 2020.

According to its latest study, around 243 producer organisations across the region have undergone training, which stood at around 75% above the previous year, despite a complex backdrop of testing conditions that has meant that many workers continue to earn wages of around $1 a day, some distance below UN-defined poverty levels.

The subject of sustainability within the core cocoa market will come under the microscope, as Surmaya Talyarkhan, sustainable sourcing manager for the Fairtrade Foundation, is set to offer a keynote presentation at this year’s World Confectionery Conference, taking place on 5 October. For this month only, we are extending our Early Bird rate offer, so contact [email protected] quoting Early Bird23, to take advantage of preferential rates to the event, which will feature Caobisco trade association, Ferrero, Cargill, Nestle and FMCG Gurus insights group among many others.

As the organisation noted, the success of the training programme is down to an emphasis on ‘training of trainers’ at Fairtrade cooperatives in previous years, resulting in more than 17,000 farmers being trained by their peers in 2022. Known as ‘cascaded’ training, the programme was co-financed by Fairtrade Africa, which also supported new farmer trainers to deliver some sessions.

Training topics included Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), climate change, child labour, setting up Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), Internal Management Systems (IMS), governance, and membership engagement.

Participants also reported increasing knowledge and skills in five key areas: governance, management, gender equality, preventing child labour, and adhering to Fairtrade Standards. In Côte d’Ivoire, average scores across all five areas increased from 3.7 in 2018 to 4.1 in 2022. In Ghana, with data only available since 2020, average score increased from 4.3 to 4.4.

‘As part of Fairtrade’s Living income project, I was trained to use a farm record book and I benefitted from the support of my coach by filling it in on a daily basis,’ explains Finda Kouadio Theodor, a cocoa producer with the CAPRESSA cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire. ‘I also participated in training on women’s inclusion in the economic management of the household. It allowed me to realise that my wife and I complement each other, and I must rely on her for the economic management of our household.’

The report also highlights significant improvements across all five indicators, including:

– 97 percent of all participating cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire and 100 percent of those in Ghana have an IMS in place to manage organisational data for traceability and risk management.
Virtually all cooperatives use business plans to drive decision making – a jump of 12 percent in Côte d’Ivoire and 33 percent in Ghana compared to the start of the programme – suggesting that managers use business data and needs assessments more strategically.

– Services relating to income diversification and food security increased in 2022, funded through the Fairtrade Covid-19 relief and resilience funds, as well as cooperatives’ own collective resources.

-Virtually all cooperatives are taking steps to involve women and young people more in governance and management, with a new Young Cooperative Managers Academy established in Ghana in 2022.
-Cooperatives scored particularly well when it came to awareness of child rights in 2022: 2.9 out of a possible 3.0 in Côte d’Ivoire and 2.7 in Ghana.
Support and training

‘We received support and training, including financial management and Village Savings and Loans Associations,’ says Mark Obese, a manager at the Fairtrade certified Fanteakwa Union in Ghana. ‘Our members have increased their savings culture, made improvements on their farms and contributed to the development of their community. Fairtrade Africa has also helped us strengthen the community child protection structures, developed and implemented a robust community-based child labour sensitisation programme and established reporting protocols,” says Mark Obese, a manager at the Fairtrade certified Fanteakwa Union, Ghana.

Although Fairtrade cocoa sales in West Africa did show a recovery from a low point in 2020, Tongola warns: ‘Without [sustained] higher prices and higher margins for small producer organisations and their members, most of whom live in poverty and many in extreme poverty, there will be no sustainable cocoa. The reality is that we need to increase sales on Fairtrade terms and the number of partnerships between brands, retailers and farmers.’

As the organisation noted, 2022 saw the WACP expand to include Sierra Leone, where the number of Fairtrade certified cocoa cooperatives grew from six in 2019 to 19 in 2022, and the number of certified farmers rose from 14,801 to 35,184. Sierra Leone now has its own dedicated Fairtrade representative providing support and training to farmers in the country.

Fairtrade Africa has identified a number of priorities for Sierra Leone including geolocation mapping, as currently only one of the 19 certified cooperatives has fully mapped its members’ farms. Training will also focus on membership engagement; child labour remediation and monitoring; boosting productivity; deforestation; and getting women and young people more involved.

‘Despite the challenges, I am optimistic for Fairtrade cocoa farmers in West Africa,’ says Tongola. ‘It is important that we continue to focus on increasing the amount of cocoa that SPOs sell on Fairtrade terms and the number of SPOs that have direct relationships with brands and retailers.’

That sentiment is echoed by Assi Ake Bekoin Rosine, a member of the CAYAT cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire, who says Fairtrade training has turned her life around. ‘Thanks to CAYAT and Fairtrade Africa through the Women’s School of Leadership, I have regained a taste for life more than ever. I have more self-confidence, I assert myself much more, I am valued by my husband and my family. I have also invested in starting up a small restaurant. This additional income brings us more insurance and peace of mind.’

  • Our World Confectionery conference Early Bird rate runs this month, until 5 August, contact [email protected] to reserve your place at a reduced rate, beyond that date, register via our website www.confectioneryconference.com


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