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Decade of Impact: Building a better life for Ghana’s cocoa farmers

How a Cargill-CARE partnership empowers women in cocoa-growing communities

September 19, 2018

Yaa Mensiwah was barely making ends meet. As a cocoa farmer in Ghana’s Asarekwaa community, she was a single mom to her 5-year-old daughter and her late brother’s two children.

“Things were really bad for me,” she said. “I was selling things to keep my farm and stay current on my debt.”

Her life took a turn for the better when she joined the CARE-Cargill program. The partnership started Village Savings and Loan Associations in cocoa-growing communities to help farmers get access to financial services that would allow them to invest in their farms.

“With the help of the savings group, I’ve been able to acquire four acres of land to cultivate cocoa,” she said. “I don’t share this land with anyone. It’s my own.”

Mensiwah is just one of more than 225,000 people in Ghana touched by the CARE-Cargill Rural Development Initiative spanning a decade. Worldwide, the rural development initiative has touched 2.2 million people, helping build more resilient communities in 10 countries through improved food and nutrition security, increased farmer productivity and greater access to markets.

Investing in women

The global CARE-Cargill partnership has been customized to meet regional needs that improve the communities where Cargill already does business.

In Ghana for example, the partnership focused on more prosperous, sustainable and resilient cocoa farming communities through a community development approach. The programming improved cocoa production, reduced child labor, increased financial access and encouraged education in some of the country’s most impoverished regions.

Muhamed Bizimana, CARE International program quality and strategic partnership manager in the West Africa region, said as cocoa demand grows worldwide, farming communities in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire are eager to contribute to this growing demand, but face challenges accessing services and amenities like health care, clean water and quality education. And women are disproportionately impacted by the issues facing those communities.

“Cocoa is seen as a male business and often women are cut off from this business,” he said. “Yet women provide almost half or more than half of the labor on the cocoa farm. Few women have acquired land and entered independent cocoa farming activities.”

CARE Ghana infographicThe Village Savings and Loan Associations are one solution to the problem, Bizimana said.
“We created a platform where women can come together and connect with others in their community to focus on saving,” he said. “The women build their own social capital that can then later become a springboard for their enhanced participation in the cocoa value chain as farmers and owners of small businesses.”

The program included more than 5,100 farmers in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire who created 222 VSLAs, saving more than $164,000.

Investment in women is the best way to improve a community, according to Michelle Grogg, Cargill’s vice president for corporate responsibility and sustainable development.

“When you invest in a woman, you’re investing in her whole family,” she said. “We find that when you invest in a woman, particularly in a low-income country, overall yields and incomes in the community increase.”

According to CARE, 90 percent of the dollars earned by women in these communities are invested back into the family compared to 35 percent of a man’s earnings.

Today, Mensiwah is the treasurer of her VSLA. She’s married now, so her additional income helps the family get through lean seasons and gives her more purchasing power in the household.

“Now everywhere I go, people respect me,” she said.

Long-term, sustainable impact

In Ghana, Mensiwah’s additional income has helped her send all of her children to school so they don’t struggle like she did. 

“I had to drop out of school at year 4 due to family financial difficulties, so I am determined to educate my children,” she said. “I know how valuable education is to their future.”

Bizimana said the program has been successful because it produced outcomes that help CARE and Cargill achieve their missions.

“Cargill needs to ensure they have a continuous supply of cocoa and CARE is working to get people out of poverty,” he said. “Together, we believe having healthy communities and farmers will guarantee a  a strong future for the cocoa industry.”

Tackling child labor

One of the biggest issues facing cocoa farming in West Africa is child labor. Cargill prohibits the use of child labor and are working diligently to eliminate the potential for illegal, abusive or forced child labor in its supply chains.

In West Africa, the company has dedicated teams to implement child labor policies. Educating families about the long-term benefits of schooling and raising awareness of the harm that hazardous work causes to children’s physical and mental wellbeing is just the first step, according to Taco Terheijden, director of cocoa sustainability at Cargill.

“Many children working on cocoa plantations do so within their families,” he said. “Often, rural households rely on children’s farm work to save on both labor and education costs. But as the International Cocoa Initiative has pointed out, this only perpetuates a cycle of poverty. To end child labor for good, efforts must go further.”

By increasing family income, the CARE-Cargill partnership is helping families increase incomes so they don’t need to rely on their children for labor. The extra income is helping families afford the costs of sending their children to school too. In Cote D’Ivoire, in addition to raising family incomes, the program helped create 10 child protection committees, distributed more than 2,698 school kits and built 12 classrooms.