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Farming families, the cornerstone of sustainable cocoa

March 08, 2019

Boosting the sustainability in cocoa has focused largely on smallholder cocoa farmers and farmer cooperatives which are largely dominated by men. Agricultural services, trainings and inputs often don’t reach women. Yet women play a vital role in cocoa production and the livelihood of the household including by generating alternative income.

Farming households in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – where over 60% of cocoa is produced globally – cannot rely on cocoa alone to achieve a living income. However, it remains the attractive crop option for 90% of smallholder farmers (KIT “Demistifying the Cocoa Sector”).

To secure the future of cocoa and ensure farming communities can thrive, sustainability initiatives must therefore help them diversify their sources of income, as well as improving access to necessary tools like training or finance. This is especially a priority for the most vulnerable household members: women.

To become income generators in their own right, women require access to savings products and affordable and appropriate credit, combined with financial literacy programs. This is already happening through partnership in Cote d’Ivoire where IDH and Cargill are working with Advans, a microfinance group, and CARE, the international NGO dedicated to fighting poverty.

Village savings and loans

The joint efforts of this partnership focus on the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA)  governed by local communities. The VSLA model provides simple savings and loan facilities in a community that does not have easy access to formal financial services, allowing whole communities to save and invest in income-generating activities. In Cote d’Ivoire alone, the partnership has mobilized nearly 230,000 VSLA members, 80% of whom are women. These members have amassed the capacity to mobilize in savings every year an equivalent of nearly USD 1.4 million. Through its regional initiative, Women on the Move (WOM) The partnership aims to reach 1,150,000 VSLA members in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2020. Collectively this represents a business in itself with important entrepreneurship opportunities including potentially linking to cocoa cooperatives.

Mobile money accounts and digital loans

In addition to savings and loans, IDH, Cargill, Advans and CARE are working with cocoa producing communities on mobile money accounts or digital loans, as well as connecting the VSLAs to more formalized financial lending systems and institutions. Through the IDH Farm and Cooperative Investment Program (FCIP), Advans has worked to date with over 3,800 women through VSLAs in cocoa producing communities in Cote d’Ivoire. They have access to formal finance including bank accounts attached to a mobile banking service with savings up to 10.000 euros and total loans of over 3000 euros. By 2019, this project is expected to reach 400 additional VSLA groups in the cocoa area, benefiting over 10,000 members.

Better nutrition

Supporting farming families requires investing in women – not only for additional income but also to address major livelihood challenges such as food and nutrition security. Through the IDH Cocoa Nutrition Initiative established in 2017 with GAIN, companies have the opportunity to capitalize on their engagement with women in cocoa farming communities through already established VSLAs to promote better nutrition. This is happening  through increased knowledge and opportunities for collective entrepreneurship activities around diversified and nutritious foods.

Women only trainings

Working with local partners to understand local sensitivities is essential in enabling effective capacity building for women. Cargill has looked into understanding how gender barriers may limit access to skills, information and inputs amongst women in cocoa-growing communities, working with CARE to understand specifically barriers preventing female cocoa farmers from attending professional training. Cargill has trained over 70,000 Ivorian cocoa farmers with the support of ANADER (Côte d’Ivoire’s national agency for rural development), to raise awareness of gender issues and provide practical steps for agents and farmers to use.

The company also provides women-only training for female farmers to help them improve their agricultural and business skills, supported by the African Cocoa Initiative, a World Cocoa Foundation-led program. The training focuses on teaching better agricultural practices, support cocoa tree nursery development as an income-generating activity, provide business skills training, and improve literacy – all in female-only environment to build women’s confidence and leadership skills.

Working together to enable an integrated approach revolving around different farmer household members and their varying needs – including the specific needs of women in rural farming communities – is critical to building resilience of farming families.

There is still work to be done to ensure that women – along with all members of cocoa farming households – can thrive from their work. But by working together – companies, financiers, NGOs, and governments – we are already on the right track.


Gaël Lescornec, IDH Program Manager Cocoa;
Blandine Konan, Cargill, Country Sustainability Lead, Côte d’Ivoire;
Elise Perrin, Advans Head of Projects Cote d’Ivoire;
Muhamed Bizimana, CARE Head of Programs Cote d’Ivoire