The Role of Women in Making Cocoa Sustainable

We appreciate the recent attention that Oxfam International is giving towards cocoa farmers and the communities they live in.  As we are working comprehensively to help farmers and their families achieve better wages and more opportunities, we welcome the consideration from organizations also interested in the welfare of farmers and their communities.  We are looking forward to strengthening our approach involving women in the community development process and continuing to ensure that women in cocoa communities are fully empowered to participate equally alongside the many other diverse groups in West African society.

Mars, Inc. recognizes that the most effective way to address socio-economic challenges in cocoa communities around the world is to work comprehensively and holistically.  The Sustainable Cocoa Initiative we launched in 2009 operates under the principle of putting farmers first.  By helping farmers become more productive through better research, training, and a strong certification protocol, we believe we are also aiding them and their families improve their quality of life.

Additionally, the Sustainable Cocoa Initiative is designed to work with these communities to help ease social hurdles like poverty, lack of education, and lack of opportunity by addressing the core challenges that farmers face.  We recognize the important role women will play in addressing these problems and in moving their communities forward.  Recently, we spoke to two residents of the village of Kragui, Bamba Gohou Aissata and Ouattara Mariam, who spoke of the important role that women play in supporting each other and easing the challenges they all confront.  You can see that video below and at the following link.

A key element of the Sustainable Cocoa Initiative is the Vision for Change program in Côte d’Ivoire.  Not only does Vision for Change provide farmers with much needed agricultural training and better planting material, it also incorporates extremely inclusive community engagement processes. The approach Vision for Change is taking focuses intensely on facilitating the linkage between communities and local authorities in order to ensure that these communities are developing educational and social programs.  Community engagement includes men and women, and we have been pleased to see women stepping into leadership roles in this process.  In December, we described the important role played by a woman – Madame Bomba – in the community of Kragui in the community development plan process.

Our community empowerment approach follows global best practices that specifically give women a voice and active role in planning and managing community development. As an example, without exception, all the teams of trainers that work in our project directly with communities include at least one woman trainer in every team of three. In addition, all community committees that are formed – with our support – to plan and implement development projects include women in prominent leadership positions.  We have noted that women often fill the role of treasurer or finance manager.

The process we use in our program to plan development priorities ensures that the women are able to work as a group and identify their own development priorities, specific to the women, which they can then take to the broader community for support.

As well as strengthening the voice and role of women in community leadership, we are also working in a targeted way on economic empowerment of women. We have worked with the International Centre for Research on Women and understand that women invest significantly greater proportions of their disposable income in family and community well-being. Therefore economic empowerment of women is not only a tool for gender equity in its own right, it also has a powerful multiplier effect for the broader well-being of children, families and communities. Recently we have funded six economic development projects within the Vision for Change program to train women in developing local enterprises in areas such as animal rearing and crop production, which benefits both the nutritional needs of families as well as the income of women who sell surplus production in local markets.

In all of our efforts around cocoa sustainability, we have prioritized projects and collaborations that are pre-competitive and open to a broad set of stakeholders across the public, private and civil society spheres.  In Europe, this has resulted in a very positive set of discussion around a CEN sustainable cocoa standard (See page 16 of this CEN newsletter, and we look forward to continued dialog with many different groups to reach a common ground on what set of programs, policies and investments will achieve real progress towards a sustainable supply chain that provides mutual benefits to all groups involved.

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