Women In Farming - A Vital Role, Poorly Acknowledged
POSTED 13th May 2014

I have been fortunate enough to visit Kuapa Kokoo farmers in Ghana six times since I started working at Twin around 18 months ago. One of the things that struck me immediately was the number of strong women leaders on Kuapa’s national governing board; an unusual situation based on my previous experience with other farmer organisations in Africa.

It soon become clear that supporting women in their roles as cocoa farmers, household heads and community leaders has been a priority for Kuapa since its creation 20 years ago in 1993; and a recent study undertaken by Twin and funded by Divine has demonstrated that this strategy is beginning to bear fruit. In societies where Kuapa has implemented gender-specific activities, its women farmers earn more income, own more land, stand more chance of being elected as leaders and are more likely to send their daughters to school.

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There is still a lot more to do, however. Last week, at a joint event hosted by UN Women and the Fairtrade Foundation, Twin launched a report entitled ‘Empowering Women Farmers in Agricultural Value Chains’. The report draws on research undertaken with 14 producer organisations in 6 countries across Africa, Latin America and Asia on their perception of gender (in)equality in the production and sale of agricultural commodities such as cocoa, coffee and nuts, looking particularly at the issues of labour, income, land ownership and decision making. Kuapa Kokoo was one of the organisations that participated.

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The results of the research varied significantly depending on country, culture and commodity; however, a number of trends were also evident. Firstly, there is a strong tendency for women to take the lead in processing activities, which is often where most value is added to the product – so, in the case of cocoa, how the beans are fermented and dried immediately after harvest significantly affects the taste of any chocolate made from those beans. However, despite this important role in production, women face significant barriers in terms of their ownership of land, their access to income from the sale of cash crops, and their ability to influence decision-making about how land is used and what income is spent on.

It’s not all bad news, though. A number of producer organisations, including Kuapa Kokoo, are taking action to address this imbalance. For a start, most of them are Fairtrade certified, which gives them access to a social premium that can be spent on gender activities. In addition, many of them are setting quotas for a minimum number of women in leadership positions, prioritising access to small loans for women to buy land and investing in training (for example on good agricultural practices, business planning, and adult literacy) targeted specifically at women.

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One of the reasons for the launch event last week was to invite businesses to think about what they can do to strengthen the role of women in agriculture. Divine’s producer support and development programme, managed by Twin, is a good example of this. Divine and Kuapa have prioritised women’s empowerment as a central plank of the programme and Twin is currently assisting Kuapa to develop a gender policy and deliver training that we hope will ensure that more women are elected into leadership positions in next year’s elections. Twin and Kuapa are designing an adult basic education programme that will help both women and men to build their confidence and ability to participate in meetings, run businesses and put themselves forward for positions of responsibility.

Twin is an ethical trading organisation that works with over 50 groups of organised smallholder farmers of cocoa, coffee and nuts in Africa and Latin America. Twin is an original founder and current shareholder of Divine Chocolate, and delivers a producer support and development programme with Kuapa Kokoo on behalf of Divine.

These pictures were taken at the recent event to launch the new research report.