Photo: Asikasu women’s group meeting. Copyright Weillmedia

Cocoa Life- the project empowering women in Ghana’s cocoa growing communities

Yaa Peprah Amekudzi

The project empowering women in Ghana’s cocoa growing communities

Cocoa has been grown in Ghana for over one hundred years and it is the second export crop for my country after gold.

However we found that the supply of cocoa was dwindling because of many challenges. Young people were not getting involved in cocoa farming leaving such labour-intensive farming like cocoa farming in the hands of ageing farmers. Considerable hectares of cocoa trees had been overtaken by weeds and parasitic plants due to the inability of the ageing farmers to tend to the cocoa trees themselves or hire labour due to financial constraints.

As a result farmers were producing less than half of what was expected from their land and incomes were falling.

The Cocoa Life investment started in Ghana in 2008, as the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership. This investment was extended by new owners Mondelēz International in November 2012 with a commitment to invest $400MM over ten years in communities in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Dominican Republic and Brazil. Our aim is to develop a sustainable cocoa supply from farms in thriving communities.

Our program is based on three principles: our approach is farmer centered, we are committed to delivering through partnerships and is aligned with our Sourcing

To bring the partnership principle to life, VSO, CARE International and World Vision work with us to deliver the Cocoa Life Programme in cocoa farming communities in Ghana. Each works with our own programme team to address our 5 focus areas, namely: higher incomes from more productive farming; community empowerment; additional livelihoods; inspiring youth and conserving the environment.

Already the partnership has helped create a 20 percent increase in cocoa yields, a 200 percent increase in household incomes for some homes and an 80 percent increase in government-backed development projects in the first phases of the project.

From my development background, I was expecting it would take maybe 3 to 5 years to see transformation in these cocoa communities. But by putting the community at the center of the programme, we are seeing indications of change even after 1 or 2 years. This is fantastic.

Women’s Farming Groups

Encouraging women’s empowerment and women entrepreneurs is a key element of our programme.

Women have always been involved in cocoa farming, and in particular in the areas which are most important for the quality of the crop such as fermentation and drying. Even more importantly for young farms, the tending of the farms is usually in the hands of women. However women’s input was not always valued or seen.

Times are changing. Through the work we are doing directly with the communities we are seeing more and more women having access to cocoa farms and the benefits derived from cocoa farming. Women’s inputs are beginning to be valued not only by the women themselves but being recognized by community members. This is also fantastic.

One of the key elements of the Cocoa Life programme is farmer education on cocoa agronomy. We have a program with the Ghana Cocoa Board through their Extension Unit as well as the district offices of the Ministry of Agriculture on farmer training. For various reasons, these sessions were hardly attended by women and were gradually being perceived as the preserve of their male counterparts.

By supporting the mobilization of women into distinctive groups at the village level, triggers for change and empowerment continue to occur. These women groups are led by the women themselves thus enhancing deeper discussions on social, economic, political issues among others not only related to them as women but related to their community. The leaders of these groups are the Women Extension Volunteers who are trained by the district extension officers and VSO and who then in turn, share their knowledge with their colleagues in their community.

The impact of this intervention is far-reaching especially given the reproductive and productive roles of women.

Vida Naki from the Asikasu community in the Eastern region of Ghana told me that she hopes that this new access to farming knowledge will bring a bright future for her and her family, and that she will be able to do what the men are doing.

Find out more about Cocoa Life and our commitment here:

Breaking Down Taboos

There is a great example from the village of Adidiso which is in the Eastern Region of Ghana which shows how small changes can have a big impact on gender equality.

Water fetching in Ghana especially in rural Ghana is seen as a chore to be carried out by women and children. Thus in sinking wells in the communities we work in, we were mindful of two major things; providing fresh water and reducing the drudgery of walking long distance to streams to fetch water.

At Adidiso, the well was sunk almost in the middle of the community amidst jubilation by the women. Some months after when we visited Adidiso, I observed that grown men were carrying buckets to the well and fetching water! It was amazing! So amazing I had to enquire. So I asked the chief, “Do men fetch water in this community?” His response was, “With the well so close to us we don’t see why we should not fetch water ourselves. Now our women can take it easy and do other things”. The fact that the proximity of the source of water has shattered the taboo about men fetching water to me is progress. Of course, some of the chief’s elders gave sound reason for men not joining women on their journey to fetch water from streams: (Which is another story for me to share another time).

Editor’s Note:

This blog is part of a one-week International Women’s Day Special, brought to you in partnership with VSO to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March.

VSO is an international development organisation which works through volunteers to tackle poverty in 33 of the world’s poorest countries. VSO is currently campaigning for the post-2015 development agenda to commit to tackling gender inequality. For more information visit:

Mondelez International is the world’s largest chocolate company and we have a unique responsibility as the industry leader to help transform the livelihoods of cocoa farmers and their communities over the long-term. Cocoa Life is a bold ambition that reflects the importance of cocoa as a critical raw material. We will invest a minimum of $400MM over ten years in communities in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Dominican Republic and Brazil to develop a sustainable cocoa supply from farms in thriving communities, adhering to a clear set of principles with independent verification. For more information, click here.

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