by Martine Parry, Media Manager at the Fairtrade Foundation
Martine Parry, media manager at the Fairtrade Foundation, visited Ghana earlier this year to see how Fairtrade cocoa co-operative Kuapa Kokoo is empowering women to transform their lives.
When we hear the words ‘glass ceiling’ we think of women executives missing out on boardroom positions because of age-old discrimination in the higher ranks of business.
But there is also a glass ceiling on the other side of the world in the smallholder cocoa farms of Ghana. Here, the women often do most of the physical work, planting and harvesting. But it’s mostly their husbands who take the crops to market and receive the money, so the men often control the purse strings. Some husbands and fathers use the money sensibly to benefit the family, but others don’t and often the women are powerless to change this.
The women face other disadvantages too. They are often unable to own land or to apply for credit. Many do not push for their own daughters to be educated, such is the impact of feeling ‘second-class’ within their own communities.
But Kuapa Kokoo cocoa farmers’ co-operative, which has more than 83,000 members, is tackling this. It co-owns Fairtrade chocolate brand Divine and also supplies Fairtrade cocoa to Cadbury, the Co-operative, Starbucks and Traidcraft. Kuapa Kokoo currently sells about half of its cocoa on Fairtrade terms and like the FAIRTRADE Mark in the UK, it is celebrating its 20th birthday in 2014.
Boosting the position, confidence and standing of women farmers – who make up a third of the total membership – is a priority for the co-operative. Members are determined that the women among them will develop the self-assurance to own farms and take on leadership roles.
There are a growing number of women on Kuapa Kokoo’s national governing board. Some years, they form the majority and are inspiring other women farmers and helping them learn how to own land and understand why it’s important to send their daughters to school.
Delphin, 45, is a female recorder. She weighs the cocoa so the farmers can record how much they have to sell and she receives a small commission on each bag she weighs. She says: “If you are honest and have respect for your fellow members and can communicate effectively, people will trust you to be fair. More women should have the courage to put themselves forward for these positions.”
There’s an irony to women losing out in the power structure at home as it is women who often take the lead in processing the cocoa beans, which is vital when giving cocoa its deliciousness. The beans must be fermented and dried straight after they are harvested and the women farmers pride themselves on timing this just right.
The women are also encouraged and supported to set up other businesses to make sure they have income of their own and a degree of independence. They are educated about loans, investment, adult literacy, agricultural practices and business planning. They learn about eliminating child labour and not buying unnecessary chemicals for their farms. Kuapa Kokoo also delivers adult education programmes to help women participate in meetings and putting themselves forward for positions of responsibility.
One of the ways women learn to feel more confident is through the Kuapa Women’s Groups. Farmers Georgina Oppong says: “The women’s group requested a loan from the credit union for setting up our own businesses. I sell fish at the local market which gets me my own money.”
The additional income many women farmers like Georgina earn helps their families survive during the off season while the cocoa beans are still growing.
Her colleague Mary Obeng Serwo talks passionately about how life in the village has changed. “We had no one to talk for us. Now we have a voice. We have a better standard of living. This is how far we have travelled,” she says.
A school paid for with the Fairtrade Premium has made a big difference. As farmer Anna Kaah says: “When I joined Kuapa Kokoo 16 years ago there was no school here. Children had to travel a long way to town for school and they weren’t attending. They weren’t doing anything – they were not learning, they were developing bad habits, running about, difficult to control. We had child labour issues here.
“Now we have built our school and our grandchildren say to us, ‘Grandma, grandma, grandma, I want to go to school.’ They don’t have to travel long distances and they love to learn.”
The farmers have also invested the Fairtrade Premium into projects to bring clean water to local communities, mobile healthcare facilities, workshops to increase their yields and others to stop child labour. Kuapa Kokoo is also planning to establish a local market where women would be able to sell their produce.
The premium has also helped stop the farmers from being cheated. Farmers have used some of it to pay for scales to weigh the cocoa. Before Fairtrade traders would cheat farmers out of the money they deserved for their crops by using fixed scales. The farmers always decide democratically how the premium should be spent.
But perhaps Fairtrade’s most famous benefit is the minimum price, which is paid to farmers for their crops, no matter how low the world market price falls. This gives farmers greater security and the ability to plan for the future.
Women’s group members at Kuapa have very different stories to tell of their lives and experience at the co-operative. Single parent and mother of six Lucy Mann, 53, says: “What makes me happy is the training on how to improve my farm. It has helped me improve the quality of my plants and now my crop is good enough to sell and I have a better income. Four years ago I could only sell three bags of cocoa. Now I can sell six.”
Esther Owusu-Mensah, 25, a Communications Officer at Kuapa Kokoo, grew up in a village as one of 10 children. Even though she had six older brothers, her father was determined she would get a good education and she was selected to receive a cocoa scholarship, an award given to children of cocoa farmers. After achieving distinctions at school, she studied agriculture at university. She says: “I see myself as a mentor and role model for women. I am the only woman in my home village with a degree. Now I motivate others to study as I did.”
Find out more about Divine Chocolate.