Training the key to a better future for West African cocoa farmers

Fairtrade cocoa farmers in West Africa are training themselves and their colleagues in record numbers as they seek to overcome significant post-pandemic challenges, according to new data from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire published by Fairtrade to mark World Chocolate Day (7 July).

The latest monitoring report of the Fairtrade West Africa Cocoa Programme (WACP) – now in its seventh year – shows that more cocoa farmers than ever before took part in training sessions in 2022 aimed at improving production and sustainability. Nearly 40,000 farmers – 30 percent of them women – across 243 producer organisations underwent training, an increase of nearly 75 percent on the previous year.

The success of the training programme is down to an emphasis on ‘training of trainers’ at Fairtrade cooperatives in previous years, resulting in more than 17,000 farmers being trained by their peers in 2022. Known as ‘cascaded’ training, the programme was co-financed by Fairtrade Africa, which also supported new farmer trainers to deliver some sessions.

Training topics included Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), climate change, child labour, setting up Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), Internal Management Systems (IMS), governance, and membership engagement.

Participants also reported increasing knowledge and skills in five key areas: governance, management, gender equality, preventing child labour, and adhering to Fairtrade Standards. In Côte d’Ivoire, average scores across all five areas increased from 3.7 in 2018 to 4.1 in 2022. In Ghana, with data only available since 2020, average score increased from 4.3 to 4.4.

Women’s inclusion

‘As part of Fairtrade’s Living income project, I was trained to use a farm record book and I benefitted from the support of my coach by filling it in on a daily basis,’ explains Finda Kouadio Theodor, a cocoa producer with the CAPRESSA cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire. ‘I also participated in training on women’s inclusion in the economic management of the household. It allowed me to realise that my wife and I complement each other, and I must rely on her for the economic management of our household.’

The report also highlights significant improvements across all five indicators, including:

  • 97 percent of all participating cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire and 100 percent of those in Ghana have an IMS in place to manage organisational data for traceability and risk management.
  • Virtually all cooperatives use business plans to drive decision making – a jump of 12 percent in Côte d’Ivoire and 33 percent in Ghana compared to the start of the programme – suggesting that managers use business data and needs assessments more strategically.
  • Services relating to income diversification and food security increased in 2022, funded through the Fairtrade Covid-19 relief and resilience funds, as well as cooperatives’ own collective resources.
  • Virtually all cooperatives are taking steps to involve women and young people more in governance and management, with a new Young Cooperative Managers Academy established in Ghana in 2022.
  • Cooperatives scored particularly well when it came to awareness of child rights in 2022: 2.9 out of a possible 3.0 in Côte d’Ivoire and 2.7 in Ghana.

Support and training

‘We received support and training, including financial management and Village Savings and Loans Associations,’ says Mark Obese, a manager at the Fairtrade certified Fanteakwa Union in Ghana. ‘Our members have increased their savings culture, made improvements on their farms and contributed to the development of their community. Fairtrade Africa has also helped us strengthen the community child protection structures, developed and implemented a robust community-based child labour sensitisation programme and established reporting protocols.’

We received support and training… Our members have made improvements on their farms and contributed to the development of their community.

Mark Obese, a manager at the Fairtrade certified Fanteakwa Union, Ghana

However, despite this positive news, when it comes to sales of Fairtrade cocoa, Fairtrade Africa Executive Director Isaac H. Tongola says the overall picture is ‘extremely concerning,’ with high inflation and low prices threatening the future sustainability of the sector. 2022 saw a drop in profitability from 93 percent to 87 percent compared to 2020.

Although Fairtrade cocoa sales in West Africa did show a recovery from a low point in 2020, Tongola warns: ‘Without [sustained] higher prices and higher margins for small producer organisations and their members, most of whom live in poverty and many in extreme poverty, there will be no sustainable cocoa. The reality is that we need to increase sales on Fairtrade terms and the number of partnerships between brands, retailers and farmers.’

New trends in 2022

2022 saw the WACP expand to include Sierra Leone, where the number of Fairtrade certified cocoa cooperatives grew from six in 2019 to 19 in 2022, and the number of certified farmers rose from 14,801 to 35,184. Sierra Leone now has its own dedicated Fairtrade representative providing support and training to farmers in the country.

Fairtrade Africa has identified a number of priorities for Sierra Leone including geolocation mapping, as currently only one of the 19 certified cooperatives has fully mapped its members’ farms. Training will also focus on membership engagement; child labour remediation and monitoring; boosting productivity; deforestation; and getting women and young people more involved.

Other firsts for this monitoring report include:

  • Results for each country have been fully disaggregated in order to better compare some indicators for Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana which were previously combined.
  • Measurement of the financial and human resources capacity of cooperatives managers to address the five indicators.
  • Measurement of whether members received at least one service from their cooperatives (83 percent in Côte d’Ivoire, 88 percent in Ghana).
  • Measurement of the percentage of farmers tracking their farm expenses and income using tools and training provided by Fairtrade Africa (11 percent of participating cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire and 26 percent in Ghana).

Cautious optimism for 2023 and beyond

The WACP monitoring report points out that upcoming European Union regulations on human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD) and the new Fairtrade Cocoa Standard put farmers in a good position to act on deforestation, traceability and transparency.

‘Despite the challenges, I am optimistic for Fairtrade cocoa farmers in West Africa,’ says Tongola. ‘It is important that we continue to focus on increasing the amount of cocoa that SPOs sell on Fairtrade terms and the number of SPOs that have direct relationships with brands and retailers.’

That sentiment is echoed by Assi Ake Bekoin Rosine, a member of the CAYAT cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire, who says Fairtrade training has turned her life around. ‘Thanks to CAYAT and Fairtrade Africa through the Women’s School of Leadership, I have regained a taste for life more than ever. I have more self-confidence, I assert myself much more, I am valued by my husband and my family. I have also invested in starting up a small restaurant. This additional income brings us more insurance and peace of mind.

Read the full report on the Fairtrade International website.