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In Ghana, a cooperative helps women cocoa farmers take the lead

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This blog post was written by Erin Gorman, CEO of Divine Chocolate, a 100 percent fair trade company owned in part by the farmers of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana. Oxfam America is partnering with Divine Chocolate for this year’s International Women’s Day celebration.

Christiana Adusei. Photo:Sophi Tranchell

Christiana Adusei, a 58-year-old cocoa farmer, sits with me in the cooperative’s meeting room in Kumasi watching the Ghana Black Stars play in the Africa Cup of Nations.  In two months she will be coming to the US, her first trip out of Ghana, to speak to consumers, businesses, and politicians about her life as a woman cocoa farmer.

Christiana, like so many women in cocoa, ‘’has it all” – all the household duties, the cooking, the cleaning, the farming of foodstuffs. They ensure children go to school and their health is looked after. They farm cocoa and do the drying and fermenting of beans.

Unlike most women in cocoa, Christiana is a member in her own right of a fair trade farmers’ cooperative. She joined Kuapa Kokoo with her husband 11 years ago, because she heard from other farmers that the organization was democratic and fair and that farmers received bonuses and a cutlass, which is among a cocoa farmer’s most prized tools.

About eight years ago she started as the secretary to the village recorder, the person who is elected by the village society to purchase its cocoa for Kuapa. She started training farmers to dry and ferment their cocoa properly so that it met Kuapa’s standards of good cocoa.

“I saw that I was a good teacher and that I could keep good records, and I decided that I should become a recorder myself,” Christiana said. At the elections she stood against the recorder, a man, and won. “Kuapa trained me that as a woman I could be a recorder and could be a leader in my society,” she said.

Cocoa farming is hard and to earn extra income Christiana raises grasscutters, a large rodent prized for its high-protein meat. The youngest of her seven children is still in school and Christiana wants to help her finish her education so the extra income helps. “I hope she will become a nurse and get a good job so she can help me in the future,” Christiana said.

Even though there isn’t a women’s group in her village, Christiana and other women still benefit from regional women’s empowerment trainings offered by Kuapa’s Gender Program. Kuapa instituted the program in 1998 as a response to the challenges so many women cocoa farmers face. The program trains women to take part in the cooperative leadership. Women learn skills to generate additional income, and can then access loans through Kuapa Kokoo’s credit union.

The three-pronged approach of building women’s confidence, skills training, and access to credit has hugely shaped Kuapa. Today 30 percent of the members are women farmers and the president of the cooperative is a woman.

We have a long way to go to make policy and practices work for women in small-scale agricultural production. Members like Christiana show us why it’s important to start trying to do more.

Take action to support women cocoa farmers around the world. Tell Mars, Mondelez, and Nestlé: The women who grow and pick cocoa deserve better.

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