Interview with Cathy Pieters, Director of Cocoa Life
Cathy Pieters leads the Cocoa Life program, Mondelēz International's $400 million commitment to empower over 200,000 farmers and more than one million people in cocoa communities over 10 years.
Cathy Pieters (CP): Cocoa farming communities are the foundation of a sustainable supply chain. With Cocoa Life we focus not only on farmers and their productivity but also on their communities - to make them attractive places, where farmers want to live and can see a bright future for their children.
A critical step in creating thriving communities is to empower women. It’s an amplifier for productivity, for development of the communities and for the sustainability of the cocoa supply chain. Doing so benefits everyone – the communities as well as the cocoa and chocolate industry.
CP: The extent of gender inequalities varies but the core issue is the same across cocoa origin countries. Women are paid a lot less than men for the same work on cocoa farms. For example, in Ghana, female cocoa farmers earn 30% less than male farmers. In Côte d’Ivoire it’s as much as 70% less than men.
These inequalities are rooted in the fact that a lot of what women do is not recognized as waged labor. Instead it is considered as helping out on the farm. Too often, women also don’t have access to agricultural trainings, planting materials and financing. Another important factor is that women are not represented in farmer organizations, like cooperatives, and that’s important because it’s where investment decisions are made.
CP: In Cocoa Life, we take a deliberate approach to women’s empowerment. What I mean by that is that in all the actions we take – be it around farming, access to credit, or secondary livelihoods – we go out of our way to include women. And we don’t just focus on their ‘soft skills’, we empower them to be successful farmers too. (Read more in our Gender Actions Plans.)
Let me give you a few tangible examples. Farmer trainings are deliberately organized in a way that can best engage women: at times of the day when women are able to attend and led by women trainers to make women farmers more comfortable to speak up and ask questions.
We make it a requirement for cooperatives who work with us to have a certain percentage of women in decision-making roles. And we’ve also set up Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) that are run by women to give them better access to finance.
Last week when I was in Côte d’Ivoire, I spoke to a group of women who were running a VSLA. One of the women shared with me that her husband, who’s himself a cocoa farmer, used to have to borrow money from the fertilizer salesman at very high interest rates, because he had no savings or access to financing. She was very proud to tell me that this year she was able through the VSLA to loan the money to her husband, and that he had already managed to pay it back!
CP: Our actions to empower women are part of our broader holistic approach. We always make sure that we have the buy-in of the farmers, men and women, and of the community more broadly. We help men understand that empowered women benefit everyone.
CARE International is one of the NGO partners who implements our program in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. As part of the sensitization to gender equality, they take the community through a simple but telling exercise called the ‘Day Calendar’. Men and women fill out the day with the activities that they perform. At the end of the exercise, it’s clear that women have a very long list of things they are responsible for. Men are doing a lot as well, but they have much more free time.
Once when I attended one of these sessions, one of the men started crying – seeing it down on paper, he just couldn’t believe how much was being asked of women.
In West Africa, there’s deep respect for women and the role they play as mothers. This exercise is an eye opener on everything else they do, often without getting paid.
CP: A team of researchers at Harvard independently measures the impact of the Cocoa Life program for farmers and their communities. When collecting data they keep track of results for men and women separately, so that we know how well women are doing on each one of our KPIs, for example net income and land productivity. In addition, one of our 10 global KPIs focuses specifically on increasing the rate of women in decision-making roles.
And from my own experience travelling in cocoa origins, I can really see the difference. Women are speaking up in Cocoa Life communities from Cote d’Ivoire to Indonesia!