Interview with Stephanie Barrientos, Professor of Development Policy at the University of Manchester
I am a Professor at the School of Environment, Education and Development at the University of Manchester. I have been studying the sustainability of agricultural value chains including cocoa, fresh vegetables, fruit and flowers for over 15 years now. I have done research in Ghana and India that looked at various aspects of cocoa farming from a socio-economic perspective.
In 2005, Cadbury hired me to lead a research team mapping the sustainable production of cocoa in Ghana and used some of our recommendations as the basis for the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership, which later evolved into what is today Cocoa Life.
Throughout my research, I’ve always been interested by the gender dimension. Women play a critical role in agriculture but often they are not sufficiently recognized. Cocoa is often said to be a ‘male crop’ but the reality is that women play an important role in its production, as part of a farming family, as wage labor or as farmers themselves. For example, about 25% of recognized cocoa farmers in Ghana are women. But if you look at all the actual work undertaken on cocoa in farms, it is estimated about 45% is done by women in West Africa.
It’s also the kind of work that women do within cocoa that matters. As you know, there are major concerns about the resilience of the cocoa supply chain, with some estimates of as much as a 1 million shortage of cocoa by 2020. There are also concerns around the quality of the cocoa. Women are particularly involved in early plant care, as well as in post-harvest activities like fermenting and drying of the beans. And if you speak to agronomists they say that early plant care is critical to later productivity, while post-harvest activities have a major impact on the quality of the cocoa beans. Yet women are much less likely to have access to agricultural training. And they are much less likely to have access to the credit they need to buy the right inputs.
Women are very relevant to cocoa. Ignoring the gender issue is simply not possible if you are serious about making the cocoa value chain more sustainable.
Increasing concerns over the resilience of the supply of cocoa is leading the whole industry to pay more attention to issues all through the supply chain, including the gender dimension of cocoa production. And more broadly in the business world there is increasing recognition that gender equity matters and has a positive impact on financial performance. Mondelēz, is led by a woman CEO and has a higher gender profile at a senior level than many of its peers. As the largest chocolate company, Mondelēz is also playing an important leadership role. It has the opportunity to set gender equity on the agenda. If Mondelēz leads, others will follow. In particular Mondelēz has been and must continue to play a key role in ensuring that promoting gender equity is a priority for the industry-wide initiative CocoaAction.
Addressing gender inequalities is a long process and requires alliances with a variety of actors: industry, governments, NGOs, traders and processers. It takes all these actors to work together to put in place the incentives that are needed to promote gender equity in cocoa production. The incentives should be built all along the supply chain down to the community level – such as the ones that Cocoa Life has in place.
The Cadbury Cocoa Partnership had a gender focus from a very early stage. And I’ve been very impressed how gender has been integrated into the approach as the program evolved into Cocoa Life. Mondelēz is playing an important role in continuing to support and develop this work.
Cocoa Life looks at the different facets of gender issues both from the commercial and social perspectives. This is really something that Cocoa Life should be commended for, because often people think of gender as something separate from the commercial activity. But if you really want to enhance the role women play in farming, this is where you need to enable them.
I would encourage Mondelēz to develop an advanced strategy that promotes gender equity and its benefits for all players, not only in cocoa but across the company’s many agricultural supply chains. Women are playing key role; it’s just often not recognized or insufficiently remunerated or supported. By empowering women across the board, Mondelēz would gain a much more resilient overall supply chain.
And from a development perspective, empowering women has tremendous benefits for children and for their communities. Evidence suggests that given resources, women put more focus than men do on supporting the education, health and nutrition of their children. To make cocoa a thriving sector with an eager next generation of farmers, it is critical to empower women.