Female cocoa farmers in the lower Guayas river basin in Ecuador want to excel in their organisations and have better incomes for themselves and their families. Despite their contribution to local cocoa production systems, a survey conducted in the area revealed that, within the household, women’s contributions to decision-making, both about the management of cocoa farms as well as about the income from cocoa farming, are low.
Gender inclusion is more than a global trend. Actions to "close the gap" have, in many companies, moved from being social responsibility campaigns to policies. In the cocoa world, women are already part of the business and different companies around the world are reviewing women’s contributions to the chain, investing progressively in programmes to help them develop their potential.
This is the case for JB cocoa, an international company, and GrandSouth S.A., an Ecuadorian exporter. In alliance with Rikolto, they are training a first group of female cocoa farmers as part of the "Women cocoa entrepreneurs" project. Its aim is to support women to perform better in the management of their plantations, as well as in the successful management of their businesses or enterprises.
Both companies implement sustainability projects with cocoa suppliers in the area, particularly aimed at improving their production systems and developing their businesses. An essential part of these initiatives is to improve the economic contribution of women to their households, so that opportunities for families multiply.
Together with Rikolto, a baseline for women's economic and social empowerment was developed. This was the basis for a three-stage training and advocacy action plan to reduce gender gaps in the local cocoa production chain.
Women are key actors in every part of the food system, as farmers, processors, transport workers, traders and consumers. Yet their contribution to the business and household is often undervalued, unpaid and overlooked. Women are often a minority in agricultural producer organisations, even though they represent 43% of the global agricultural labour force.
During the first stage, which took place between July and September 2022, Rikolto developed training courses for male and female producers, focusing on gender equity awareness, specifically to strengthen women's economic inclusion. We used a participatory methodology that facilitated dialogue, trust and ownership of participants, moving towards behavioural change at various levels (individual/household and group/community). Social learning and experiential learning were key.
"With these training courses, you can improve yourself, to serve as a teacher and to bring ideas to people with whom you collaborate. It was a real learning experience: in the field, you learn in an authentic way. The grain of sand that they have given us helps us to change the way we work, and by correcting our mistakes we will have better results.” Patricia Narváez, Participant - El Paraíso
"The idea is to strengthen women's autonomy through economic inclusion and to improve the living conditions of women and their families. The dialogue on what we mean by gender gap and gender equity, for example, is crucial.” Andrés Proaño, Project Coordinator - Rikolto
The challenges reported by women in achieving gender equality in their daily lives have to do with household chores and making decisions about income. "There are many women managing the finances of cocoa households, keeping their economies afloat. We must take advantage of this in decision-making for the management of cocoa farms, as well as in the resilience shown in the face of adversity," says Rafael Rojas, Sustainability Manager of JB Cocoa in Ecuador. The topics covered in the workshops will enable women to better manage their income and access seed capital for their enterprises.
The second stage of the project took place between October and November of 2022. This time, the training was mainly aimed at women, addressing topics such as business plan structures, customer service strategies, key issues in financial education and ways of accessing financing, among other things. The idea is to provide support so that they can transform their ideas into reality and implement the newly-acquired knowledge in their ventures.
"The participants identify and understand the key aspects of successful entrepreneurship: what is needed to be profitable, but also what needs to be worked on at a personal level (fears, insecurities, strengths) in order to succeed," says Andrés. But beyond that, the expected impact of these initiatives is normalisation.
“It is important that women have greater participation and more relevant roles, inside and outside their families. The aim of this project is to start or strengthen businesses that contribute to the family economy. We hope to see women applying the knowledge acquired in their daily economic activities and in the decisions they take for the administration of their cocoa farms. Empowered women provide opinion and decisions for the financial strategy of the cocoa business.” Eugenia López, Global Sustainability Manager | JB Cocoa
"Gender equality should cease to be a struggle and instead become a constant, so that the qualities of people - and not their gender - are what matters. So that little boys and girls can see both their mums and dads become caregivers and providers at the same time; and women’s self-conviction and self-fulfilment will grow. This will provide companies with great talent within producer organisations.” Raquel Velásquez, Financial & Human Resources Manager | GrandSouth S.A
Currently, the third stage of the project is underway. The enterprise ideas of women are evaluated, and selected women are supported in the start-up process of their enterprises. This will allow them to generate their own income for their families. At the end of the project, we expect to see that women have greater control over their income and contribute to the distribution and management of the family income. On the one hand, thanks to the training on financial education, accountability and access to credit, and on the other hand, thanks to the proper management of their cocoa plantations.
At Rikolto, women’s empowerment is a cross-cutting strategy that runs through the three pillars of our work: sustainable crop production, inclusive markets and enabling environments. Gender mainstreaming in production is of crucial importance to honour the inclusivity of business models and sustainable food systems, as well as to promote greater inclusion of women in roles free of bias, with work spaces free of gender-based violence, which contribute to economic autonomy and favour sustainable community development.