Sustainable cocoa and coffee

From Pods to Prosperity: Empowering Cocoa Farmers’ Circular Business

February 28, 2024
Clarissa Rahmanita Idat
Cocoa Programme Officer - Rikolto in Southeast Asia

A cocoa farmers’ cooperative in Ende, Indonesia, is using a circular business model to revolutionise the role of women in farming. By turning “waste” cocoa pods into valuable fertiliser, women like Mama Ludvina are not only increasing their income but also becoming leaders in their communities.  

Breaking the cycle

Traditionally, women in Ende have been expected to stay at home and take care of the household. It is rare for women to be recognised in income-generating activities unless they are widowed. Men, on the other hand, are seen as the “face” of the household – for example, it is their responsibility to take part in social gatherings. These long-standing norms have had the effect of restricting women’s access to training opportunities, which are vital for their economic independence in rural areas.

Recognising this, the SIKAP Cocoa Farmers’ Cooperative has begun to break down these barriers. Supported by Rikolto, and the TRACTIONS programme (Transforming the Cocoa Sector in Indonesia Through Value Addition for Smallholders) led by Rainforest Alliance.

The programme’s journey towards the empowerment of women began with some simple but powerful questions: what are women farmers’ ultimate dreams, what is their current situation and how can they achieve their dreams? This introspection was the first step towards realising the aspirations of countless women in the region.

Introducing Mama Ludvina

For Ludvina,traditionally known as Mama Ludvina (meaning mother), being the central figure in the agricultural life of her home was never a possibility. She was expected to help on the farm, and her husband shared good agricultural practices with her. On her own, however, she just planted vegetables to feed her family. Mama Ludvina said, "At least my husband allows me to grow some vegetables on the farm and in the yard of the house.”

Mama Ludvina in her vegetable garden.

Mama Ludvina enjoys growing vegetables. One of her aspirations is to own a vegetable farm, but she did not have enough capital to buy the fertiliser, as growing vegetables requires some initial investment. She also did not know where to sell her vegetables once they were grown. Occasionally people from the cities would buy vegetables from her village, but most of the time the price was too low.

Mama Ludvina's dream is to be the main character. She wants to earn her own money with her own vegetable farm. But this dream is not just hers. It also belongs to her peers.

From training to transformation

To help Mama Ludvina and many like her realise their dreams, the SIKAP cooperative, through the TRACTIONS programme, began providing women-only training in making organic fertiliser from cocoa pods in 2022.

The training was tailored to the women’s needs and aspirations. This not only helped reduce dependence on costly options, but also turned waste into a valuable resource. The programme went beyond reducing their dependence on expensive industrial fertiliser. It also gave the women skills in vegetable production, marketing and business planning. The training was simple: First, the farmers were shown how to cut the pods into small pieces and ferment them with special microbes. The pods are then placed in boxes or burlap sacks for a few weeks until they are ready to be used on the farms. They also had sessions on how to market the vegetable products, calculate profits and losses and prepare for the next round of vegetable planting. This equipped Mama Ludvina to start her own vegetable business.

After attending the SIKAP cooperative training, Mama Ludvina started producing cocoa pod fertiliser to use in her vegetable garden. She is the leader of the fertiliser production for 17 other women in her farmer group.

“In the past, women were told that we are less than men because we are not able to generate income, but now we can show that can generate income as well. I can now earn up to IDR 1 million per harvest from my organic vegetable farms.”

Mama Ludvina, a small-scale farmer from Ende.

The GALS training framework

  1. In the first year, youth and women leaders receive gender empowerment training using GALS (Gender Action Learning System). A representative of SIKAP attended the GALS training provided by the TRACTION consortium.
  2. The trained women and young people return to their communities to provide training and also to identify business ideas.
  3. These businesses will then be analysed with Rikolto’s support: Are they feasible? Who will be responsible for the planning? What kind of support is needed to start the business? How can we ensure its continuity?
Steps of the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) training.

In the case of Mama Ludvina and her peers, what they needed was access to fertiliser. The vegetable farms need to produce large quantities of vegetables. We also advised her to access the organic market to get a better price. In other cases, training may be needed in the production of banana chips or organic pesticides.

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Individual change as the primary goal

Eva Virayani is a gender expert for Rainforest Alliance’s TRACTION programme, which she sees as a vehicle for empowering women farmers by giving them access to the training they need but have been unable to access in the past. She explained that an important step was to find out more about what the women farmers actually wanted:

“Often women feel so helpless in their situation that they do not even dare to dream. That’s why it’s important to rekindle their dream.”

According to Eva, change should take place at four levels: individual, household, community and finally political. Individual change was the primary goal of the project. However, in its third year, the project has also seen positive changes at the community level in the form of increased entrepreneurial behaviour. “Other women farmers in the group have learnt a lot from Mama Ludvina’s example in just one year; they are doing what she did. These women have been so inspired by her that they now copy what she has done,” explains Eva.

In addition, with the help of the TRACTION project team, Mama Ludvina and her peers have also been introduced to a number of people in the towns who are buyers of their vegetables. These buyers gave Mama Ludvina a better price than before because the vegetables are organic and produced without pesticides.

As Eva pointed out, the key factor that made these positive changes possible was that the women were actively involved and motivated to learn for themselves. The interventions created a supportive environment for the women, helping them to freely share what they wanted and make their dreams come true.

Impacts to date

A total of 211 farmers (40% of whom are women and youth) across Indonesia have been supported by the TRACTIONS consortium to adopt circular economy practices in South Sulawesi, Flores and Bali. In Ende, 13 women are actively involved in the fertiliser production project, led by Rikolto. Regarding the participants of the GALS training, 751 women (aged > 35) and 417 youth (157 men, 260 women) participated. The TRACTION programme also provided business coaching to 112 business participants from 7 enterprises, 34% of whom were women over 35 and 55% youth, with 14 participants from the vegetable business in particular.

The five-year project, from 2020 to 2025, targets 3,400 farmers in Indonesia. The project works in 7 regencies in 5 provinces and aims to create better business opportunities for smallholder farmers by promoting cocoa fermentation production for the artisanal market and encouraging income diversification. As part of the TRACTIONS consortium, Rikolto is working to promote the transition to cocoa fermentation and income diversification in two regencies on the island of Flores (Sikka & Ende) through a series of training, knowledge sharing and marketing activities.

This article was first published in Agrilinkis as part of the CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform series of training modules for science communicators on how to develop and pitch stories on agricultural technologies that work for women.

Pictures by Maria Beribe.

Editors for this version: Selene Casanova (International Communications - Rikolto)

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