By Catherine L. Alston
Women small-holder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are greatly affected by both the economic realities facing their region and the cultural gender biases ingrained in their society. Although these women spend a significant portion of their time and energy supporting their agricultural livelihoods, they are less likely to have access to training programs, credit and input supplies such as improved seedlings than their male counterparts. So the fundamental questions are – how can we improve women’s access to agriculture development programs, minimize the cultural barriers in place, and empower them to take actions that will increase their income and enhance the well being of their family?
The World Cocoa Foundation recognizes the potential impact that can be made in household incomes in West and Central Africa through outreach with cocoa farmers. The region accounts for nearly 70 percent of the world’s cocoa production, 90 percent of which is grown on nearly 2 million small family farms (averaging 2 hectares or less). Almost 16 million people depend on this crop for their main source of income. The World Cocoa Foundation is proud to support and manage programs that are designed to affect the lives and livelihoods of cocoa-farming communities by encouraging sustainable, responsible cocoa growing. Moreover, it is well recognized that women are more likely to support their families’ welfare and their children’s education with any additional income; because of this, we strive to include a greater population of women cocoa farmers in all of our programs to ensure that they are directly empowered to strengthen the lives of their families.
One of the many training approaches in Africa supported by the World Cocoa Foundation is the Farmer Field School methodology, where women and men gain hands-on training on proper production, pest and disease management and post-harvest techniques. This approach is utilized in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria. When it was recognized that female participation and engagement was low in the field schools due to limited available time and cultural constraints, a shift was made to create a convenient and comfortable learning environment for women utilizing videos to provide similar training exercises. The Video Viewing Club was developed by the Sustainable Tree Crops Program through a grant from the World Cocoa Foundation. These clubs were designed to bring together, married and single women cocoa farmers. The farmers and their trained facilitator, watch training films, review the provided manuals and participate in guided discussions and hands-on field activities. The facilitator educates the group on the same topics as the Farmer Field Schools and the participants are encouraged to not only implement the techniques they have learned, but to share their knowledge with others in their community. To date, nearly 1,600 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have received cocoa production training through the Video Viewing Clubs.
The Video Viewing Clubs, which began in 2006, have proven to be a successful way to reach out to women and support them as they take the initiative to improve their cocoa production and their family’s livelihood. One participant, Victoria Boadi of Ghana, nearly tripled her cocoa yields following her participation in the Video Viewing Club, and through this increase in income she was able to better provide for herself and her five children.
Catherine L. Alston is Program Coordinator for the World Cocoa Foundation. For more information, please visit www.worldcocoa.org