Why empowering women farmers is key to protecting our environment

PUBLISHED: Fri, 09 Mar 2018 16:16:00 GMT
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By Kennedy Ntoso, Head of Cocoa Sustainability, Olam Cocoa Ghana

This week, in light of International Women’s Day, journalists, campaigners and businesses alike unite in spotlighting gender equality across the globe, often within the context of our work environments. In Ghana, and many other countries at the root of global agricultural supply chains, the conversation is likely to be a muted one, however discussions around issues related to workplace equality are important. Whether that’s in an office in a capital city or on a cocoa farm in the countryside, this week offers an opportunity to champion the role women play in our societies and businesses.

As the world’s foremost focused supplier of cocoa beans and cocoa products, we engage with a network of millions of smallholder farmers, many of whom are women. The role of women farmers in our supply chains is fundamental, as they are often responsible for many of the daily farming processes and practices that support a farm’s success. So fundamental in fact, that the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) estimates that, across all agricultural sectors, women farmers produce more than half of all the food that is grown in the world, rising to 80 percent in Africa. However, in some of the most remote corners of the globe, which are often the very same places where Olam operates, women farmers may not commonly be found taking frontline roles and may feel that they are not able to participate in key training or decision-making processes. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not least because, on average, women farmers often reinvest a higher proportion of earnings into their families and communities when they have financial agency. Additionally, if there are agricultural practices which may be dangerous to the environment it is important that women understand what those dangers are and become involved in the process of halting them. Supporting women farmers, therefore, makes sense from a productivity, livelihood and environmental perspective.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, just giving women farmers the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase production on women’s farms in developing countries by 20 to 30 percent. One way we are doing this for the cocoa sector specifically is through the Gender Sub Working Group (GSWG) of Ghana’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme championed by the Forestry Commission of Ghana and COCOBOD. Cocoa is seen as one of the major drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, and Olam Cocoa was chosen to be a partner in tackling this, based on its commitment to women’s empowerment and the leadership role it is taking in addressing forest degradation. Some of the training sessions that are being run under this programme focus on the impact of cocoa farming on the environment and the importance of reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The REDD+ GSWG was created specifically to spearhead gender mainstreaming and ensure both men and women are given equal opportunities to access, to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from various forestry policies, programs and funds.  Gender mainstreaming is supportive in reducing cultural challenges which inhibits active participation of women farmers in forest preservation and conservation.

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When we began our training programmes, in every group discussion, the men would sit in the front seats and be the sole contributors to the discussion. Slowly, as we have been supporting women and building their confidence through education and financial empowerment, we are seeing them begin to contribute more. Recently, in one community that has particularly benefited from increased yields and improved livelihoods as a result of women farmers introducing REDD+ best practices, the men insisted that the women farmers join them in taking the front seats, a considerable shift in such a community.

The story of Yaa Fosuah

54-year-old Yaa Fosuah, from Punikrom, has been farming since she was 16 years old but it is only in the last ten years, since becoming involved with Olam Cocoa and REDD+, that she has been provided with agricultural and financial training to help her invest in her farm as a business, which has enabled her to better support her family.

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