Women cocoa farmers in Ghana improve their incomes using sustainable practices learned from the Rainforest Alliance.
"Many women in this area think that cocoa farming is a man’s job," says Madam Paulina Sarfo, the lead producer of cocoa beans at the Asuontaa Cocoa Farmers’ Cooperative in the Western region of Ghana. "But I am an example to women young and old—I challenge them to venture into cocoa farming. If it’s done in a sustainable way, cocoa farming is lucrative."
Traditionally, women in Ghana’s cocoa industry served as little more than unpaid labor on their husbands’ or fathers’ farms. Though they performed work that was crucial to the farms’ success—cooking for laborers, gathering and breaking pods, and tending to fermentation and drying activities—these women had little to show for their contributions. But increasingly, women manage their own farms. Today, women farmers account for around 25 percent of cocoa production in Ghana.
"I am an example to women young and old—I challenge them to venture into cocoa farming."Madam Paulina Sarfo, Asuontaa Cocoa Farmers’ Cooperative
At Asuontaa, the cooperative to which Madam Sarfo belongs, 62 of its 96 members are women. All the farmers in this group, which achieved Rainforest Alliance certification in 2012, are deeply committed to more sustainable farming practices—partly because they understand that such methods have the potential to increase their yields and income.
These farms have established buffer zones, tree planting, wildlife conservation, and fire management plans (to prevent bushfires). To improve livelihoods, and to hedge against cocoa crop failure, other foods like plantains and cocoyams are cultivated. Beekeeping and soap-making also help bolster incomes. The group learned these sustainable practices in Rainforest Alliance trainings; subsequently, these farms achieved Rainforest Alliance certification by adhering to a rigorous sustainability standard with detailed environmental, social, and economic criteria
In the 2014-2015 cropping season, the group sold 61,056kg of cocoa beans; 63.5 percent of those beans were produced by the group’s women farmers. In the 2015-2016 cropping season, the group’s overall yields increased to 70, 464kg, and this time women produced 64.2 percent of that total. Madam Paulina Sarfo, sold 5,440kg in the 2015-2106 cocoa season, making her the group’s lead producer—quite an achievement for a woman in a recently male-dominated industry.
Given that the average local household contains four children, it’s especially important for women like those in the Asuontaa group to achieve financial health and independence. When they do, women can invest in their families’ well-being and their children’s education, thereby helping to alleviate poverty and work towards a more sustainable future for us all.