Co-op Group commits £50,000 to support Fairtrade women cocoa farmers

The Women’s School of Leadership aims to tackle gender inequality and reduce poverty in Ivory Coast

A leadership programme has been set up for women cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast, led by Fairtrade Africa with financial support from the Co-op Group and the Compass Group.

While they make up almost half of the workforce, women farmers in developing countries tend to be paid less than men, have difficulties owning land and are excluded from business loans and agricultural training. According to research by Fairtrade Foundation, closing the gender gap could address poverty.

Fairtrade’s 2016 Monitoring Report shows that only 23% of members of Fairtrade producer co-ops are women, mainly due to the fact that often only land title-owners can become members. The report highlights that women tend to work on land that belongs to their husband or other male family members.

The Women’s School of Leadership, which has received £50,000 each from the Co-op Group and Compass Group UK & Ireland, aims to tackle these problems in the West African country.

Dr TsiTsi Choruma, chief operating officer of Fairtrade Africa, said: “We welcome this investment which will enable Fairtrade Africa’s first ever Women’s Leadership School to become a catalyst for change, increasing women’s agency in leadership and contribute to changing social norms which are key barriers to women’s participation in business.

“In Ivory Coast, women make up 68% of the labour force, yet only 25% own land. As such few have roles in the business, access to revenue generated from cocoa or even bank accounts – that’s why this support from UK businesses is just so vital for us to begin redressing the balance for agricultural communities.”

This year, 24 women from seven co-operatives will attend the school, where they will learn about finance, negotiation, decision-making and gender equality. They will then share their skills with their co-workers and with the wider communities.

The students include Kouame Ehui Edith, a single mother of one, who left secondary school before graduating. She hopes to gain skills to help her in business and as a community leader for the Fairtrade-certified farmers’ co-operative where she works.

She said: “The Women’s School of Leadership will be a good opportunity for us women to learn. I am looking forward to this programme changing my life.”

The first retailer to sell Fairtrade products, the Group committed to buying all of the cocoa needed for own label products from Fairtrade producers. In addition, all of its chocolate confectionary is Fairtrade.

Brad Hill, Fairtrade strategy manager at the Group, attended the launch of the project.

He said: “The positive impact of Fairtrade on women’s rights and participation is just one element the Co-op is passionate to support. Although women make up almost half the agricultural workforce in developing countries, they account for just over one fifth of the producer organisations that are certified by Fairtrade and require funding to enable them to take more important roles in the farming community.

“Fairtrade lies at the heart of our values and we are proud to be Fairtrade pioneers, championing what we believe is right. By partnering with Fairtrade, we are addressing the issues of an unsustainable cocoa industry and taking steps to address the Sustainable Development Goal 5 of gender equality.”

He added: “As part of our latest commitment to Fairtrade, we are delighted that some of the investment will be directly supporting the funding of Fairtrade Africa’s Women’s Leadership School project to train them in business skills and decision making and help empower them as future leaders.”