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By Sheryl Cowan, Vice President of Programs, CNFA and Marc Steen, CNFA’s Chief of Party of the Maximizing Opportunities in Cocoa Activity (MOCA)
Cote d’Ivoire is the largest cacao-producing country in the world, and earnings from the cultivation and sale of cocoa support 3.5 million Ivorians, including many smallholder farmers and their families. Yet, the cocoa industry in the country has been primarily geared towards production and less on quality, preventing farmers from supplying to and reaping the benefits from the growing fine chocolate industry.
From seedling to tree, the status of successful cultivation mirrors the financial health of the communities that depend on cocoa cultivation. However, smallholder Ivorian cocoa farmers have limited capacity to increase the amount of quality beans they can sell, and often lack access to competitive markets, which would otherwise be a viable means of increasing their income and improving their livelihoods.
CNFA’s Alex Brandes shares information on USAID’s Maximizing Opportunities in Cocoa Activity during FCIA’s Elevate Chocolate Summit on June 30 in New York City.
MOCA, a project funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food for Progress program provides capacity-building, training and other support services to cocoa producers, cooperatives and exporters in Côte d’Ivoire with the aim of improving the supply of high-quality cacao beans and increasing farm incomes. Activities to improve and expand the trade of cocoa and cocoa products focus on improving the quality of the crop, the processing and post-harvest handling techniques, and strengthening the market linkages and organization of groups towards more adequately meeting existing market demand.
FCIA, whose members focus on the production of premium chocolate and encourage utilizing the best practices in cocoa production and processing, will collaborate with MOCA to support the project through its membership activities.
“This collaboration enhances the individual efforts of MOCA and FCIA to improve the efficiency of the cocoa value chain in Côte d’Ivoire,” said CNFA President and Chief Executive Officer Sylvain Roy. “FCIA’s counsel will help farmers and businesses refine their production to meet the needs of the fine chocolate market—and MOCA’s training and guidance will improve the crop quality, processing, post-harvest handling and market linkages necessary to produce those high-quality products and get them to market.”
“This memorandum of understanding establishes a strong mutual bond between two parties who share a keen interest in cultivating the finest, high-quality cocoa,” said FCIA President Clark Guittard. “Through our new relationship with MOCA, our organization gains an informed, on-the-ground presence in the world’s leading cocoa-producing region.
The main thrust of the three-year MOCA program is to increase the productivity and efficiency of stakeholders in Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa value chain to boost the quality of crops, expand cocoa trade and ultimately improve the incomes and livelihoods of cocoa farmers.
This partnership will provide added impetus to the most important goal of the MOCA initiative—generating increased incomes for the 600,000 smallholder farmers and families in Côte d’Ivoire who produce more than a third of the world’s cocoa supply, but live on less than $2 a day.
For smallholder subsistence farmers, one of the greatest barriers to developing their business is a lack of available credit for what is often written off as too risky an investment. For female smallholders, the prejudices are greater still.
Yet bridging this risk-averse preconception can have a transformative effect, not only for the women it affects but for her family and community as well.
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This is the fifth post of Farming First’s #FillTheGap campaign to highlight the gender gap facing rural women working in agriculture.
For 15,000 families in the remote and rural towns surrounding Tumaco, western Colombia, the cocoa growers’ association (COMCACAOT) has been something of a lifeline.
Established only five years ago, most of the union’s members come from Afro-Colombian communities that suffered from Colombia’s internal conflict and opted to grow cocoa as a means to overcome poverty. Around 40 per cent of COMCACAOT members are women.
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In this guest post, Sylvain Roy, CEO of Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) champions the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program as a highly effective approach to improving the productivity and sustainability of agriculture in the developing world.
The concept of F2F is simple. U.S. volunteers with decades of experience in farming and agriculture-related fields—as well as those with expertise in banking, business, academia and government service—spend about two to four weeks in a developing country working with local counterparts to help improve agricultural productivity.
Since the inception of F2F more than 30 years ago, showcasing the best of ‘citizen diplomacy’, nearly 17,000 American volunteers have shared American know-how and worked to improve agriculture in 112 countries. Armed with experience working in our own nation’s vast range of climates, ecosystems and soil types—as well as our strong tradition of agricultural research—these American volunteers are uniquely equipped to serve the needs of many different developing countries.
F2F volunteers work on assignments all along the agricultural value chain—from the field to processing to sales in the marketplace. To ensure the sustainability of these improvements, volunteers also work to facilitate access to credit, encourage environmentally friendly techniques, and equip participants with business skills. The use of volunteers for all of this keeps program costs down, ensures the dedication of participants, and allows thousands of experts to contribute their valuable knowledge to international development.
F2F volunteer Matt Cleaver worked with farmers in Malawi to implement improved mushroom processing and production techniques. Image credit: CNFA
While farmers in developing countries are often knowledgeable about raising their crops and livestock, improved methods developed in other parts of the world can be slow to arrive. This is where the practical experience of F2F’s volunteers is most useful. In most cases, their introduction of new and simple techniques that use inexpensive, locally available products can provide the key to significantly improving production.
Using these techniques, farmers gain the tools they need to advance beyond growing only enough food to feed their own families, and to begin growing and selling surplus products to generate extra cash. That means more food to feed growing populations—as well as higher incomes to reduce the exodus of rural people to the poverty of megacities.
F2F volunteers also help countries avoid some of the problems developed nations once faced as they moved from subsistence farming to more intensive agriculture. For example, the introduction of dry-land farming techniques can help a developing nation avoid a disaster like the Dust Bowl that hit United States in the 1930s.
I personally witnessed the considerable benefits generated through the F2F program through my own experience with CNFA (Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture), one of seven implementing partners of F2F today.
In Malawi, for example, one of our F2F volunteer experts worked with a mushroom cooperative to improve the pasteurization techniques that allow their mushrooms to grow without competition from other, undesirable fungi. After implementing some additional, simple changes in growing techniques—such as covering the buildings where they grow their mushrooms with clear plastic to better regulate temperature—the cooperative’s weekly sales of oyster mushrooms rose from 96 kg to 168 kg.
In many countries, farmers looking to earn an income or simply feed their family face many challenges during the dry season, especially as a changing climate has increased the variability of its timing and intensity in recent years.
F2F assignments allow implementers to provide a rapid, tailored response in communities in need of climate-smart agriculture techniques. This includes everything from starting preparations early enough to harvest currently available rain water to more effectively manage the soil in ways that minimize loss of moisture moving forward.
This year, one of CNFA’s volunteers Phineas Ellis supported Face-to-Face village facilitators in Malawi using a “training of trainers” approach. By helping these local lead farmers develop practices to get rain and moisture deeper into the soil, cover cropping and dry season indigenous plant cultivation, as well as to teach the importance of perennials and perennial foods, they are able to disseminate these practices to farmers long after the conclusion of Phineas’ assignment. As a result, a single volunteer’s impact is extended and more at-risk farmers are able to benefit from plants that are able to access deeper ground water and are more resilient during droughts or in dry areas.
When participants make this sort of progress, other farmers strive to imitate their success. In this way, good practices spread to help many more people beyond the initial beneficiaries of our efforts.
The U.S. benefits in ways beyond simple moral satisfaction. We gain security when higher incomes in these nations provide stability and reduce the risk of civil conflict. We gain trading opportunities by building a middle class that can purchase not only our agriculture-related goods and services—but also many other U.S. products.
And most importantly, our volunteers gain a deep understanding of the challenges faced by those in other countries and cultures—understanding that they can share with other Americans on their return home. And through their interactions with beneficiaries abroad, they also serve as “citizen diplomats” who represent the United States as a positive force in the international sphere.
And we get all this at a modest price. Between 2004 and 2014 alone, F2F assisted more than 460,000 people in dozens of countries, adding nearly quarter billion dollars to the gross annual incomes of these beneficiaries.
By using dedicated, expert volunteers to teach, train and facilitate, F2F provides the proverbial fishing pole rather than the fish. For more than 30 years, Farmer-to-Farmer has leveraged its humble budget to provide an enormous impact on international agricultural development. We need to keep it going for another 30.
But time is not on women’s side. According to the World Economic Forum, we still will be more than 120 years from full gender parity in 2050. It is no stretch to foresee that this continued lack of parity, should it persist as forecast, will severely hinder the ability of women to perform their key role in feeding the world’s population—and produce a potentially disastrous shortfall in the global food supply.
Given these facts, it is clear that if we are to meet our future food needs, we must put increased emphasis on empowering the world’s women farmers and rural women entrepreneurs. And we must act quickly.
Empowering women in many – perhaps most – areas of the world is not a simple task. As anyone involved in global development can attest, efforts to promote gender parity must clear hurdles unique to the social and cultural setting of each initiative.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day — “Be Bold for Change” – hits close to home for me. For the last two years, I have lived in Bangladesh, working with Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), which is implementing the USAID/Agro-Inputs Project (AIP). The effort has been a broad success, not only for men, but also for women. Through the creation of a local Agro-Input Retailers Network (AIRN), AIP now provides funding, training, and technical advice to more than 3,000 retailers selling inputs such as seed and fertilizer – including more than 200 women in what previously had been an almost entirely male-dominated sector.
AIRN has a trainers’ pool comprised of experts and retailers who deliver hands-on, easy-to-understand training on quality inputs and business management.
This initiative has revealed examples of the sorts of obstacles women face when attempting to play a greater role in rural economies. Through research conducted in 2013, AIP learned that the small number of women-run agro-input (farm supply) businesses that then existed typically operated out of a woman’s home, and that women primarily sold only seeds due to societal “taboos” against women handling other inputs such as chemicals. AIP also discovered that 87% of the households in the surveyed area were headed by men, and that nearly 74% of men claimed sole household authority for decisions regarding the purchase of inputs. These societal attitudes are deeply ingrained, so the key to empowering these women to achieve success in agriculture and agribusiness meant designing solutions that conformed to the local cultures, rather than trying to change those cultures outright. That meant using tools within the cultural and societal environment itself to overcome obstacles that prevented women from gaining gender parity in the agro-inputs sector.
Under AIP, for example, even after receiving verbal and written consent from family and local community leaders—a critical step in ushering women into agribusiness–we learned that a woman’s acceptance by male peer retailers was ultimately the critical factor in her ability to successfully enter the agro-inputs sector.
CNFA therefore adjusted its approach to leverage more than 300 male “champions” – local agro-retailers who provided interpersonal counselling during the launch stages of the women retailers’ new businesses. In this way, CNFA was able to directly support the success of these women, while more effectively normalizing the notion of female business ownership within a male-dominated sector. In fact, over time, experienced women retailers also began to serve as champions to others through formalized visits and discussions, and more than 30 women now participate as leaders in AIRN local committees.
AIRN members keep sales records, which helps them to get better idea of inventory needs.
Empowering women in these efforts also required other adjustments. Due to their generally lower levels of education, lack of business expertise, limited freedom of movement, and the general gender segregation in Bangladesh, training had to be held in areas close to the women’s residences and teaching styles had to be modified. For many women, this was their first formal professional training. We found that participatory exercises increased engagement and adoption of the material over more traditional “classroom” approaches. And to ensure the sustainability of these new retailers, additional initiatives were designed to enhance their leadership and decision-making skills.
For Swapna Mondol, the training has given her a new confidence. “I used to sell agro-inputs, clothes, and rice from one store,” she told us. “When I joined AIRN, I found out that having inputs and food together can be hazardous to me and to my customers. So, I shifted my agro-inputs to another shop and feel more comfortable now to run the business.”
Another AIRN participant, Swapna Begum, can now play a bigger role in supporting her family. “Earlier, working as a day laborer and tea stall owner, I faced difficulty in supporting my family. That’s why I wanted to serve in a role that would benefit my family and community better. AIP’s matching grants program has pushed me forward to be a successful woman entrepreneur in agro-inputs business”.
Efforts have paid off, but the lessons learned from them must be passed on, refined and repeated in rural areas around the world.
I can attest to the fact that these important and critical changes are possible even in a country where rigid societal and cultural attitudes prevail – as long as those attitudes are respected and carefully addressed.
It is in fact time to be “bold for change,” to empower women in rural societies, and prepare them to assume a greater role in addressing the challenge to feed our growing world.
Governments, nonprofits and other organizations must continue to work together to make this happen. All of our futures depend on it.