10 Dec 2021

Fairtrade’s Women School of Leadership holds graduation ceremony for third group of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire

WSOL graduation dec2021
43 women and 17 men, all Ivorian cocoa farmers, graduated from the Fairtrade Women's School of Leadership in December 2021

Fairtrade Africa held a graduation ceremony today for the third cohort of its Women School of Leadership programme in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, bringing the total number of graduates to 122 men and women to date. The event was preceded by a final workshop on 9 December 2021, to review and learn from the programme's activities. In attendance were Mr. Moussa Diarrassouba, representative of the Ivorian Minister of Gender and Children, Mrs. Nasseneba Toure; Fairtrade Global CEO, Dr. Nyagoy Nyong’o; leadership of Fairtrade Africa, Max Havelaar France, Agence Française de Développement (AFD), and Fond Français pour l'environnement mondial (FFEM); Fairtrade producer organizations; as well as commercial partner organizations and stakeholders.

The graduation ceremony was held to present the immediate results of the first phase of implementation of the Women's School of Leadership under the Équité 2 Programme, financed by the AFD and FFEM. During the ceremony to mark the end of the nine-month learning process, each group of participants from seven Fairtrade certified producer organizations involved in the project proposed an income-generating activity project to be implemented in their communities.

The Women's School of Leadership is a training, mentoring and coaching programme aimed at improving participants' basic leadership skills and application of human rights provisions on gender issues in their own environment. Since 2017, the programme in Côte d’Ivoire has helped to build the capacity of women and men in a number of areas, covering topics such as personal development, gender, leadership, income diversification, project management, strategic negotiation, financial management and entrepreneurship.

Speaking at the event, the Ivorian Ministry of Gender, Women and Children, Mr. Moussa Diarrassouba, said that empowering women was critical to social and national development. “We must commit ourselves collectively and individually to empower women whilst we adopt a zero tolerance for gender-based violence, in order to ensure a prosperous, just and non-discriminatory Côte d'Ivoire, where women, girls and children can thrive," he remarked. Mr. Diarrassouba also took the occasion to pledge support for the Fairtrade programme.

“The Women's School Of Leadership has helped to build the capacity of both women and men in areas ranging from personal development and leadership to financial management and entrepreneurship which are all key skills for success," added Fairtrade International Global CEO Dr. Nyagoy Nyong’o during remarks at the graduation ceremony. "We are proud of you. In our traditional parlance, we say that women make the difference, and the evidence is seen today with the change and training these women have received.”

Through the Équité 2 funding, a total of 144 women and men from 14 Ivorian Fairtrade certified cocoa cooperatives will be trained until 2025. Each graduate will relay the knowledge and good practices they gained via training for several thousand women in their respective communities.

In 2021, a first set of 43 women and 17 men from seven Fairtrade cooperatives spread over the southwest and southeast zones of Côte d'Ivoire completed the course and received graduation certificates. They join 62 graduates of previous cohorts in 2018 and 2020.

The previous graduates are finding success and lessons learned through their ongoing income generation projects. For instance, two school canteens using the food crops grown by a women’s association have been set up, providing more than 100 primary schoolchildren with lunch. Seven cassava farms grown by a women’s association helped to feed communities during difficult COVID-19 times. Fourteen women's groups have been supported for investments into the livelihoods of women farmers from their cooperative leadership.

Why a Women's School of Leadership?

According to research by the African Development Bank, women make up almost half of the cocoa workforce in West Africa and are involved in almost all stages of cocoa production. In Côte d'Ivoire, women represent 68 percent of the active cocoa farming workforce (as owners or workers). They are therefore essential to the sustainability of the entire cocoa industry. Although cocoa is perceived as a male crop, in all cocoa-producing countries, women play an essential role as cocoa producers in the cocoa fields, in the homes, where they feed and support family members; and in the cocoa farming communities that supply local markets.

Despite this essential role, women's needs as cocoa producers are not being met. Indeed, less than 5 percent of agricultural extension services reach women, only 15 percent of extension staff are women. Women receive only 10 percent of loans to smallholders. Women are 30 to 40 percent less likely than men to have access to essential agricultural inputs.

In addition, in the case of smallholder farms, women and girls often work as unpaid farm workers on family farms and have little control over the income from the sale of cocoa. They represent a large proportion of the often 'invisible' or 'hidden' family workers and are therefore excluded from labour force data and/or services. Furthermore, as women often do not have land titles, they cannot always join producer organizations and access the services provided. When women do join producer organizations or work at organizations that rely on hired labour, they are rarely in leadership positions and their needs and voices are not heard.

Some highlights