Chocolate as a Force for Change


What do you think about when you hear “cocoa”? Of course, chocolate comes to mind. Chocolate cake. Hot chocolate. Chocolate truffles. Whatever the cocoa or chocolate product, one thing is certain: consumers cannot get enough. In 2012, the retail market for chocolate candy alone was an estimated $107 billion. That being said, cocoa is, and will continue to be, a hot topic across agricultural sectors as consumer demand for cocoa and chocolate products rises. With a cocoa bean global market value of $10 billion and steadily increasing demand for cocoa and chocolate products, this cash crop is increasingly influential to developing economies, particularly in West Africa.   Ghana alone provides more than 20 percent of the supply. Despite the flourishing cocoa and chocolate market and Ghana’s notable contribution to the world’s cocoa supply, its cocoa communities remain some of the most impoverished, with women and girls being the most marginalized.

CARE has been a leading actor in Ghana since 1994, working in various areas including sexual health, HIV prevention, and women’s empowerment. In 2006 CARE partnered with Cargill, the United States’ largest privately held corporation and global food processing powerhouse, to address this inequity by improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across 110 communities in Ghana. Abena Afriyie (photo above) has depended on farming as her primary source of income for 20 years. Before our project interventions, Abena and many other farmers made on average $61 a month…$61 A MONTH! Individuals in cocoa communities lack funds for even the most basic necessities such as school fees, health care, and agricultural supplies for their farms.

Today the three-year partnership provides support to more than 5000 farmers across the country, helping to address key issues in cocoa communities including sustainable cocoa production, income generation, food and nutrition security, child labor, and gender inequality. Some specific project activities include Farmer Business School training, cultivation of demonstration farms, establishment of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA), food and nutrition security community counseling, and parent-teacher training on child labor prevention strategies.

Since 2013, more than 560 farmers have been trained through Farmer Business Schools where farmers receive the technical expertise needed to learn good agronomic practices to adopt and apply to their own farms. Additionally, 77 Village Savings and Loans Associations have been established to financially empower our farmers, providing both men and women with increased access to financial services such as microloans and savings. This output alone is key to addressing gender inequality, as women are now holding leadership positions within these groups while also becoming financially empowered through access to additional financial services.

“Although our culture did not allow women to speak out, with the inception of the VSLA and sensitizations on gender equity, women are now holding leadership positions and are able to contribute to decision making in the community” – VSLA committee member

During my field visit, I sat in on a VSLA meeting in Barniekrom and was fortunate enough to meet several community members and witness the savings process first hand. I could not fathom at that moment the significance of their contribution, but what I found was astonishing. One dollar one week, two dollars the next week, and BOOM. In total, these 77 VSLA groups have saved almost $50,000 to date, roughly an extra month and a half of income for each family. What do farmers do with the loans? Some need funds for farm restoration. Some need medicine. Others need money to pay for their children to attend school. Through the support of our project, VSLA members can now address these fundamental needs, investing in their businesses, children, and health to improve their own livelihoods.

Through this CARE-Cargill partnership, 85% of farmers have increased their cocoa production by an average of nearly 10%, contributing to an average increase of 67% in income! These farmers are now making more than 1.5 times more they did before. Abena now owns 31 acres of cocoa farm land, both jointly with her husband and personally. Today she stands proud as they are expanding their farm by an estimated 10 acres while building a new home to accommodate her six beautiful grandchildren. Farmers are seeing a return on investment and using their income to expand. Our work, however, is nowhere near done. Despite success stories like Abena, many cocoa-farmers still average only $102 a month. With continued ground support and guidance within our communities, we can multiply our impact to achieve sustainable, resilient, and prosperous farming communities.

Now when I hear the word “cocoa” I no longer think only of sweet treats. It’s much more complicated than that. I think of the intensive pod-cracking and seedling fermentation process. I think of children who spend their weekends fetching water to help their families on the farm. I think of the years of physical and time-intensive labor required to harvest tiny little seeds that eventually become chocolate, and, how little farmers actually make to supply our ever increasing demand.   

About the Author: Maria Hinson is the Senior Program Officer for the Cargill Partnership for the Food and Nutrition Security Unit at CARE USA. She has 2 years of experience in global health and international development, working with communities to improve ongoing program interventions. She has a Master’s in Global Health from the University of Notre Dame.

About the Program: CARE and Cargill's new three-year partnership is helping farmers and their families in developing countries increase their productivity and incomes, improve food security in their communities and better educate their children. In Ghana, the Prosperous Cocoa-Farming Communities (PROCOCO) project promotes more prosperous, sustainable and resilient cocoa-farming communities through a community development approach that engages civil society to increase cocoa production, reduce child labor, ensure food and nutrition security, and promote education in some of the country’s most impoverished regions.