Cameroon is a country rich in natural resources and agricultural products such as coffee, cassava and cacao. This nation is the fifth-largest cacao producer in the world. The industry is a vital source of economic activity for small-scale rural farmers and contributes to about 1.2% of the country’s total GDP. However, female cacao farmers in Cameroon struggle to benefit from this industry.
The Gender Inequality Index ranks Cameroon 141 of 189. Expectations have determined that women must take care of daily chores such as cooking and fetching water. On average, women spend 8.2 more hours completing unpaid household tasks than men. Cacao fields are typically family-run enterprises. Thus, women often work in these fields as well. Cacao farming particularly affects women because it does not generate a lot of income.
Cameroon’s Cacao Industry
Cameroon liberalized its cacao industry in hopes of recovering from the economic crisis in the 1980s. At this time, the value of the national currency fell significantly after global oil prices fell.
Consequently, the industry swiftly deregulated. The regulatory branch of Cameroon overseeing cacao production and quality control lost its influence without government support. As a result, this lead to corruption of local middlemen, a lack of accurate information on cacao production and fluctuations in the quality of produced cacao. Only 10% of Cameroon’s cacao producers belonged to producer associations by 2002. Thus, Cameroon continues to struggle to compete in the world market.
Female Cacao Farmers in Cameroon
Female cacao farmers in Cameroon face additional challenges to the already competitive market due to the patriarchal society. Cacao production grew from 123,000 tons in 2000 to 290,000 in 2016. However, the quality of cacao decreased due to a lack of quality control in pre and post-harvest activities.
Men and women conduct different tasks in cacao production. Men take on physically demanding and dangerous tasks such as pesticide spraying and harvesting. Women focus on post-harvest activities fundamental to the quality of cacao such as pod-breaking, fermenting and drying.
Although labor is equally distributed, female cacao farmers in Cameroon often do not benefit from cacao revenue because they do not own the land. About 3% of women own a house without a property title and 1.6% own a property title in their name. This means men in households keep the profit that the cacao generates.
Furthermore, women lack representation in cacao production decision-making. In addition, women often do not have equal access to education. Men receive an average of 13 years of education, while women receive only 11 years. As a result, about 71.6% of women and 82% of men in Cameroon are literate. The lack of education hinders women’s ability to maintain financial independence.
Telcar is one of Cameroon’s largest cacao trading companies. The International Finance Corporation installed cassava grinding machines in 10 cooperatives to help female cacao farmers in Cameroon. Many women supplement their income by selling manually-produced cassava starch to local markets. Kate Fotso grew up in a cocoa-producing village and is now managing director of Telcar. She installed cassava grinding machines to ease the laborious process, empower women and improve their economic status.
Female farmers in organized management committees learned how to use, maintain and pass knowledge about the machines to others. Additionally, Telcar recruited female farmers into financial literacy training programs and worked with micro-finance institutions to support women’s cassava enterprises. It increased their access to finance through saving and encouraged them to take on leadership roles within their cooperatives.
The Farmgate Cacao Alliance
The Farmgate Cocoa Alliance is a global nonprofit organization that focuses on achieving cacao sustainability in Cameroon. Women Empowerment Through Cacao Farming is its project that takes a holistic approach in supporting female farmers. The organization trains women to run professional and sustainable cacao farms. It allocated female community field agents to 50 women within the region to help identify group needs, challenges and lessons learned.
Furthermore, female farmers in Cameroon received encouragement to form cooperatives for better market access, more stable income and received 2 HA of land to combat a lack of access to farmland. Finally, the organization taught women advocacy skills to approach local and national governments concerning legal restrictions such as applying for land, financing and other assets and services.
SNV Netherlands Development Organization
SNV is a nonprofit from the Netherlands that focuses on empowering women through the cacao value chain. The Cameroon Golden Cacao Project aims to increase cooperatives and farmers’ income by implementing standardized post-harvest practices. The goal was to increase the production of high-quality cocoa by 10% by 2020.
Cooperatives and partners created more than 400 jobs for women. In addition, 500 of the 2,000 cooperative members who practice standardized knowledge were women by 2020. Women continue to increase their involvement at the post-harvest stages of the cacao value chain. In the future, women will develop other income generations and business models to find relevant financial partners.
Although female cacao farmers in Cameroon face many difficulties, organizations’ initiatives are already improving the lives of these workers. Providing educational opportunities will empower women and improve cacao production and the economy.
– Charlotte Ehlers