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Fairtrade coffee and cocoa: a sweet deal for women farmers?

Trade and Marketing

Through Fairtrade business models, women coffee farmers across Africa are being linked with ethical markets and sustainable incomes

© Georgina Smith/CIAT

Established and start-up companies worldwide are adopting Fairtrade – or similar trading models – to deliver higher social standards and incomes for producers. But are women farmers benefiting?

Following the global crash in cocoa prices, which dropped by a third during 2016/2017, a typical farmer in West Africa now receives around just 6% of the value of the final cocoa product and, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, lives on around €0.85 a day. The situation is even worse for women farmers, who carry out the lion’s share of the labour, but rarely own the land they farm, have fewer rights than men, and therefore receive even less of the profits.

The more lucrative processes of another thriving value chain – coffee – also take place outside of the poor producing countries of Asia, South America and sub-Saharan Africa. A handful of European and US transnational food giants, for instance, capture 40% of the value from each cup, whilst 25 million coffee farming families receive just 12% between them.

So, what is being done to provide cocoa and coffee producers with an improved living wage? And how are the rights of women farmers being addressed?

Investing in cocoa cooperatives

Leading international Fairtrade company, Divine Chocolate, is 44% owned by the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa farmers’ cooperative in Ghana. Of the 85,0000 Kuapa Kokoo members, more than a third are women. Divine invests 2% of its turnover into microfinance schemes and programmes to build capacity of women farmers in, for example, literacy and numeracy skills. As a result, women are better able to sign work contracts, negotiate prices and record transactions. “It is particularly important to me that women members see the benefit of organising themselves and receive training in skills, as well as cocoa farming, so they can earn more income, and save and use it sensibly,” says Fatima Ali, Kuapa Kokoo president.

In September 2018, Divine launched a new range of high-quality dark chocolate bars across Scandinavia, using cocoa beans from São Tomé. The company is working with the CECAQ-11 cooperative on the island, which has 1,135 farmer members – 393 of whom are women – who receive the Fairtrade premium of €176 above the market price per tonne. The new deal will “…help revitalise the cocoa industry by providing long-term relationships and access to market for cocoa farmers,” says CECAQ-11 co-op director, Adalberto Luis. The premium has already been used by CECAQ-11 farmers to set-up a primary school, and to improve the local electricity supply and road infrastructure.

In Côte d’Ivoire, CAYAT – another Fairtrade-certified cocoa co-operative, is producing over 8,000 t of cocoa each year and selling to some of the biggest Fairtrade chocolate brands like KitKat. Under the leadership of female farmer, Awa Bamba, and using the Fairtrade premium, many women have been able to establish separate agribusinesses in fruit or vegetable farming to generate additional income. Bamba has also initiated diversification into poultry and egg production, through which women members are earning an additional 25,000 CFA francs (around €38), on average, per month. This helps to address the problem of cocoa price volatility and provides income in between the cocoa harvests.

Specialty coffee

To ensure sustainable livelihoods for the coffee-growing communities of Kenya and Tanzania, Vava Angwenyi founded Vava Coffee in Nairobi, Kenya in 2009. Since its inception, the company has achieved global recognition for its premium coffees – including medium, dark roast, and Italian espresso – as well as for its social impact.

The 30,000 smallholders that provide the coffee beans to Vava are paid an above-market price for the specialty coffee, increasing their coffee revenues from €222 to €338 each year. And, by directly linking smallholders to markets that are keen on ethically-sourced, traceable coffees, this model provides farmers with sustainable livelihoods. Vava Coffee exports to buyers in Europe and the US, but has recently developed a direct-to-consumer arm to the business, enabling the sale of smaller amounts of coffee. In 2018, Angwenyi launched the company’s first line of Fairtrade-certified coffee, owned by smallholder farmers from two women-centric co-ops in Wangumape Microlot and Geoglad Estate in the Rift Valley.

In Uganda’s Mpigi district, women coffee farmers are also achieving fair prices for their coffee beans. Elizabeth Nalugemwa founded her social enterprise, Kyaffe Farmers Coffee, in 2017 to help local women access new markets in the country. “We purchase our coffee at Fairtrade prices from 50 cooperatives consisting of 1,500 farmers in two growing regions in our country,” Nalugemwa explains. The company trains women to grow 100% high quality organic coffee, that they process themselves into a finished branded product and sell directly to the final consumer through local trade fairs, events and markets. Meeting with buyers directly means farmers are able to increase their profit margins and avoid the involvement of middlemen and traders.

The women farmers who supply Kyaffe are provided with training in fertiliser use and pest control methods to increase their production. According to Angwenyi, who also aims to empower women farmers, further education and agricultural training is essential so that smallholders can effectively utilise their resources and ensure improved, sustainable incomes in the long-term.        

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