Promoting gender equality in the cocoa-chocolate value chain

Leader of the research which saw Cadbury become Fairtrade in 2009, Professor Stephanie Barrientos tells us how addressing deeply embedded gender inequalities in cocoa-producing regions could improve the long-term productivity and resilience of the cocoa-chocolate value chain overall.

Women play an important role at both the production and consumer end of the cocoa-chocolate value chain, but the chain demonstrates significant gender imbalance. Many confectionery companies, concerned about the future resilience of their supply chains, are now promoting women’s empowerment as part of their programmes to support cocoa farming.

Stephanie Barrientos

Stephanie Barrientos

Professor of Development Policy

Global Development Institute

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Addressing the imbalance

Female cocoa producers largely work on their husband’s land as unpaid family labour, and contribute an estimated 45% of labour input – typically at points in the production cycle critical to enhancing future crop yields and final production of quality beans. Yet only approximately 20% of recognised cocoa farmers are female.

As NGOs like Oxfam call for this imbalance to be addressed, leading brands have begun making public commitments to promoting gender equality. There is growing recognition that support for women’s economic and social empowerment not only leads to significant gains for them as individuals, but could make an important contribution to the future sustainability of quality cocoa production and cocoa communities.

Research in Ghana  

Research also shows that prioritising support for women working in cocoa production significantly improves the welfare of their children, households and communities. Linking the commercial and social dimensions of cocoa production could make an important contribution to the promotion of gender equality and thriving cocoa communities in the future.

Our research looked at two Ghanaian communities involved in the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership programme, established in 2008 to address challenges of the socio-economic sustainability of cocoa farming. It was expanded in 2012 by Mondelēz International under the Cocoa Life programme.

“women cocoa farmers still often face greater production constraints than male farmers, with less access to training, extension support, inputs and finance. ”

In Ghana traditional systems of land tenure mean that men constitute the majority of recognised farmers. In that capacity they are the primary recipients of training, extension services and access to finance, and they possess the passbooks required for sale of cocoa to licensed buying companies. Women working as unpaid family labour are reliant on their husband for access to information, inputs and income from cocoa, and are often not included in training.

There are signs of change, with more men bequeathing land and some male farmers ‘gifting’ part of their land to their spouse; however, women cocoa farmers still often face greater production constraints than male farmers, with less access to training, extension support, inputs and finance. This is despite the fact that their yields are often equivalent to those of male farmers.

Only concerted action involving multiple actors can address this, and it will be a slow process changing engrained attitudes and practices.


Our study generated the following provisional recommendations, designed to be further developed by all stakeholders to enhance gender equality in the cocoa-chocolate value chain. The industry needs:

  • Clear strategy and reporting on gender equality both within organisations and along their supply chains.
  • Better incentives to source from women cocoa producers, independent of their land tenure status.
  • Better access for women to cooperative unions and small producer organisations as cocoa producers.
  • Better information and training on women’s legal land rights; better implementation of government regulation on land rights; greater encouragement of land-gifting by male farmers to their spouses engaged in production.
  • Training sessions open to all engaged in cocoa production, and where possible provided at community level to ensure women are able to participate; more women trainers and gender sensitivity training for male trainers.
  • More women extension offers with more support to reach all farmers; women extension volunteers need better support, and compensation for their input.
  • Clearer strategies for public bodies to promote gender equality in cocoa, and clearer channels for community input into district and national policy formulation.
  • Greater alignment between public policy and commercial strategies to promote gender equality.
  • Better (commercial and social) rewards for both men and women engaged in cocoa farming, that take account of gender-differentiated needs.

The Global Development Institute (GDI) is the largest dedicated to development research and teaching in Europe and is also home to the Rory and Elizabeth Brooks Doctoral College. The results of the most recent Research Excellence Framework ranked GDI first for impact ranking in development studies in the UK, with many of our researchers deemed to be 'world-leading'. 

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