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Côte d’Ivoire: Women cocoa producers lead the battle for access to land

The sun has risen, but the weather is cool and the air is dusty. Victoire Kouaglou, a 58-year-old grandmother of six, watches her cocoa beans as they dry on a large, black plastic bag. Mrs. Kouaglou lives in Duékoué, 500 km west of the capital city, Abidjan, where she is president of a women’s cocoa co-operative called Koado-Dué, which means “We are united” in the local language, Wè.

Mrs. Kouaglou has 63 hectares of cocoa trees, 53 hectares of producing cocoa plants and 10 hectares of new plants. In 2020, she produced about 15 tons of cocoa.

She has been lucky—most other women do not have the same kind of access to land for farming.

Mrs. Kouaglou explains: “Personally, I have not experienced any particular difficulty accessing land for my cocoa production because I purchased land for this purpose and I have the required administrative documents from the Rural Administration of Agriculture and Development, including documentation of purchase and ownership. Some women in my co-operative have been refused land for cocoa production by their husbands or other landowners on the grounds that the difficult work of cocoa production is not for women. Others have been denied access to land to prevent the women from claiming shares of family land.”

To help women gain access to land for cocoa production, Mrs. Kouaglou’s co-operative now meets with men who are reluctant to give land to women. 

Mrs. Kouaglou explains: “We meet with men, landowners, and parents to explain to them that when women have money, it is for the family; women help with the children’s schooling and with certain family expenses.”

Since it started in December 2001, the co-operative has gained 561 members, 312 of whom are women. During the 2020-2021 season, the members of Koado-Dué co-operative produced 400 tons of cocoa. The co-operative meets weekly to discuss land access for members and decide which communities they will visit in order to speak with men about their cause.

Dominique Kouman is a member of another co-operative in Yakassé-Attobrou, in southern Côte d’Ivoire, 80 km from Abidjan. Of its 3,300 members, only 300 are women. Mr. Kouman says the men of the co-operative have encouraged the women to produce cocoa, even though the work is difficult. 

He explains: “Thanks to our cocoa plantations, our wives benefit from the financial support we provide for their activities, and this has led other women to join. They are competent in their work.”

Marie Thérèse Dele is president of a union of co-operatives. Her group has 800 members and is an inter-regional union of women producers of coffee, cocoa, rubber, palm oil, and food crops. Like the Koado-Dué co-operative, the union helps educate village chiefs on the benefits of transferring land to women for cocoa production.

She explains: “I told the village chiefs that I had returned from Abidjan to cultivate the land. The chiefs said that women had no right to the land. I explained to them that their daughters, as well as their sons, did not choose their sex and have the same rights regardless. And a girl who produces cocoa earns more than the amount of her marriage dowry.”

Mrs. Dele says the chiefs were receptive to the message, and now grant their own daughters and other women in the village land to produce cocoa.

She adds that even some women needed convincing to take up cocoa production. “Many women were reluctant to take up cocoa production. They listened more to the men than to us. But some men have understood our message. Thanks to the media, they see what is happening in the world for women. Empowerment for women is on the move.”

Maria Ouattara is a gender expert at the Ivorian Ministry of Women, Family, and Children. She notes that most cocoa plantations in Cote d’Ivoire are owned by men, and women producers earn only half as much as men. She says that women, especially those who cannot read, are taken advantage of by male buyers, who offer them below market prices. Without alternatives, and without information on the market price of cocoa, women are often forced to sell their crops for less than they are worth.

Mrs. Kouaglou was recognized by the government of Côte d’Ivoire as the top female cocoa producer in Côte d’Ivoire in 2018. Already this season, her co-operative Koado-Dué has harvested 384 tons and hopes to reach 1,000 by September. Beyond just producing cocoa, Mrs. Kouaglou dreams of adding value.

She says, “My greatest dream is for our co-operative to build a technical partnership, create local processing, and produce our own chocolate.”

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.

Photo: Members of the women’s cocoa co-operative COPAZ, based in Kperedi, Côte d’Ivoire, pick higher-yielding cocoa seedlings on November 13, 2013. Credit: Nestlé.

This story was originally published in February 2022.