Why sustainably sourcing cocoa improves lives
Elizabeth Ahou Yao, 38, is an enterprising woman who lives with her family in a cocoa-growing community in the West African country of Cote d’Ivoire.
Until just a few months ago, Elizabeth was illiterate. Thanks to General Mills’ support of the humanitarian organization CARE, Elizabeth has learned to read and write through a women’s literacy program.
“Before this program I couldn’t read, neither could I write. But now I can write my name and also calculate math. I also now earn my own income,” Yao says. “I am proud of myself.”
Yao and her family, like many in cocoa farming regions of West Africa, live in remote communities with little access to basic social services. This is changing. With support from General Mills and Cargill, CARE is helping to empower and strengthen 20 communities in coastal Ghana, and 10 more in neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire.
Cocoa farmers participating in the General Mills funded CARE programs have seen improved living conditions, thanks to new income generating activities that are made possible through a unique approach pioneered by CARE, known as Village Savings and Loans (VSLAs).
When a village establishes a VSLA, members deposit their savings – sometimes as little as 10 cents – in a group lockbox at weekly meetings. The group earns interest on loans made to members who borrow money to start or expand businesses, improve their farms or make other investments.
Together with other partners, General Mills and CARE are helping 4,327 cocoa farmers in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire to improve their livelihoods and household well-being through optimization and diversification of their cocoa farming activities and other programs.
Through collaboration with local cocoa agencies, farmers have gained increased access to technical farming support and practical training in modern agriculture. The Farmer Business School, a platform that equips farmers with knowledge about good agronomic practices and teaches business skills for farmers, helps local growers improve their productivity and overall farm management.
About 80 percent of farmers in the program have adopted agronomic practices such as pruning, pod breaking, drying and harvesting of cocoa to preserve the quality of beans. They also learn to counter enemies of cocoa trees, such as black pod disease and mirids, which are bugs that infect the trees.
Because of climate change, there is a growing concern about food and nutrition security. Farmers in our programs are learning about nutrition and food crop cultivation through partnerships with local agricultural and health authorities.
Income is increasing for both men and women, and household food and nutrition security is improving. Parents can better afford to send their children to school.
In rural Ghana, a new two unit classroom with an office for teachers has restored hope to Lydia Obosu, a 9-year- old attending the primary school. Lydia and her friends no longer walk 8 miles to attend school. Her community now has a basic school close by.
Through CARE-established Community Development Committees in Cote d’Ivoire, people participate directly to identify and prioritize community needs, which are addressed in collaboration with the local cocoa cooperatives and CARE.
As we reach the two-year point of our efforts, we see an improvement in communities’ access to education, food, water and expanded economic opportunities for women.
I am proud that CARE, together with General Mills and other partners, is helping to create more resilient cocoa communities in West Africa where farmers and their families can be more economically and food secure, and able to flourish into the future.
While there is much more work to be done, every bit of progress makes a difference.
Editor’s Note: As part of a commitment to sustainably source all of the cocoa used in our products, General Mills supports community development programs in West Africa’s Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The programs are led by the global humanitarian organization, CARE. The focus is to ensure that the smallholder farmers who grow cocoa, as well as their families and communities, can flourish.
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