Interview with Suzanne Ngoeyok
At the PFA meeting on February 15, 2018, John Kehoe, Director of Sustainability for Guittard Chocolate, described West Africa’s essential role in the world cocoa industry.
John and Suzanne Ngoeyok (who joined the discussion via Skype) described the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), which is a nonprofit, international organization that promotes sustainability in the cocoa industry.
The World Cocoa Foundation envisions a sustainable and thriving cocoa sector where farmers prosper, cocoa growing communities are empowered, human rights are respected, and the environment is conserved. The Foundation has 100 members on six continents, including farmers, processors, and manufacturers—among them, Guittard Chocolate.
The World Cocoa Foundation operates many initiatives, one of which is the Cocoa Livelihoods Program (CLP) that focuses on Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria.
CLP’s purpose is to accelerate the productivity and profitability of cocoa, plus strengthen social development and the quality of life for cocoa farmers and their communities. Among many funders of the Cocoa Livelihoods Program are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walmart Foundation and leading companies in the chocolate industry, including Guittard.
One goal of the Cocoa Livelihoods Program is gender empowerment. CLP aims to achieve gender equity and enhance women’s involvement in farm family decision-making.
Interview with Suzanne Ngoeyok
Suzanne Ngoeyok lives in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire where she is Country Director of the World Cocoa Foundation. She is also Director of the WCF’s Cocoa Livelihoods Program.
Pencils for Africa (PFA) Executive Board Member Paola Gianturco, who has written six books about women and girls around the world, initiated this email interview with Suzanne to learn more about CLP’s gender empowerment program.
PAOLA: Thinking about the small farms in African countries I’ve visited: typically, women do the farming and sell the produce. But I understand it’s the men who run cocoa farms and sell the products. How do you explain the gender-role reversal?
SUZANNE: We need to make a clear distinction between food crops and cash crops. Food crops are largely cultivated by women and cash crops by men.
CLP uses resources and expertise developed by its members to improve farmers’ income. Companies and cooperatives have developed planting material, distribution channels, good agricultural practices, training outlets, and a curriculum that can improve crops. Newly, CLP will use those tools to help women in farming households (not just men) improve their living conditions.
PAOLA: In many cultures men are given the right to spend the money they earn on themselves (they buy bicycles, beer, cell phones, etc.). But if women earn money (or are the families’ financial decision makers), they tend to spend money feeding and educating their children. Is that the case in the areas where CLP works—and if so, how do most men in your program feel about CLP’s helping women generate income?
SUZANNE: The countries where we work are, in fact, not an exception to this global, gender-based spending pattern. Investing in women has a significant impact on children’s education and health. Women’s empowerment is the key to economic growth, political stability, and social transformation. Our work consists in developing tools and approaches for our members so they can offer gender-inclusive, gender-sensitive programs.
Men only feel frightened if we talk of making the women “the rulers of their world” (this is true for men globally). Men welcome the development of the capacities of their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters to become active and contributing members of the community.
PAOLA: CLP’s objective is to involve 200,000 families. How many are involved now; what is your target date for reaching the goal?
SUZANNE: CLP member companies have registered 163,000 farmers to date with this household approach. The target date for reaching 200,000 families is 2020. The objective of our program is not to reach more farmers, but to increase farmers’ incomes.
PAOLA: The CLP program includes training women about HIV AIDs, reading and math, entrepreneurial skills—and training men in gender equality.
What are the biggest challenges your program faces trying to accomplish these goals?
SUZANNE: Our biggest challenges in addressing the issue of women’s empowerment are:
- Outreach: We need to identify the right people (community leaders, husbands, cooperatives, women, girls) to engage in each community to have an impact. No communities are the same.
- Assessing the needs each audience and crafting the right message for that audience. Also, we need to be mindful not to disrupt the community order. One way to maintain that order is to create equity (everyone earns a fair income from cocoa) instead of equality (everyone earns the very same amount). CLP believes that creating equity is the preferred approach in most communities.
- Access to capital resources such as land is the biggest barrier to women’s empowerment. Any changes (or greater balance) in decision making is linked to economic power; we have to adapt our interventions/support to address this innovatively.
- We want to build community ownership of the transformation process to sustain impact (and results) long term.
PAOLA: If you could give one piece of advice to the daughter of a cocoa farmer in one of the four CLP countries, what would it be?
- Complete at least your secondary education.
- Learn a trade.
- Analyze your environment (all cocoa communities are not the same).
- Learn about your opportunities as a woman of your community.
Then decide whether your future is within or outside your community.