Blommer Chocolate Company Women cocoa farmer
A woman cocoa farmer stands by her crop. Photo provided by Blommer Chocolate Co. 

A funny thing happened to me while attending a commodities forum; I was caught off guard. And no, it had nothing to do with the price of cocoa, sugar or dairy ingredients, since those of us who track headlines relating to confectionery issues tend to be somewhat aware of trend lines.

Rather, it had to do with the empowerment of women in agriculture.

Last Wednesday, while attending the Blommer Chocolate Co.’s commodities seminar in Chicago, I had the opportunity to view a short video entitled “Feed the Future,” produced by the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2012. 

Bernie Pacyniak

Kip Walk, Blommer’s director of cocoa and sustainability, was scheduled to lead off the post-lunch session of the nearly day-long program. Mind you, after looking at scores of charts and then finishing off a steak and crab cake lunch at Morton’s Steak House, it’s not unusual to see attendees register a post-meal yawn during the afternoon.

But Walk, who’s an experienced speaker and one of the most knowledgeable cocoa and sustainability experts in the field, recognized the challenge. So he kicked off his talk by showing the audience (about 100 or so) a short video.

Narrated by Matt Damon — and punctuated by Sheryl Crow singing “I shall believe” at the end — the brief film pointed out that the world will need a 70 percent increase in food production by 2050 to feed the billions living on this planet.

It also noted that the majority of work done in many key agricultural areas falls on the hands and backs of women.

According to the United Nations, women perform 66 percent of the world’s work; produce 50 percent of the world’s food, but only manage 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property. Unfortunately, because of a lack of access by women to land, seeds, water, credit and markets, yields fall short.

But if one were to equip women with the right tools, training and technology, we could see a 30 percent increase in food production, which translates to another 150 million mouths feed. The video went on to cite examples of how investing in women has produced results.

For example, in Kenya, women who have access to the same resources as men posted a 22 percent increase in crop yields. In Bangladesh, mothers who have greater control over family funds, spend more of those monies on their family’s well being. And in Brazil, through programs that target women and strengthen their roles in markets, the population living in extreme poverty has been cut by half and malnutrition has been reduced by 73 percent.

As for cocoa, there’s plenty of reason to foster female empowerment. Even though cocoa farming has long been viewed as men’s work, most farms couldn’t have been run without women involved. Slowly, many farmers are now being run by women, and seeing the benefits as a result. In Ghana, nearly 25 percent of the cocoa farms are run by women.

Does that mean they are better cocoa farmers than men? Well, they certainly can be, if given a chance. Given the obligations that women face already, such as raising a family, cooking, cleaning and helping on the farm, they are already quite adept at multi-tasking. Moreover, most statistics bear out that motivated women are incredible.

So it wasn’t a coincidence that Kip Walk cited Madame Sopi, a participant in Blommer’s Sustainable Origins program, during his presentation either. She’s embraced intercropping, which calls for planting banana, pineapple and papaya alongside cocoa to increase revenue and provide protection for price swings.

I realize that many of the confectionery big boys, such as Mars and Kraft, have recognized the importance of empowering women, particularly in cocoa-growing areas. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that more needs to be done. The payback speaks for itself.

Oh yea, as for the headline, I was driving to work today when I heard Katy Perry’s hit tune, Roar. I recognize it’s a pop tune, but the lyrics seemed to connect regarding empowering women. It’s time to give women in cocoa and other agricultural crops a chance to roar for the benefit of all.

“I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar."

—     Katy Perry, Roar