In Ghana millions of acres devoted to cocoa agriculture are held by tribal communities, families and individuals. The typical farm covers about 5 acres. The picture is quite similar in Nigeria where average farms are even smaller, 2 or 3 acres. Here it is estimated that the system is more labor intensive, believed to be of 86.5 man/days per ha. per annum as compared to others because of the close spacing between the trees (1.2 mts x 1.2 mts vs 3 mts x 3 mts.). Most farmers and their families live on the farms or near their farm. The incentive to farmers and their families to work the farm (and at times to hire labor) is because with more hands in the field some diseases as Phytophthora pod rot and weeding are better controlled with a resulting improved yield, hence the man/day rate has maintained a constant in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroun.
In Ghana particularly labor is greater because their cocoa can only be sold when thoroughly dried. Man/day labor in the Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and some parts of Indonesia is slightly less mainly because the buyer of cocoa travels to the farm or nearby village and purchases the cocoa still wet or partly dried.
The compilation and study of labor usage has been attempted in different areas, but the data rapidly becomes obsolete due to crop demands resulting from the international price fluctuations. Regardless, it is suggested that the work done by a woman in the cocoa field is two thirds that of a male counterpart. Some tasks in the cocoa agriculture require physical strength that is not present in a woman worker, hence the tasks that are assigned to women (agricultural stage) are relatively limited. Jobs considered physically demanding such as clearing of the land, fumigation, pruning (required more often as the tree ages), shade reduction, “plucking” of the pods from the cocoa trees, are not usually assigned to women. Additionally, there still exist in some rural parts, cultural practices and traditions that deem it inappropriate to require a woman to perform certain tasks.
Weeding to prevent soil nutrient competition, is often performed by women until the tree is strong enough and has a healthy canopy. Larger plantations, of course, use herbicides.
For the purpose of estimation, assuming average yields (1,000 kgs per annum); harvesting, transport, fermentation and drying are estimated to require 3 to 5.5 man/days which translates to 4 to 7 women/day labor. To read more about the role of Women in the preparation of Cocoa, please click here.
“The cultivation of cocoa tends to be more labor intense in comparison with coffee, coconuts, rubber and oil palm” (Andreae 1980).
Andreae quoted some approximate values for labor usage :
40.0 man/days per annum
250.0 (but depending on the intensity of the tree population it could be lower)
Nevertheless, the collection of reliable data from small cocoa farmers is particularly difficult as no formal records are kept. The most reliable way is for a researcher to make his own records during visits to target areas.
For the reasons discussed above, most farm work is conducted by men, although most certainly there are tasks where women are very active, such as scooping the beans from the already opened husks, turning the beans drying under the sun, and sewing the jute sacs. Women in the farms normally tend to the needs of the family. When female labor is hired during the harvest, the wages in most countries are the same as those for men, perhaps another reason why men are preferred because of their expected higher productivity.
Due to different practices followed in individual regions, even within countries, the participation of women and their assigned tasks vary enormously. For instance, because of the most popular method of sun drying cocoa beans in Ecuador, it is necessary to “clean” the beans. This job is mostly undertaken by women workers. This is not the case in Ghana or Brazil where sun drying is accomplished while protecting the beans from foreign matters and waste. It is interesting to note however that there is no specific pattern for the assignment of tasks to women, except during the harvest when the scooping of the beans from the opened pods is primarily performed by women in all producing countries.
Given the great differences in the systems of production from one country to another, it is difficult to find a common percentage that could reflect an average participation of the female work force. Hence, the table below reflects guesstimates inasmuch as there are no records kept anywhere at any level. It is worth mentioning that unlike the coffee agricultural sector, in cocoa there are no associations or specific groups that house ‘women only’ involved in the cocoa sector at any level, although all associations and cooperatives are open to all who qualify.
The guesstimates below correspond to countries ranging in production from high to low: Ghana (680,000 tons), Brazil (153,000 tons), Ecuador (135,000 tons), Perú (20,000 tons)
Table 1 : Women’s Participation as a Percentage of Total Workforce
Dominican Rep. %
2 - 5
As members of the family
5 - 10
15 - 40
For their own account
For the account of a Co.
Laboratories, i.e. QC, Certifications
10 - 20
35 - 40
15 – 25
Source : Guesstimates from the private sector.
Women’s Ownership of cocoa farmlands
The nature of the cocoa cultivation and its high physical and labor demands could be the reason why ownership of cocoa farms by women is minimal. In my experience (Brazil, Dominican Republic) when a large farm becomes the sole ownership of a female (inheritance from parents or widowhood), it is normal to expect that the farm will be sold by the female inheritor. However, small plots or cocoa orchards remain in the hands of females who have learned the trade during their childhood. Seldom do we see females investing in the acquisition of a cocoa farm. Hence, the number of farms in women ownership is negligible in the context of the world cocoa production.
Table 2 : Women’s Ownership as a Percentage of Total (including co-ownership)
In association with other
Cocoa bean yield - tonnage as a percentage of their country’s total crop
3 - 5
Tonnage traded by women domestically
10 – 18
40 - 50
10 – 15
Companies involved in cocoa
Exporters (ownership or co-ownership)
Women as Marketers
Female cocoa farmers, however small in number, are savvy and do their own marketing of their produce. For instance, “burandeiras” (Brazilian female owner of a small cocoa plot), often approach the Brazilian cocoa industries with a sample of their crop and negotiate the sale of their cocoa. This is also true in Ecuador where the female farmer also deals with cocoa exporters.
Very few women engage in the role of “intermediaries”. In Central America, they are called “coyotes”. They buy from many small farmers paying them in cash, and collect their cocoa for resale to either exporters or local industries. But basically the task of intermediaries is mostly performed by men world-wide.
Women as exportersThis is an area that recently has been favored by women. With the advent of computers, better schooling, and the ease of communications world-wide, the percentage of female traders has increased, mostly as representatives of medium or large corporations, They are students of the pricing mechanisms used internationally, and are capable of sustaining daily touch with the international markets. Thus they actively participate in the day to day trade of cocoa and cocoa products.
Women participation in trading activities is visible mostly in Asian cocoa producing countries (Indonesia, Malaysia) and South America (Brazil, Ecuador, Perú). However, numerically the female sector is still less than the world sector.
It is believed that there are no companies or agencies involved in the trade of cocoa that are owned by women, although some could have a small percentage of ownership obtained perhaps as an incentive for their services.
Cocoa Processing Industry
Rarely are women owners or co-owners of processing plants. It is believed that such ownership in the cocoa producing countries could occur due to legalities rather than voluntary investment.
However minor, women do have a role in administrative responsibilities in areas such as manufacturing, purchasing, accountancy, quality control, logistics, etc. A fair percentage of QC laboratories employ female biologists, technicians, and researchers (Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Ecuador, Perú, Central America, as examples. I am not aware of the presence of women in the African counterparts.)
 Statistically, man/day is the labor of one man in 10 days in which basis it equates to 10 men working in one day.
 Estimated production International crop year 2008/09