In celebration of International Women’s Day on 8th March, I’m happy to reflect on and share progress for recent initiatives Ferrero has undertaken together with our partners to elevate and support women who play a significant role in our cocoa supply chain.

The Ivory Coast is an important source of cocoa for Ferrero. Together with Ghana, it accounts for roughly 65% of the world’s total cocoa production. This supply relies on around two million, mainly smallholder, cocoa farmers, of which only a small number are women-led co-operatives, who face considerable challenges when it comes to making a sustainable living.

Supporting female farmers is an essential element of our strategy to drive sustainable long-term economic, environmental and social change, and in particular to ensure child protection within the supply chain. Therefore, to create meaningful impact, we have sought out partnerships to implement programs that empower women and help reduce gender inequality.  

One such collaboration, launched in 2021, is already yielding positive results: The Cocoa Fruit Lab project. With support from Ferrero and other partners, our supplier ETG/Beyond Beans implemented a program aimed at: improving farmer income among cocoa-growing households; tackling gender inequality by giving women leading roles in production and sales; and empowering these farmers by strengthening their decision-making power and ownership in the value chain.

How did we do it? By creating revenue opportunities within existing production processes.

When chocolate is produced, the white pulp that surrounds the cocoa bean is usually lost as a waste product on the plantation, but if collected and processed, it can be turned into cocoa juice. While relatively unknown in Europe, cocoa juice has a refreshing sweet flavour and is already very popular in South America. Collecting the pulp and processing it into juice comes with minimal investments or need for training and has the potential to increase farmer income by 30%.

This project, which was trialled with an all-female cooperative, COVIMA, has created the first entirely women-owned micro-factory in the Ivory Coast to produce sustainable cocoa, specialty chocolate and cocoa juice.

Women of the all-female cooperative, COVIMA who have initiated the Cocoa Fruit Lab. Image source: Ferrero

By increasing women’s participation in the sector, the Cocoa Fruit Lab promotes female entrepreneurship across the supply chain and shifts new value addition processes to origin countries. It also creates opportunities for female farmers to improve the quality of their cocoa beans, access higher-paying specialty markets and therefore yield more profit, improving their quality of life. As 39-year-old cocoa farmer, Zouzou N’Guessan Helene, put it, “As we add value into the chain of production, we add value into our personal lives as producers.”

Another Ferrero initiative that has seen significant, and successful, engagement among women cocoa farmers is the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) initiative. Community-based groups made up of 15-30 individuals come together to collectively save a small portion of their incomes. In turn, group savings provide access to small loans for its members. By 2020/21, Ferrero and its partners helped establish 937 majority-women VSLA groups who in 20/21 alone have collectively saved €1.2m. Loans granted are often used to set up small businesses or to pay for their children’s school needs.

Earlier this year Ferrero published its Cocoa Charter and Cocoa Action Plan, furthering our role in a cocoa industry that is good for both people and nature. It follows last year’s achievement of ensuring all cocoa used in Ferrero products has been sourced through leading certification bodies and other independently managed standards.

Both the Charter and Action Plan reaffirm our long-standing support for farmer income generation, the protection of children and developing communities, and the promotion of sustainable agroforestry. This distinct sourcing approach ensures we know the farmers Ferrero sources cocoa from and can support their communities in a meaningful way.

Ensuring supply chain resilience is vital to all Ferrero’s partners across the supply chain and empowering women to become agents of change in their own communities goes a long way in achieving that. While we are very proud of the progress we have made with our partners as part of the Cocoa Fruit Lab initiative or other projects, we know there is much more that can be done. This is just the first step as part of a much longer-term commitment to the female farmers we work with.

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