We love chocolate ice cream: Phish Food, Chocolate Fudge brownie (now in both dairy & vegan friendly versions), the list goes on! And part of the reason we love our chocolate ice cream is because it’s Fairtrade cocoa that we use to make it. Recently our friends at the Fairtrade Foundation went on a visit to the farmers’ cooperatives that Ben & Jerry’s support through Fairtrade cocoa. We wanted to share one of the amazing stories they brought back – the story of a woman called Julienne.
A single mother of two teenagers, Julienne has been a member of Capressa since 2013. Working on her father’s farm as well as her own, she has become a prominent member of the co-operative. As President of the women’s group within the co-operative, she is not only a farmer but also an advocate for promoting self-determination and confidence amongst the women farmers.
'There is a problem with women taking part, for example with speaking up in meetings and coming to meetings where they can gain knowledge. They often refuse. Many women are held back by their husbands. Some of them also hold themselves back.’ For Julienne, the women’s group can offer women farmers extra help and support in cocoa farming. They also share ideas on how to use the Fairtrade Premium. For her, the Fairtrade Premium is the most important aspect of being a member of Capressa, and the main reason why she took on such an active role within the co-operative. She explains that the Fairtrade Premium is given to the farmers at a time of year when they often have no other sources of generating income. This can help cushion the precariousness of farming: ‘In my own village some people come begging to me asking for a loan. There are a lot of people in this situation.’
Cocoa and diversification
As well as cocoa she also grows rubber and vegetables such as aubergine and tomatoes to sell at the local market. Recently, after speaking to another member she decided to use her Fairtrade Premium money to buy 400 chickens to raise and then sell on locally. It’s proving to be a good source of income and she has plans to double her chickens next year.
Labour and climate challenges
Cocoa farming is very labour intensive, and for Julienne finding skilled local labour can be a challenge. She finds people through word of mouth and currently pays four workers to help her on her farms. ‘Some people come and they don’t have the skill or the capacity to work on the farm. Sometimes it is difficult.’ She often finds that if she is short for labour, the yield and quality of the cocoa is affected. She’s hopeful that the work the co-operative is doing on training young people will mean that there will be more skilled workers available in the future.
Her cocoa yields are also affected by the rains, and in the past few years she has noticed that the rainfall has become less predictable: ‘I hope the rain becomes normal. We want the climate to be restored like it was in the past. Otherwise it is difficult but we just cope with it.’ This year, her farm produced 2.7 tonnes of cocoa. This was down from 3.5 tonnes last year and she thinks part of the reason for the reduction was the lack of rainfall. It’s not just the cocoa that is affected but also other crops that are produced locally. Climate change causes poverty – if you don’t produce enough rice or maize for example you have to sell the little you have for a high price. Parents often have to go to the bank and ask for loans to pay for their children’s school fees.
Sharing knowledge is the future
Like all mothers she worries about her children and wants them to make a good life for themselves. With her eldest studying for her Masters degree, and their youngest doing his A Levels, they are happy to do small jobs around the farm during the holidays but they don’t see farming as a job for when they get older. The money she receives from her cocoa pays for their university and school fees. For Julienne, the positive influence of the co-operative extends beyond its members and she finds herself sharing the knowledge she has gained: ‘The training has helped to increase production. It has also helped my neighbours who aren’t part of Capressa – when I pass their farm I often stop by and pass on my knowledge.’