Ideas & Updates

Digitizing payments in the Ghana cocoa sector: The path to financial equality

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On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of our members one year on from Reaching Financial Equality for Women, a 10-point action plan to ensure stronger, more resilient economies that build on the strengths of women and girls. Despite multiple challenges still faced by female cocoa farmers in Ghana, Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod) has made great strides to ensure payment digitization meets their needs.

This blog highlights recent achievements, persistent challenges and upcoming opportunities to achieve financial equality for women.

Ghana is the world’s second-largest exporter of cocoa beans, employing approximately 888,000 small-scale farmers, 30 percent of whom are women. The country has made great progress in narrowing the financial inclusion gender gap, yet many challenges remain. Women in the cocoa supply chain face obstacles ranging from land ownership to accessing suitable financial services, trainings and information. In Ghana, women farmers earn 25 to 30 percent less than male farmers due to structural challenges in farm management systems. For instance, women have limited access to productive farm resources, technical training in modern technologies, credit facilities, membership of cooperatives, and markets. This results in productivity and income inequality compared to their male counterparts.

90% of farmer-level transactions in cocoa are still carried out in cash

Every year, 90 percent of farmer-level transactions in cocoa, totaling approximately GHS 7 billion (US$1.26 billion), are still carried out in cash according to the Better Than Cash Alliance’s report, The Hidden Costs of Cash to Ghana’s Cocoa Sector. The sector loses approximately US$21 million annually in financial costs that include cash management, transport, theft, fraud and other losses.

Digitizing payments can significantly benefit the lives of female farmers, helping bring them into the formal economy, accelerating their financial inclusion, and increasing access to diverse opportunities that follow digital adoption. Digital payments also help build resilience to climate change by enabling services such as savings, credit, insurance, remittances and government-to-person (G2P) payments that can provide vital support for women farmers and their families as they manage new environmental realities.

In 2020, Cocobod launched an ambitious Cocoa Management System to digitize and improve transparency in the cocoa sector, including making all payments cashless. As part of this effort, payment digitization aims to increase women cocoa farmers’ earnings in line with their male counterparts. Cocobod, in partnership with the Better Thanh Cash Alliance, is implementing the UN Principles for Responsible Digital Payments, with particular attention to Principle 3, which advocates for prioritizing women by adopting a gender-intentional approach to payment digitization.

Empowering women farmers is key to ensuring the whole cocoa community thrives. Responsible digital payments and productivity enhancement programs represent a powerful lever to build a sustainable, thriving and climate smart cocoa industry. It allows more trust, transparency, security, better access to information, financial inclusion, and higher incomes for all involved. We reaffirm our continued commitment to reaching financial equality for women farmers. We also call on all financial services companies, banks, and all other stakeholders to continue to work in the interest of gender equity and for the communities who need it most. Honorable Joseph Boahen Aidoo, Chief Executive of Ghana Cocoa Board.

As part of the Cocoa Management System farm profiling, Cocobod is building a database that is gender disaggregated, with the capacity to track and monitor farm productivity by gender. This will help tailor digital solutions that address specific needs of female farmers and workers in the cocoa supply chain. Cocobod is also considering a number of options to ensure women are efficiently onboarded to the system once it is operational, including:

  • Collecting gender disaggregated data from the ongoing farm and farmer registration exercise;
  • Enlisting female enumerators in the ongoing farmer registration exercise;
  • Mobilizing women extension workers in the sector to train women and raise awareness on the benefits of digital payments;
  • Creating female-led structures that provide convenient and comfortable environments to learn new skills without feeling intimidated by male-dominated structures; and
  • Encouraging local buying companies to set up grievance-handling mechanisms that are female-friendly by employing more women to assist farmers.

Another key measure is to use community-based structures such as Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) to provide tailored trainings on digital financial literacy. Interesting lessons can be drawn from other gender-intentional initiatives in the sector. For example, Mondelēz International Cocoa Life, in partnership with other nongovernmental organizations and entities such as Kuapa-Kokoo, are taking steps to build women workers’ capacity through pilots such as Barry Callebaut’s tree nursery and farmer training. The World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) is also using innovative formats such as ‘video clubs’ to reach women cocoa farmers. It is therefore expected that women’s access to resources will improve, subsequently contributing to an increase in productivity.

Although in its initial stages, Cocobod’s digitization journey can inspire other national, regional and international players operating in similar value chains on how to incorporate gender-intentional policies and activities when digitizing payments. These could include the following:

  • Collecting and analyzing gender-disaggregated data;
  • Ensuring Financial Services Providers (FSPs) make use of data analytical tools to inform women-friendly digital financial services;
  • Mobilizing women extension workers as digital ambassadors, while working on increasing the number of women in FSPs and related service providers;
  • Investing in grievance mechanisms for women farmers to ensure complaints are addressed and resolved in a timely manner and friendly environment;
  • Prioritizing extension services that build the capacity of women farmers, taking into account the social and economic constraints women face in production; and
  • Designing extension services that promote women’s participation in agriculture.

When digital payments are better than cash -and if women were to have the same access to land, technology, financial services, education, and markets as men - yields on women’s farms could increase by 20 to 30 percent. That could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent, equivalent to 100 to 150 million people. This is a clear example of how responsible digital payments not only help women to realize their full economic potential, but also help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The views expressed in the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance blogs are those of the author(s) and may not necessarily reflect the official position of the organization.