About this tool

This tool provides steps for conducting a gender assessment within a farmer organization (FO), the aim being to develop interventions for a better functioning organization via increased female membership and leadership.

When do you use this tool?

  • Use gender as an entry-point to improve FOs.
  • Acquire a better understanding of the constraints and opportunities that hinder or enable women’s access to membership and leadership positions, and their ability to benefit.
  • Identify effective combinations of interventions that contribute to the empowerment of women in cocoa production.
  • Improve outreach to women involved in cocoa production in relation to cocoa training and services through FO membership and leadership.

Steps to use this tool

Box 1 Steps to use this tool

Step 1: Assess women’s roles on the farm and in the households

  • What are the different types of women involved in cocoa?
    (verification of existing typologies of women in cocoa)
  • What are household member’s roles on the farm and in the households?

Step 2: Assess women’s access to producer organizations

  •  Identification of membership criteria through key informant interviews.
  • Scoping of opportunities for making membership criteria more inclusive.

Step 3: Assess women’s participation in producer organizations

  • Identify what constrains women from joining an organization as a member and what are the incentives to join.
  • Develop an action plan for promoting women’s participation.

Step 4: Assess women’s participation as leaders in farmer organizations

  • Identify what constrains women from taking up leadership positions in a producer organization and what would incentivize them?
  • Understand constraints for women with regard to time, mobility and other issues.
  • Identify perceptions about men’s and women’s leadership qualities.

Step 5: Suggestions for effective intervention packages

  • Identify effective intervention packages.
  • Strengthen the capacities of your organization and partners to improve outreach to women.

How did this tool come about?

The development of this tool is based on a quick assessment of two cooperatives that supply Cargill in the Eastern region of Côte d’Ivoire. The text boxes are used to illustrate how this tool was used in the Cargill example.


Agri-ProFocus (2012). Gender in Value Chains. Practical toolkit to integrate a gender perspective in Agricultural Value Chain development. Author: Angelica Senders.

Barrientos, S. (2013). Gender production networks: Sustaining cocoa-chocolate sourcing in Ghana and India. BWPI Working Paper. Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester.

KIT (2012). Increasing outreach to women in Cocoa Livelihood Program. Report on gender workshop and recommendations phase 2 and 3. Recommendations for CLP. Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Authors: Rozemarijn Apotheker, Anna Laven, Noortje Verhart

Pyburn, R. and Laven, A. (2012) Chapter 3. Analytical Framework. In KIT, AgriProFocus and IIRR. 2012. Challenging Chains to Change: Gender Equity in agricultural value chain development. KIT Publishers, Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam.

Verhart, N. and Laven, A. (2011) Addressing gender equality in agricultural value chains:
Sharing work in progress – part of on track with gender pathway in the Netherland


Why this tool?

Women tend to be invisible and under-served in cocoa production, even though it is a family business and women play important roles in production, processing and drying. One of the reasons is that many cocoa producer organizations are dominated by men, both in terms of membership and on the board of directors. Producer organization members often have better access to technical assistance and extension and advisory services. Women, however, are often excluded from membership or they do not benefit equally.

Limited outreach to women often happens unintentionally: there can be criteria in place to access certain services and/or training that automatically exclude the majority of women. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire, land ownership is frequently a requirement for joining a producer organization/cooperative. Another requirement that constraints the participation of women is that only the ones that sell cocoa to the cooperative can become a member. In Côte d’Ivoire, cocoa trade is traditionally a role played by men. As most Cocoa Livelihood Programme (CLP) training is conducted through such organizations, the majority of women are not included and cannot participate, despite their significant contribution to cocoa production. Women are also often under-represented, especially in leadership positions where strategic decisions are made (KIT, 2012).

Who can/should use this tool?

This tool is particularly useful for companies that source cocoa directly from producer organizations, such as cooperatives, and are interested in promoting gender equality. The following capacities are recommended for using this tool:

  • Participatory research skills
  • Gender analysis skills
  • Capacity to contact and effectively work with producer organizations
  • Capacity to translate findings from interviews into concrete actions
  • Capacity to validate and verify findings

To avoid conflicts of interests, it is recommended that a third party preferably becomes involved in the validation of the findings. If women-only groups are formed for the discussions, it is recommended to involve a female researcher/facilitator.


Appendix – Framework for assessment and fieldwork

Step 5: Suggestions for effective intervention packages

Key points:

  • Single interventions are not likely to generate significant change. Piloting intervention packages that improve women’s capabilities and create more opportunities for change will have better results
  • The targeted population should be involved in deciding on interventions and learnings from them
  • Reflect on capacities related to gender mainstreaming within your company and among your partners.

Once you share findings with informants and there is a support base for piloting interventions, you can start identifying opportunities and actions to improve equal gender relations in the producer organization. We recommend you do this in close communication with beneficiaries. Given that gender inequalities are complex, single interventions are unlikely to generate significant change, and may even do harm. Removing underlying constraints and creating opportunities for change is necessary to realize impact at scale.

To identify pilot strategies, we recommend piloting intervention packages that improve women’s capabilities (individual/women group focus) and create more opportunities for change by addressing rules, regulations or social norms that create constraints. It is important to not only implement pilot activities at the organization level, but to also include the rest of the community. Women’s empowerment is a process of social change that requires wide support.

Finally, inform local authorities of identified interventions – in agreement with beneficiaries. Verify whether local authorities should support your interventions, and ensure to keep them informed from the beginning of the project. Local authorities can be local government officials and/or traditional decision-makers such as community chiefs. Also ensure you connect with other organizations active in the area to streamline ideas, activities and to prevent contradicting messages and activities. Finally, make sure to work out a gender action plan with clear responsibilities and funds.

Quick assessment with two cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire identified the following potential interventions. Recommendations are addressed to companies that aim to promote gender equality through its supplying farmer organizations. The company should address some recommendations itself. However some interventions target producer organization level and others at community level.


  • Conduct research and learn from best practices on how women can access land. If there are organizations in the region that work on women’s access to land, partner with them. Explore how your company can advocate for changing regional land tenure systems.
  • Raise awareness and sensitize community members (both men and women) on the negative effects of women’s limited access to land on cocoa production and food production.
  • Support and promote dual membership in farmer organizations.
  • Support flexible membership payment schemes to ensure that all cocoa producers are financially capable of becoming a member of an organization.

Where women have limited access to services provided by farmer organizations, establishing a demonstration farm and/or farmer field schools can support these women. Platforms such as these can contribute to improved access to inputs, credits, knowledge and skills, which provide stepping stones for women’s empowerment and increased participation in farmer organizations.


  • Raise awareness and sensitize community members on the contribution of women to cocoa production.
  • Develop communication and promotion strategies to inform different women on their rights to join organizations, and their responsibilities and benefits when they join organizations.
  • Promote the establishment of women’s groups in producer organizations (including non-members) to provide stepping stones for women’s empowerment within the organization.
  • Raise awareness and sensitize organization members on the value of democratic decision-making and representation of both women and men.


  • Support affirmative action in producer organizations’ recruitment, e.g. giving preference to female candidates for management positions or positions in the field; or actively recruiting women, focusing on young women who received higher levels of education.
  • Support capacity building in women’s groups and among female members, ranging from basic literacy skills to management skills.
  • Support women taking up leading roles in decision-making in cooperative investments in the community (members and non-members).
  • Co-fund cooperative community investments that contribute to empowering girls and women.
  • Create awareness and sensitize members and community members on the contribution of women in leadership roles (e.g. collect stories of role models and plan outreach).

Bear in mind that men and boys are also beneficiaries of gender mainstreaming processes. Your interventions should also reach them, enabling them to recognize how gender inequalities harm their partners and themselves. It is critical to convince men to use their political, economic and social power to work for, rather than against, gender equality (UNFPA 2003; UNICEF 2011; Buscher 2005;ICRW and Instituto Promundo 2011).

A final recommendation is to reflect on capacities related to gender mainstreaming within your company and among your partners (see also the gender capacity assessment tool). Listed activities below may help you directly address and promote gender equality in or through your company:

Capacity building of your company and partners

  • Organize a gender training for company staff and implementing partners, ensuring participation of female and male representatives.
  • Jointly develop a gender strategy (with the farmer organization and implementing partners), including action plan, Key-Performance Indicators (KPIs) and monitoring.
  • Agree on learning objectives and documentation.

Gender mainstreaming within the company

  • Affirmative action in recruitment (e.g. giving preference to female candidates for positions in the field.)

Gender mainstreaming of training modules

  • If your company and/or implementing partners use training modules for producer organizations’ capacity building, revise these in a gender-sensitive way. This could include a separate training model on gender in agriculture.
  • Aim for a balanced number of female and male trainers.
  • Aim for a balanced number of female and male participants.

Step 4: Assess women's participation as producer organization leaders

If women participate as members of cocoa producer organizations, they often do not take up leadership positions. This step focuses on assessing women’s participation as leaders and identifying opportunities to promote women’s leadership.

Key points:

• Both the capacity of women and existing rules, regulations, norms and values influence women’s participation in leadership roles in producer organizations.


The first exercise should help acquire a better understanding of the potential benefits of increased women’s participation in management positions. When organizing an FGD, it could be insightful to organize two separate, male and female groups.

Depending on the group size, ask the participants to split up in pairs to brainstorm on:

  • The importance of having more women in management positions.
  • The benefits of having more women in management positions
  • Whether increased involvement of women in leadership roles could also be beneficial to non-members in communities?

Then, list all the remarks from pairs and facilitate a discussion with the group. Ask for clarifications if needed, the why and how questions.

During a quick assessment in Côte d’Ivoire, the following benefits were listed by different informants:

  • Outreach to women – Female leaders could attract more female members to the cooperative.
  • Representation – Female leaders could better understand the interests and needs of other women, as women’s financial interests are often not taken into account.
  • Women in leadership roles are role models and contribute to empowerment, giving younger women self-confidence and pride
  • Trust – Female leaders generally generate more overall trust from organization members.

“A woman has the ability to talk in the right way to another woman. She has the ability to convince them.”

The first part of the group discussion will most likely generate some insights on the importance and benefits of having more women in management positions. Once the group members agree on these, the group discussion can continue by focusing on the constraints for female members in taking up leadership roles. These constraints can be related to practical reasons, such as time constraints, and related to empowerment, such as lack of confidence. Women’s lack of participation in leadership roles in farmer organizations is likely to be related to both women’s capacities and existing rules, regulations, norms and values.

The following constraints were identified by informants of two cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire:  1) time constraints; 2) difficulty being the centre of attention, lack of confidence; and 3) lack of support from men.

To gain an in-depth understanding of the underlying problems of the main constraints, it will be necessary to ask multiple related questions to the informants. Mapping these questions and answers can inspire both yourself and the informants to come to potential solutions (see below figure).

Figure 1: Understanding women’s constraints to take up leadership roles



Finally, analyze acquired data from steps 1 to 4 and ensure that findings are communicated with the organization’s management and board. Analysis and sharing findings could open discussion to identify potential interventions.

Step 3: Assess women's participation in producer organizations

Key points:

  • Even when membership access is open to all, requirements can be restrictive leading to exclusion of groups of cocoa farmers, specifically women.
  • There are different types of women engaged in producer organizations; each of these groups faces different opportunities and constraints.

There are several reasons that can prevent women from participating in farmer organizations even when they are allowed to join. Sometimes women are simply not aware that they too have the opportunity to become a member of an organization. Some women also cannot afford membership fees. Other women are constrained from participating by time. For some women, the potential benefits that result from membership are not clear.

In order to complement the exercise from step 2, an FGD should be organized with both male and female cocoa producers to discuss the constraints (and disincentives) that cocoa producers experience to joining producer organizations. They can give insights into the challenges from their own perspective.

The first discussion objective is to list all reasons why some men and women would not be able or willing to join the organization even though they formally have access to it. Are there specific reasons related to gender norms and roles? Are there specific groups that are excluded? Try to understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of these restrictions. Separate practical restrictions/disincentives (e.g. high membership fees) from the restrictions that are more related to empowerment (e.g. women do not have the confidence to join the organization).

Then discuss and brainstorm with the group on:

  •       What can the producer organization do to attract/include more female cocoa farmers? For example:

o   How can membership be affordable to all kinds of people?

o   Could there be flexible conditions on membership fees and payment schemes, bearing in mind the different types of female cocoa producers?

o   Can meetings be planned at times that are convenient for both men and women?

o   What kind of services could a producer organization offer to attract more women, or serve current female members better?

  • How can women’s participation in the producer organization(s) be promoted within communities?


Step 2: Assess women's access to producer organizations

Key points:

  • Some producer organizations have exclusive membership criteria, for example based on land ownership, or based on a single membership policy whereby only one person within the same household can become a member.
  • Producer organizations usually only provide services to members. Other service delivery approaches can be developed for non-members, including members’ spouses.

The cooperatives visited in Côte d’Ivoire had two formal requirements for membership:

  1. Land – Members own or lease land and sell part of the cocoa from that land to the cooperative.
  2. Fee – Members pay a ‘social fee’ ranging from 25,000 to 60,000 CFA to the cooperative. This can be paid in two terms and is deducted from the value of the cocoa being sold to the cooperative.

In order to obtain a good understanding of the membership criteria within an organization, a focus group discussion (FGD) can be held with management and/or board of directors of the particular organization. An FGD is a carefully planned discussion on areas of interest, conducted in a permissive, non-threatening environment. One of the main objectives of this specific discussion is having a formal criteria list for joining the producer organization, which can form the basis for a second part of the discussion to identify the informal constraints that farmers may encounter in becoming a member. A final discussion topic could be on who may be excluded from the organization due to the formal criteria and non-formal restrictions (Are there specific groups that are excluded?).

If other producer organizations in the region or the country are known to be successful in, for example, having a high percentage of female members, it is worthwhile seeing what you can learn from their practices. A cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire was successful in getting a high percentage of women due to a policy of ‘dual membership’ (see box below). What lessons can be learned from this?

Box 2: High percentage of female members – learning from Coopayem

  • Lower membership fees (CFA 25,000) attract more women (all new cooperatives have lower membership fees, which increase over the years);
  • Allowing spouses of already existing male members to join the co-op for half of the price (CFA 12,500) increases female membership;
  • Encouraging spouses to join male members in meetings and training improves female participation;
  • Demonstrating the benefits of a new initiative (such as dual membership) can encourage men to support female participation in cooperatives.

Step 1: Assessing women's roles in productive and reproductive spheres

Key points:

  • Women play a significant role on the farm but are often not considered cocoa farmers.
    Recognizing different types of women that are engaged in cocoa production (e.g. female manager or spouse) and understanding who owns and controls resources on the farm is essential to assess female participation and leadership in producer organizations.

Before assessing women’s access to producer organizations, it is sensible to have a good understanding of women’s involvement in cocoa farming. Knowing the roles and activities of all members in a household dismantles the assumption that only men are cocoa producers. The following exercise first helps to recognize the different types of women that are engaged in cocoa production, and to understand who has access to and control over the resources needed for cocoa production.

Who has access to and control over the resources for cocoa production?

It is important to realize that gender roles and household compositions are not fixed or uniform. The majority of cocoa-growing households are male-headed, meaning that a male farmer is registered as the cocoa farm manager and  is often the one that sells the cocoa and decides how cocoa revenue is spent. Women also play a significant role on the farm but are not always considered as cocoa farmers. It is possible that women contribute to cocoa production but do not consider themselves to be cocoa farmers; they combine working on the cocoa farm with multiple other household and income-generating activities.

Access to and control over land and labour determine, to a large extent, the way women are involved in cocoa farming, participate in producer organizations and benefit from these activities (KIT, 2012). In trying to increase female membership and leadership, it is helpful to recognize differences among women, and adapt your interventions based on these insights. The differentiation below is not set in stone, but illustrates how differences between women matter.

produtrice-cacaoWomen in female-headed households owning cocoa land
Women that own land, or have long-term user rights have control over what they do with the land. This group only concerns a small group of women. As farm managers, they are more likely to be invited to access producer organizations. The potential constraints to them participating (or benefiting from participation) is lack of time, and/or lack of confidence.

Women that fall under this category are likely to share some characteristics: for example, being single (having inherited the land either from their husbands or their own family); dependent on their own and hired labour (as they often lack access to male family labour), and, consequently, face time constraints. Although they are decision-makers on their farm, they also represent a more vulnerable group, involving women that own only a small plot of land, are relatively older, and (related to) often have received limited education.

Within this ‘group’ you will also encounter other types of women, like female owners with larger land plots with a caretaker who does most of the work while she is busy with other income-generating activities. These women are likely to participate actively in a producer organization, both as member and leader and can potentially be a role model for other women.

Women in male-headed households working on a family cocoa farm without owning land.
The majority of women involved in cocoa production are women that support their husband, or other relatives on the farm, without owning (part of) the land for cocoa production (often referred to as spouses). These women contribute significantly to cocoa production but are not involved in cocoa marketing and are not likely to be invited to access producer organizations. Instead, it will often be their husbands who attend. This is a missed opportunity. As important contributors, these women could directly benefit from farmer organization training, and learn how to add value to the cocoa activities. It would be good if they were well-represented in the organization (by having women like them in the board and management).

Women in these households often depend on additional sources of income to care for themselves and their family members. These activities add to their work on the farm and in the house, increasing their work burden, which might constrain them from participating in producer organizations. If the money that comes from cocoa is not shared with them, women might not have an interest to join a farmer organization.

Women in male-headed households working on a family cocoa farm while having their own small piece of land for cocoa production.
These women, who contribute both to cocoa production on the family farm and who own a small plot of cocoa land for their own use, are not likely to be invited to participate in a producer organization. Instead their husbands are likely to attend. However, as cocoa provides them with money that they can control, these women would probably be interested in participating and accessing services and inputs to help them increase their yields or quality. Although, time can be a constraining factor as they have to produce food crops and are responsible for household tasks besides cocoa production

Women working on sharecroppers’ farms
Many farmers work as a caretaker or sharecropper. Often men in the household undertake the sharecropper/caretaker arrangement and women play a supportive role. Sharecroppers/caretakers are less likely to be invited to become a producer organization member. They face similar  constraints as spouses.   


Young women living on cocoa family farms
Young women who grow up on a cocoa farm often do not see a future for themselves in cocoa production as the work is perceived as hard and not always rewarding. If, as a producer organization, you would like to stimulate young women to become members and (future) leaders, you could consider stimulating role models that attract young women and putting in place other incentives that resonate among these women.

Benefits from cocoa production

Ownership arrangements on cocoa farms greatly influence who benefits from cocoa.

The above typologies can be used to conduct an ownership assessment including land, cocoa trees and cocoa beans. This provides insights into what influence women have in terms of production and marketing, as well as economic decision-making power (e.g. about how the cocoa revenue will be spent).

This first step of the assessment does not need to take a lot of time. The identified typologies are likely to be a good starting-point and can be quickly validated and adapted if necessary. It will be interesting to assess what type of women you are currently reaching and who has been omitted.

This first step feeds into the second analysis step: what are the roles and responsibilities of men and women on the cocoa farm?

Roles and responsibilities in cocoa production

For cocoa in West Africa, a number of studies have been conducted on roles and responsibilities on a cocoa farm (Table 2). Although local differences occur, existing data can be used with field verification. In this verification exercise, the different cocoa tasks are listed in a matrix and men and women in the cooperative, that are part of the assessment, validate them. This exercise also raises their awareness of the different roles that men and women play.

Table 1: Roles and responsibilities on a cocoa farm

Weeding and land preparationMostly womenSome men
Purchasing of cocoa seeds/seedlingsSome womenMostly men
Intercropping of food cropsMostly WomenFew men
Cocoa SprayingExceptional casesMostly men
Thinning and PruningFewMostly men
Harvesting/pluckingSome womenMostly men
Pod breakingAllAll
Carrying to homestead/depotsMostly womenSome men
Drying and porterageAllAll
BaggingSome womenMostly Men
Sale to local buying agenciesFew womenMostly men

Source: Barrientos, 2013

Women are not only involved in productive roles, but also reproductive roles, which absorb a vast amount of time and energy (Verhart and Pyburn, 2010). We therefore recommend listing both on-farm activities (cocoa and food) and tasks done in the reproductive sphere (childcare, clearing, cooking, etc.). An example of a table structure is presented below.

Table 2: Matrix on roles and responsibilities

Activities Time (in hours a day)MenWomen*BoysGirls
Productive tasks ..........
Domestic (reproductive) tasks ..........

*Because women are not homogenous, depending on the composition of the group, it makes sense to add different categories of women.