Parents in the cocoa farming communities of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, where over 65% of the world’s cocoa comes from, have the same concerns as parents around the world. Their preference is to have their children in school. However, unlike many other parents, they don’t always have that choice. The daily reality they face, of either sending their child to school or getting extra help on the farm to support the family, is one that most people can’t begin to understand.
This is the case for many children reported to be working on cocoa farms in these two countries, but the entire cocoa supply chain, from cocoa farmers, cocoa processors and chocolate manufacturers, to national governments and industry bodies, has been working collectively to give cocoa growing communities a choice.
We also know that financial vulnerability lies at the heart of this problem and Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) are one solution that is creating positive change. VSLAs work by handing the purse strings over to the people in the community who can have the biggest impact on child labour: women. The VSLAs operate by pooling the savings of each of its members on a regular basis, with the money held in a lock box, which is then managed on rotation by the members. They can take out loans to cover things like medical costs and school fees, at levels up to three times the amount of their individual savings, which are then repaid to the group over the following three months with 10% interest. At the end of the year, the total amount saved, plus interest, is shared between everyone.
Since 2018, Olam Cocoa has set up 58 of these Associations with the goal of expanding to 138 in the coming year. In one of our programmes covering 53 VSLAs and nearly 1,500 women, located in the Haut-Sassandra, Guémon and Tonkpi regions of Côte d’Ivoire, the Associations have managed to save a total of USD$87,760 and grant 548 loans of USD$28,320. In La Mé, Côte d’Ivoire, five VSLAs covering 164 women have saved USD$13,800 and granted 65 loans totalling USD$10,190.
But what do these figures actually mean for the people in the community? Mrs Djéiba Nicôle, a member of a VSLA in Guinglo-Zia village in Côte d’Ivoire says, “It has helped me send all of my children to school…[and] I have started my own business.” Other female members also agree that VSLA loans have helped them access alternative sources of income, like poultry rearing, pastry-making or growing other food crops such as cassava alongside their cocoa trees. And it’s not just a case of providing cash when needed. VSLA members also receive training on financial management, literacy and business planning.
There is no ‘quick-fix’ to solving the issue of child labour and everyone in the cocoa industry needs to challenge themselves to do more. Initiatives like VSLAs are not enough in isolation, but by helping cocoa farmers become more financially stable, parents can more easily choose to give their children the education they deserve.