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Women are cocoa. Women are Colombia. Women are Cordillera.

It has been said many times over that cocoa is the ‘food of the gods.’ In that case, women are its nurturing spirit, representing its beauty and bounty, and this wonderful and joyous fruit's diversity, industry, and essence.

The importance of female farmers to the cocoa sector has been increasingly recognized in the past decade with the introduction of specific support for female-led Fairtrade cooperatives in West Africa, along with initiatives from other actors in different regions of the cocoa-growing world. Most of these schemes concentrate on providing financial and entrepreneurial support to give women the business acumen to be independent and gain parity with men in what has been a traditionally patriarchal industry.

This month, WCF members Cordillera Chocolates (the B2B business of Colombia’s Compañía Nacional de Chocolates) launched a hugely ambitious program that aims to generate a long-term transformation for women cocoa producers, enabling a more just, thriving, equitable and inclusive value chain. ‘ATENEA – Women Who Transcend’ is a sustainability initiative with a ‘higher purpose,’ developing the capacities of rural cocoa-growing women to improve their quality of life and that of their families and communities while maintaining Colombia’s unique ecosystem.

At the event launch in Apartadó, in Antioquia, Juan Fernando Valenzuela, Cocoa Purchasing and Agricultural Development Director at Compañía Nacional de Chocolates, told the 115 women from the area’s cocoa-growing community: “Women are cocoa. Women are Colombia, Women are Cordillera”.

After the launch, Valenzuela told me: “All the families involved in the cocoa sector have a woman [in the family]; for us, it is very important to recognize the women’s responsibility for the family. They have the conscience to manage the money and the incomes from their cocoa business.” He said women and young people “are so important for this program; we want to encourage young people not to leave for the cities but to stay on the farms and develop the cocoa industry.”

The ATENEA program consists of 3 training modules and has the support of two strategic allies: SENA (National Apprenticeship Service) and DID Development International Desjardins (DID), the Canadian Cooperative Financing Group. The program will last one year, and its three modules consist of the following:

Module 1: Entrepreneurship in the processing of chocolate products

This module was conceived by the SENA Emprende Rural Program, which has been carrying out training and accompaniment actions for entrepreneurship and rural employability. This course aims to strengthen entrepreneurs' competencies, knowledge, and skills to develop businesses derived from cocoa products.

Module 2: Financial Education for Rural Women

This module was devised as a determined and articulated commitment between Development International Desjardins (DID) and Cordillera Chocolates to provide business support to rural women in the country to identify opportunities to improve their finances and environment.

Module 3: Female Empowerment

Rural women play a decisive role in agricultural and rural development but often face challenges and barriers such as access to education, a decent income, and opportunities for personal, family, and professional development. This module emerges as a strategy to promote the reduction of gender inequality that is accentuated in some rural areas.

Alejandra Sarasty, Chief Global B2B Officer, Cordillera Chocolates, said: “The collective power of 115 female cocoa farmers speaks to a superior purpose, and Cordillera Chocolates are fully committed to allowing all their dreams to come true. The power to transform women and families, the community, the country, and the whole cocoa sector one chocolate chip at a time is what the ATENEA program is all about.”

“We truly believe ATENEA will contribute in a straightforward way to empower women - but mostly to allow the cocoa industry in Colombia to develop and make it more prosperous and dynamic. Today started a transformation of not only 115 women but transformation of their families, communities, Colombia, and the cocoa industry worldwide.”

The first phase of the program was launched in Urabá, Antioquia, with 115 women belonging to six associations of cocoa producers: ASITAPUR, APROCESU, ACEFUVER, ASOCHAGUALA, CAOCARES and ASOCACAO DE URABÁ and the plan is to roll out the program at scale across the country.

Enauris Doria, Leader of the Association of ASOCACAO in Urabá, spoke of the program’s importance during the launch ceremony. “These women have been empowered since they began receiving the invitations to be here because of high expectations. We want to receive those notes, those teachings, which I know will empower these women much more. Many have dreams, and sometimes we need that push.”

Cocoa growing is in their blood, representatives from various organizations told local and national dignitaries gathered in an eco-park in the center of Apartadó for the official opening, which included a chocolate ritual and prayer to celebrate cocoa and its deep connection to Colombia’s roots.

Yasmin Comas, an entrepreneur, and owner of Kakaua, which uses cocoa fruit to produce handicrafts, said: “What I’m most proud of is that I’m the daughter of two cocoa farmers from Rionegro, Santander. That is what I am most proud of because that is what I am, a producer and processor of cocoa crops, and I believe this is the best school for one to get where one wants because the land is life.”

Maria del Campo is the ‘face’ and image of Colombia’s National Federation of Cocoa. She told me: “I work with women in the cocoa sector – and when I find myself with the power that women have, I am always in an emotional mood. I know that with programs such as ATENEA, we will create a very successful thing where women in the cocoa culture can recognize themselves and accomplish their dreams – and show their children they can accomplish their dreams.”

With assistance from Camila Ceballos

Anthony Myers is the editor of

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