KONGE, CAMEROON – As the cocoa-breaking season begins, Rose Ocha, 29, gets her equipment ready. Ocha is a farmer and professional cocoa breaker in Konge, a village in Cameroon’s Southwest region.
She moves from one farm to another, almost on a daily basis for breaking. Whether long distances or short distances to farms, she ventures there to earn an income, as this is her sole means to support herself and her children.
“I always make sure my broking [sic] materials are all ready before the season starts,” she says, starting to smile. “My basin, short cutlass and farm clothing are to me as a pen and book is to a student.”
Ocha, born and raised in Cameroon by Nigerian parents, has been breaking cocoa for the past five years. She says that the work is strenuous, but she has no other alternatives to make a living.
“I don’t like what I do, to tell you the truth,” she says. “Sometimes, I go home tired and sick, and the money that I am paid for that day is not even enough to take care of my medical bills.”
Ocha says the most taxing part of the work is transporting the wet cocoa beans from the park where they break the pods to the ovens, which are sometimes far away.
“Can you imagine that we carry about 40 kilograms of wet cocoa bean on our heads to transport to ovens?” she asks.
She says this sometimes leaves the women with body pains and even fevers.
Plus, she says the pay is not proportional to the labor. The women receive 1,000 francs ($2) to 2,000 francs ($4) – depending on the distance of the oven – for about 80 kilograms of cocoa beans that they break and transport. She says the market price is much higher, though, adding that farmers earn the sizable difference.
“For every 71,400 francs ($140) that the farmer makes, the broker is paid approximately 1,500 francs ($3),” she says. “I think they are exploiting us.”
She says if she had an alternative job, she would quit breaking cocoa.
Families in the region rely on the cocoa industry to make a living. They say pay is low, but they don’t have any employment alternatives. Many women here say they have no idea what products their hard work yields. Cocoa buyers say cocoa oil, butter and dust have many uses, from candy to cosmetics.
In Konge, like many other villages in the region, cocoa is the primary cash crop. Families depend entirely on income from cocoa for food, education, medical care and shelter. Cocoa farmers start harvesting and selling small quantities of their produce in July, but the largest harvests that bring in the majority of their income don’t come until October, November and December. In January, the farmers are left with barren trees and begin the process again.
When farm managers harvest the ripe fruits of their cocoa trees, women like Ocha come break the pods, extract the wet cocoa