The coconut trade: A path to women’s empowerment 

A GNA feature by Bertha Badu-Agyei  

Accra, Aug. 13, GNA – In the bustling Agartha Market in Koforidua, a remarkable transformation is observed as women break barriers and reclaim their economic independence through coconut trade.  

Coconut trade which was once considered a man’s job is now a source of economic empowerment for women like Aunty Addai and Akua Nimo, to a large extent its an opportunity contributing to Ghana’s fight against gender-based violence (GBV). 

On Mondays and Thursdays, which are designated as Market days, you will find 40-year-old Aunty Addai at the Agartha Market in Koforidua in the eastern part of Ghana. Together with other women traders, she stands by heaps and sacks of coconuts waiting to make sales. 

Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the coconut trade was male-dominated, with men scaling trees to harvest coconuts and dehusk them for sale. In contrast, women like Aunty Addai, who sold seasonal food crops such as cassava and plantains, struggled to make ends meet. The pandemic dealt a     severe blow to her business, leaving her financially dependent on her husband and vulnerable to abuse. 

 Aunty Addai, who is married to a farm labourer with whom she has four children, barely made enough to supplement the family income and meet the expenses of their school-going children. This dependency created a lot of tension in the home. 

“My husband would get angry at me over the smallest issue. Sometimes he would threaten to throw out my things or harm me. I needed to do something for myself to break the dependency on my partner which often resulted in fights and abuse,” she told GNA. 

 “I realised he was overwhelmed with providing everything in the house, so, I decided to do something to get income to support him,” she said. 

 Aunty Addai decided to challenge the status quo. She recognised the demand for coconuts and the profit potential and shifted her focus to the coconut trade, overcoming her initial fears, she mastered the art of dehusking and found the business more lucrative than selling food crops. On average, Ghanaians consume about 30,000 tonnes of coconut a day. 

 Today, Aunty Addai arrives at the market early in the morning, sells out by midday, and no longer stays all day. She no longer worries that her coconuts will spoil by the end of the day compared to when she was selling food crops, where she sometimes, she had to sell on credit. 

Besides the profit from the sale of 100 pieces of coconut, which ranges from GH¢60-¢100), the husks also fetch her Gh¢15 (less than two dollars) per sack. Companies such as Eco-fiber AgroSystems, Fiber Wealth and others use coconut husks to manufacture valuable products such as fibre mats, coconut fibre board, coconut fibre seedling pots, dish scrub pads, coconut fibre cold pressed bicycle seats, based shoe inner sole pads, foam mattresses, packaging 

containers, egg carriers, automobile seat linings, hollow blocks, and corrugated roofing sheets. 

 The 2014 Demographic and Health Survey showed that eight in 10 women don’t own a house, one in 10 own a house jointly with their husbands and only 4% of women own a house. Moreover, nearly eight in 10 women do not own land, one in 10 own land jointly and nearly one in 10 own land. 

Economic empowerment plays a vital role in combating GBV. 

 UNICEF notes that economic empowerment reduces the need for women to engage in exploitative relationships for financial security. The UN agency also observes that tackling violence in households requires social protection interventions to relieve the financial stress that drives intimate partner violence. 

For women like Akua Nimo, who once suffered abuse in an oppressive relationship, the coconut trade provided a lifeline to escape and build a better future. The mother of two previously sold palm nut oil, but the business could have been more profitable if her customers had not defaulted on their credit payments. When her business collapsed, she became dependent on her husband. 

“He would refuse to pay for my treatment when I was sick. He said he couldn’t feed me and my children and pay my medical bills too. When I got money for medication, he would accuse me of seeing another   man and abuse me,” she said. 

She gathered the courage and left the abusive relationship; a friend introduced her to the coconut business. 

“There were coconut trees in my grandfather’s compound, so when my friend told me that business was good, I asked my uncles to sell me the coconuts to save me the burden of looking for the fruits to buy,” she said. 

Three years later, her business has grown, and she employs young men in the community to source the coconuts, pack them on tricycles and ferry them to the market for sale. 

Mrs Juliana Abbey-Quaye, an official at the Ministry of Gender said that women often stay in abusive relationships because they are dependent on their partners and lack the wherewithal to survive on their own. 

 “Most women rely on their husbands or partners, and it’s difficult for them to leave even when their lives are seriously threatened,” she said, adding that economic independence would enable women to leave such relationships. 

2022 publication by the Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment and Equality (CWEEE) stated that preventing and responding to gender-based violence is not only an imperative human rights issue, but also a multifaceted economic issue, because GBV creates barriers to economic opportunity and growth, and economic empowerment has an impact on intimate partner violence. 

Several UN organisations  and other institutions working in the interest of women’s empowerment  around the world  such as the ODI report recommends that addressing women’s 

economic empowerment should go beyond the individual and collective lived experiences to tackle the structural and systemic factors constraining women’s access to economic opportunities. Labour market characteristics, fiscal policy and other legal, regulatory and policy frameworks and gender norms and discriminatory social norms also limit women’s participation in the economy and must be addressed. 

 The coconut trade is rewriting the script for women’s economic empowerment in Ghana. Women like Aunty Addai and Akua Nimo have shattered stereotypes and proven they can flourish in non-traditional roles. Beyond mere financial gains, the coconut trade has enabled these women, to break free from dependency, strengthen their resilience, and stand against gender-based violence. 

This transformation is a testament to the power of inclusive economic opportunities. Initiatives that empower women economically create a more just society and contribute to eradicating gender-based violence. The coconut trade is not just about selling a fruit; it is a symbol of progress, equality, and a future where women are the architects of their destinies. 

This article was produced as part of the GBV Reporting Fellowship with support from the African Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ through the support of the Ford Foundation.