Women in the Cacao Industry pt. I

A woman smiling while holding cacao pods in front of trees

When you look at the demographics of the cacao industry, you’ll notice it needs a major shakeup. The players at the top reflect the skewed structure of our world. In other words, Cacao has a patriarchy problem. The Cacao industry, like most industries, is dominated by men. However, women are rising to the top, in all the right ways. You see, the Cacao industry has a few other issues, and women are stepping in to save the day.  Meet some of the women we admire and aspire to be like. These women are changing our perspectives, teaching us new ways to produce sustainably, and redistributing the power structures in place.

Dr. Kristy Leissle

Dr. Kristy Leissle is the “Doc of Choc” and author of Cocoa; a book that explores inequities within the global trade of Cacao. She is described by the World Cocoa Foundation as “a scholar of cocoa and chocolate, and co-founder of the Cocoapreneurship Institute of Ghana”. In other words, Dr. Kristy Leissle is a boss. She has been a Cacao aficionado for years, while documenting and reporting on the industry, providing the unique perspective of an American-born transplant living in Ghana.

What makes Dr. Kristy Leissle so influential is her well- rounded perspective on the industry; particularly around communities involved in the sale and trade of West African Cacao. Cacao/cocoa is an incredibly misunderstood and often misrepresented industry in which “gender constructs shape cocoa-chocolate value chains” starting with the farmers and going all the way to the chocolate makers at the top. Leissle’s work has brought global awareness to these issues while building a support system for women in the industry through education and incubator programs.

Emily Stone

Emily Stone is the founder of Uncommon Cacao, and a leader in the industry. Through her companies Maya Mountain Cacao and Cacao Verapaz, Stone has been able to disrupt the Cacao industry and advocate for “a new cacao economy that pays farmers more and is grounded in real partnerships that deliver improved stability and success for all”.  It is Stone’s mission to inspire a more ethical trading system through transparent supply chain sourcing. While this sounds noble, supply chain transparency is necessary to encourage fair and living wages for farmers; the very people who uphold our food systems.


Stone sees the need for global change and has sought to remedy it- or at least begin the process. “Uncommon Cacao pays farmers a high premium and encourages them to produce higher-quality cacao beans, offering education in organic, sustainable growing and harvesting techniques as well as micro-loans for equipment and training.”[forbes.com]  

Her work is paying off. We are seeing more eyes on the Cacao industry and a rise in standards that benefit our planet, the farmers, and the quality of Cacao beans.


Both Emily Stone and Dr. Kristy Leissle represent a change in tide. This male-dominated industry was once teetering on the edge of collapse under the pressures of unsustainable farming practices and poor wages. And yet through the initiatives put forth by these women, amongst others, we can see the power shift in favor of the farmers and the planet. We certainly have a long way to go, but the wheels are in motion. Follow these women’s work to stay up to date with our ever-evolving food systems. And stay tuned for Women in the Cacao Industry pt. II.

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