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Going LoCocoa with the Divine chocolate farmers

We are currently in the midst of Fairtrade fortnight. I travelled to the Divine chocolate pop up shop to meet Cocoa farmers Mary Appiah and Esther Mintah Ephraim to find out about the life of Fairtrade chocolate producers.

"Going Lococoa with Kuapa Kokoo"

Mary and Esther are farmers in a large cooperative of Ghanaian farmers called Kuapa Kokoo and have flown over to share their stories of life on a cocoa farm. Kuapa Kokoo is the co-owner of London based chocolate brand, Divine chocolate with a 45% stake in the company. The remaining shares are owned by Twin Trading, an ethical trading company, also based in London, which works with small fairtrade producers around the world.

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Mary and Esther arrived in style to meet me, waltzing in wearing stylish full-length fur coats. They had heard that it was freezing cold and had bought them off the local market just before leaving! For both women it was their first time in London. Each year Divine chocolate select a couple of farmers to travel to the UK and learn how their chocolate beans are prepared and sold as chocolate.

I was surprised to learn that despite being a major crop, no one in Ghana eats chocolate. Not even as a chocolate tea or as ingredient to other dishes! As such the beans are picked, processed and bundled into sacks for export without any being made locally into chocolate products. “It would melt to easily in our hot climate” explained Mary. There hasn’t ever been a local culture of chocolate consumption. Cocoa was imported to Ghana in the late 1800s from the Caribbean and was developed right from the beginning as an export crop.

Both Mary and Esther spoke passionately of their farms and the concept of the "Noboa" system whereby farmers come together to help each other in turns. This communal spirit promotes peace, unity and continuity in the society and is a Ghanain tradition.

“For generations we have been farming together” said Esther. “My farm has been passed down to me and we all help each other out at the time of harvest taken turns to travel around the farms collecting and processing the pods”.

The cooperative provides each member access to training, access to new tools along with trained staff to record information, maintain quality standards and handle any disputes. Both Mary and Esther have been elected to serve their communities as ‘recorders’. In the past traders visiting farms to source cocoa would use heavier weights and fail to give farmers a fair price. Through the cooperative the farmers are able to train their own traders and make sure they get a fair market price.

In recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on West African cocoa farms, which are linked to major multinational chocolate brands. Mary and Esther explained that their local system of elected recorders protects against such human rights violations. They don’t have to rely on ad-hoc visits from overseas consultants to maintain the health, safety and quality standards of cocoa production.

Kuapa Kokoo has become such a successful cooperative that they are now being asked to advise producers in other countries. Members of the cooperative have been advising farmers in Sierra Leone and other countries on the western coast of Africa.

Both Mary and Esther were enthusiastic promoters of their cooperative. Over the years this model has enabled them to build schools, dig wells, and create valuable infrastructure for their community along with, crucially, giving every member a say in their own development.

“You must buy more chocolate from us” enthused Mary. “This makes such a difference. Being part of this cooperative has changed our lives for the whole community”

In the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative about 1/3rd of the farmers are women. Both Mary and Esther will be sharing their inspiring story on the 8th March, World Women’s Day, at the ‘Women of the World’ Festival at the Southbank Centre.


Photocredits: Moe Safir and Brian Moody

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