An update from Divine control centre!

25 February 2010

This week I’m mostly here in the office while Divine people travel far and wide across the UK accompanying Comfort Kumeah and Kojo Aduhene-Tano, the Kuapa Kokoo farmers over from Ghana for Fairtrade Fortnight.  At the moment the farmers are up in Leicester for a great programme of visits to schools and colleges, plus meetings with local businesses. They’ve been interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester and Voice of America!  Next they’re off to Stamford for another whirlwind of events.

Meantime Laura is sampling with Waitrose today, and then off to the Channel Islands, and I’m off to Bath University tomorrow to talk at a debate entitled ‘The inequalities of globalisation: is Fairtrade the answer’.  Sophi Tranchell will be speaking at the Breaking the Mould conference organised by the Financial Mail – giving girls some inspiration about the potential of their future careers.

To find out if there’s something Divine going on near you during Fairtrade Fortnight check out our events diary.

The first Fairtrade cocoa from Sierra Leone

17 February 2010

The day after arriving in Freetown we drive for five hours to Kenema in the Eastern Province. Kenema is the third largest city in Sierra Leone with a population of around 165,000. There is a mix of all the country’s ethnic groups, as well as many Liberians and Sierra Leonean-born Lebanese. It is a major diamond trading centre and also home to some of the country’s cocoa trading enterprises.  Sierra Leone has a liberalised economy – so anyone can trade and export cocoa.

Ibrahim Moseray and members of the KAE team

Ibrahim Moseray (left) and members of the KAE team

It’s here we meet Ibrahim Moseray – the charismatic general manager of Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise (KAE).  He, like all his fellow cocoa farmers, experienced firsthand the terror of the civil war that waged in the country throughout the 90s, and lost family, friends and the ability to work his farm. Despite the terrible circumstances, Ibrahim nurtured his idea that farmers should run their own cocoa buying and trading business, and liaised with NGOs on the ground and his farmer colleagues to help bring his idea to fruition. 

Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise was first established in 1996, and Ibraham persevered with persuading farmers to come on board.  Today KAE has over 1200 members from 50 villages and has made great strides in creating a working, vibrant cooperative and the farmers are starting to see the tangible benefits of doing things for themselves.  Key to their progress has been the input from Twin, and in turn the help and technical advice from Kuapa Kokoo, the Ghanaian cooperative behind Divine Chocolate.  They have helped on organisational issues, helped them improve the quality of their cocoa, and helped them receive Fairtrade certification.

Ibrahim guides us to KAE’s new offices on the edge of town and we join all his management team in singing an introduction song – where everyone sings a verse including their own name.  The team are a mix of men and women, young and old, and all equally energised and enthusiastic about the organisation they are creating.  The Chairman, Sellau Momoh, was born in 1933 and remembers the British encouraging Sierre Leone to plant more cocoa when he was young.

Sellau Momoh, Chairman of KAE

We sit and talk about the challenges facing the KAE.  In Sierra Leone there is only one harvest a year and in between, during the summer months is the ‘hunger season’ – when there is next to no income for buying food. The staple food is rice – and the farmers do grow some of their own – but the local market is undermined by subsidised imports.  Farmers have become dependent on being pre-paid for their cocoa with rice – and then not being paid enough on delivering their cocoa to feed their families for the rest of the year.  It’s a cycle KAE hopes to break – ultimately ending up with farmers producing more, higher quality cocoa, and being paid a good price when they harvest their cocoa so the income takes them through the hunger season.  Other cocoa traders have responded to KAE’s recruitment of farmer members and offered a range of short term incentives to lure them away. But both a good price for the cocoa and the growing number of other benefits they can see – a new school, a new truck, a new depot – are starting to keep members loyal to KAE.

Members of the KAE team

Next day we set off to Batiama, a small village two hours out of Kenema, along some challenging roads and tracks. We arrive to a reception of KAE members and once again the ‘introduction song’ gets everyone laughing.

The truck bought with funding from Divine

This is a significant occasion. My mission is to represent Divine Chocolate and explain how their fellow farmers in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo, agreed to KAE selling their first container of Fairtrade cocoa to Divine, thereby forgoing the premium they would get for the same amount of cocoa.  I explain that Kuapa Kokoo was once small like KAE – but over 17 years it has grown and thrived – and it also established its own chocolate company – something to consider for the future!  It makes sense for Kuapa to help other farmers sell to Divine – as they still receive their share of the profits.

KAE farmers cutting open cocoa pods

 KAE’s first premium was spent, with the agreement of the members, on buying land for the first proper KAE offices and storeroom which have now been built.  It has made the company seem even more tangible – the farmers can see it really is established, professional and in business.

The new KAE office and store

 The farmers gathered in Batiama are very interested to hear more about Kuapa Kokoo, but are more focused on the fact that the very chocolate that now contains their first Fairtrade cocoa is in a coolbag next to me.  A major tasting session follows – thankfully there’s enough for every single adult and child (with enough left over for Ibrahim to impress his bank manager).

We visit two farms and hear the stories of how they had to abandon the farms when the rebels came to their village.  Most of the farmers had to flee and came back to the village years later.  It took five years to get the cocoa trees back in good condition again and a lot of work needs to be done on planting new trees and pruning the existing ones to improve production.  The farmers are very proud of their new skills to produce better quality cocoa – they have learned about fermentation and slow drying and now have quality testing equipment.  Like Kuapa, they vote for the key KAE representatives in every village and they are seeing the benefit of having their voices heard. Batiama has built its own small school and paid for a teacher to come out to them so now the children no longer walk four miles to school and back each day.

Everyone has harrowing stories but there seems to be a sense of determination and optimism – if we went through that, we can get through anything. 

Swaray Salia

56 year old Swaray Salia says:

“Our biggest challenge is getting good money at the right time – and ensuring we have enough to eat through the Hunger Season. We need to work hard on weed control in between harvests and we need food to give us the energy to do it.  Cocoa is our only source of income.”

“Since I joined KAE we have been able to build houses for ourselves – I now have my own house.  Kpeya had the idea of building a school here in this village so the children didn’t have to walk four miles to school any more. It opened this year.”

“Our water supply is from the river.  I hope one day we can earn enough Fairtrade premium to have our own well.”

“My personal dream is to ensure all my children go to school.  One of my sons wants to be a cocoa farmer, so the farm will go to him.”

“My message to the people who love chocolate: As we are now exporting our cocoa please help us – and stretch your hands out to us.  Let there be communication between the people who eat chocolate and the farmers here.  We are simple people and need your support, so our children can be educated.   We sometimes go hungry – and we need our cocoa to give us a sustainable income. Two sacks of cocoa is not enough to send one child to school.”

What’s on your pancake?

16 February 2010

Happy Pancake Day!

I for one, can’t wait to race home tonight and make pancakes tonight. We are discussing our favourite recipes here at Divine, I like mine with either raisins or melted orange chocolate. Charlotte likes hers American – spongy with maple syrup and Rosanna likes hers with lots of melted dark chocolate and crème fraiche with a few raspberries round the side.

One recipe we can thoroughly recommend is the chocolate trio from our recipe book by Linda Collister


3 different flavours of 100g Divine (flavours of your choice)

125ml Double cream

Tablespoon of liquor – rum or brandy


Break up bars in separate heatproof bowls and melt gently over steaming water. Remove bowls from heat.

Heat cream until very hot but not boiling then stir in equal amounts into each of the chocolate bowls.

Add a tablespoon of liquor if you wish.

Pour on to pancakes and enjoy!

For perfect pancakes, we love this site by Tate and Lyle

Do you have a great pancake recipe you would like to share?

Post below and we’ll send the most creative pancaker a selection of chocolate.

Going further than Fairtrade

15 February 2010

Flying into a country you’ve never been to before in the evening is a bit disconcerting.  In the darkness there is no real idea of the surroundings – you get from airport to hotel having seen flashing glimpses of people, stalls, traffic – but no sense of the terrain covered or where you are. 

through the window of the water taxi

Through the window of the water taxi

Arriving in Sierra Leone is particularly disorienting. The airport is divided from Freetown by the ‘world’s biggest natural harbour’ and the options for getting across are water taxi, hovercraft or helicopter.  Having been warned against the helicopter (there have been some recent deaths) I made for the water taxi – and was transported down a rough track in total darkness to the shore, where you are asked to don large life jackets – and then onto the boat – rather like one of the smaller pleasure boats that takes tourists along the Thames. And off you go – in total darkness – bouncing along for half an hour – and realising you’re lucky the weather is good today.

Next morning in the light one gathers a whole new set of first impressions. I’m in Sierra Leone to meet an association of cocoa farmers – Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise (KAE) – first established in 1996 – during the civil war that devastated the country for 10 years.  Working with Twin (the NGO behind Divine, Cafedirect and Liberation Nuts), and other NGOs, KAE aimed to create a cooperative of farmers, collectively managing their own business and exporting their own cocoa. This is possible in Sierra Leone as the economy is entirely liberalised (unlike Ghana) – but KAE is up against many competitor traders – most of whom do not have the farmers’ best interests at heart – so a big challenge to compete successfully and make it work.

Twin’s man in West Africa, Seth Gogoe and I set off early in the morning for Kenema – about 4-5 hours east of Freetown. The most striking thing about the journey – once we escape the gridlock in Freetown – is the excellent new roads – recently laid by Chinese contractors.  With little traffic and a beautiful clear day – it’s a pleasure to just stare out of the window and take in the scenery – lush tropical greenery and small roadside towns and villages.  I’m travelling to meet the team that runs KAE and some of the farmer members – and find out more about the challenges they face.

It’s a special trip for Divine.  Kuapa Kokoo – the cooperative in Ghana that owns 45% of Divine – has been sharing its experience and skills with KAE to help them develop their structure and processes, and also, importantly to show them how to improve significantly the quality of their cocoa.  As a result KAE has been Fairtrade certified, and Kuapa Kokoo gave Divine the go ahead to buy KAE’s first containers of Fairtrade cocoa.

The story of KAE is important for a number of reasons.  It is yet another demonstration of how an ownership model of fairer trade allows more benefits for more farmers. Because Kuapa has other income streams from Divine (2% turnover for producer support and development, + 45% of distributible profits) they are in a position to help other farmers get established and sell their first Fairtrade cocoa to Divine. It is also a salutory reminder that creating a working collective of farmers – in incredibly challenging conditions – takes a long time, and the absolute dedication and commitment of the farmers making it happen. It is the work of organisations like Twin, and the farmer-owned companies Twin has helped set up, on the ground in countries where farmers have historically been expoited and marginilised, that is at the heart of developing a fairer trade system. It is these pioneers who are demonstrating that trade systems can be fairer still – and continuing to challenge all those businesses who shirk from properly sharing their wealth with those who are fundamental to creating it.

My next blog will be about meeting KAE and its inspirational manager….

Divine Taxi Spotted!

12 February 2010

Well done to Barney Stephens who spotted our Divine London Taxi near Chancery Lane Station on Grays Inn Road. A hamper of Divine goodies are whisking its way to you as a reward!

If you spot the Divine Taxi, email us a picture and we will send you a chocolate hamper worth £50!

Divine Board hears about new Kuapa constitution

8 February 2010

Posted by Sophi:

While people in Britain continued to contemplate the length and depth of this year’s winter and when it will ever finish, the Divine Directors escaped to the sun, making the annual pilgrimage to Ghana for our board meeting. I have been making this journey for eleven years. Pauline Tiffen, the Director who helped Kuapa Kokoo set up, has been going there even longer, and now we have people travelling from USA and Holland too.

The Divine US Board meeting in Ghana

I sit on a number of boards and getting people to know and trust each other is always a challenge, involving planning days, and retreats etc. But with Divine we have all been making the trip to Ghana to meet with the farmers that own 45% of the company and see their challenges close up. In the process we have also had a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other, once you have shared the experience of changing planes in Amsterdam at 4.30 am you have nothing to hide!

The farmers have had a difficult autumn but seem to have come through with renewed vigour. At their AGM last year they passed a Constitution, the result of a good consultative process. As this year is an election year they are working hard to embed it at a local and district level. They have created an A3 flip chart to use in villages, with illustrations to explain how the new constitution will work for them. There will be much more going on at a District level rather then at National Executive. This should really help to build Kuapa both as a democratic farmers’ organisation and as a cocoa buying company. The flip chart was another lovely example of Kuapa really appreciating that everyone needs to understand and be able to join in the new constitution.

Both the USA and UK Board meetings went well, chaired by Sandy Balfour in his inimitable way, lots of good discussions on future plans, with no distractions. Kuapa took us all out for a Chinese meal – we all sat at a huge round table with a lazy susan, enjoying the company, the spicy food and the G&Ts.

Divine’s board is really representative of what makes Divine special, made up of talented busy people who generously give their time for the bigger vision, a world where the producers have a real say and a share of the wealth they are creating. They represent organisations: Twin, Christian Aid, Comic Relief, Oikocredit and Lutheran World Relief who have worked for far longer to create a more equitable trading system based on respect and dignity. We talked into the night, putting the world to rights. After two days of meeting, thousands of miles of travel and much food for thought, we began our trips home, grateful for the opportunity to have been part of something so significant.