Big Food Debate – September 2010, Abergavenny

29 September 2010

Speakers from all over the world at the Big Food Debate

 What made last week’s Big Food Debate an especially important forum was that it gave voice to so many farmers and producers from around the world.  Yes, there were UK pundits and experts, but there was no doubt we were all there to listen to and understand the challenges and ambitions so lucidly explained by more than twenty five producers who had come from across Africa, Latin America and Asia. 

Organised by Twin (the NGO that has 25 years experience working specifically with smallholder farmers) and Fair Trade Wales, the Big Food Debate was a logistical miracle, as getting visas and travel arrangements sorted for this many farmers will not have been easy.  The sense of unity, sharing of problems, and extraordinary persistence and resilience amongst the farmers was palpable throughout.

The Debate opened with plenary presentations from Tomy Mathew representing the Fairtrade Alliance of Kerala, Southern India, from Peter Lipman of Transition Towns Network, and from Gareth Edwards-Jones of Bangor University. They set the scene for and against consumerism and Fairtrade in the search for sustainable solutions to trade injustice and food security.

The Debate then broke into six workshops all focused on different issues farmers face worldwide and the challenges faced here in the UK in engaging civic society to support farmer-centric solutions to the food security issues we are all now becoming aware of.

In the workshop on “how farmers can move higher up the value chain” we first heard about Zaytoun. This brand of Fairtrade olive oil is a triumph of hope over adversity for Palestinian olive farmers with every possible obstacle in the way of them producing the excellent product the country has been known for over 3000 years. Dyborn Chibonga of NASFAM farmers association in Malawi described how the farmers he represents have succeeded in making more money from their groundnuts and thereby moving further up the value chain, by adding roasting and salting to their offer. Kuapa Kokoo. Like Zaytoun, was another example showing how owning your own brand in the Northern consumer markets brings so much more than extra income.

Another workshop discussed “how farmers can build the capacity to be sustainable, particularly in respect of climate change’.  Here it became clear how profound the impact of changing weather patterns has been around the world. Carmen Willems of Junta Nacional del Café coffee farmers union in Peru described recent harvests being severely decimated due to the multiple effect of very heavy rains and drought at the wrong times. Coffee cherries are either not being pollenated, being washed off the bushes by the rain, or becoming more exposed to pests and diseases.  Junta Nacional del Café has an ambitious and well-conceived adaptation programme in place but they estimate it will need $130m to complete.  So far they have raised $5m. Emmanuel Arthur of Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana explained how important it was to present adaptation solutions to farmers in terms they understand, and which relate to their experience on their farms.  It should be they, the farmers, in control of their own destinies so they need to understand the problems.  Adaptation programmes should not be imposed on farmers by manufacturers and their technical experts.  Farmers should have the training and funding to implement these programmes themselves.

The overriding themes that came out of this Debate were the need for biodiversity, the potential for further organisation, networking and collaboration of farmers, and the need for funding.  Farmers cannot be expected to fund major adaptation programmes out of FT premiums. What is very clear is that it is the farmers themselves who are best placed and most experienced in stewarding the land and keeping it productive, and they should therefore have equal control over funding and how it is used – the power should not be in the hands of the funding provider.

Note: For more about how smallholder farmers are key to the future of the world’s food security read George Monbiot’s piece ‘Small is bountiful’ here

25 years of Twin – the NGO that has done more than any other to make Fair Trade a reality

27 September 2010


Blackford Banda and Brywell Sikelo weeding groundnuts in Malawi

No other organisation has done more or gone further in developing fair trade in action than Twin (the NGO behind Divine Chocolate, Cafedirect and Liberation/Harry’s Nuts) which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. 

Coffee pulping in Haiti

Twin is a true pioneer both in terms of constantly developing new and better ways of ensuring smallholder farmers can help themselves achieve sustainability and the potential for growth, and introducing the farmer-owned business model into the UK market which brings added value and benefits well beyond those delivered by Fairtrade certification.  Divine Chocolate is delicious proof that a business where the largest shareholder is a producer cooperative, can thrive in one of the world’s most competitive food markets.  Twin must take much of the credit for this achievement, and the fact that it has amassed the best and broadest expertise in enabling more equitable and sustainable trade routes for farmers , working in countries  all around the southern hemisphere – across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Enrique Arguello, coffee producer, Huatusco, Mexico

Twin is the unsung hero of the fair trade movement – for without the progress made on the ground by Twin, and the achievements of the companies they helped create in convincing supermarkets to stock their products, and proving consumers would go out of their way to buy them, the Fairtrade market would not be the size it is today.

Willington Wamayaye, General Manager Gumutindo/Twin Trustee meeting Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, September 2010.

As the organisation marks 25 years at their AGM in Abergavenny this week, alongside the major conference on Food Sustainability Twin has coordinated with Fair Trade Wales, it is addressing major challenges for the future.

At the AGM they have heard from member farmers from Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana and Kerala. In each country farmers face specific challenges but climate change and the worldwide economic crisis are having an impact on all of them.

It is very hard to set up and maintain farmers’ associations, but Twin has excelled at advising and liaising with farmers on organisation development, as well as economic, social and environmental sustainability, and has a large, diverse and committed family of farmer partners as a result.  The stark realities of the current world situation regarding food sustainability and security has prompted further exciting innovation to help farmers adapt to the very daunting circumstances in which they find themselves.

Twin may be a relatively small organisation but it is far ahead of the game in knowledge, networks and experience of working with and listening to farmers. The sustainability initiatives recently established by multinationals may have the benefit of excellent funding but they not only lack Twin’s specialist skills, but also the mission to deliver both the new farming methods, empowerment and the resulting financial benefits, directly into the hands of the farmers.

(Note: Twin was established by a visionary team with backgrounds in the Co-operative movement, international development and commodity trading, with the aim of working with producers, particularly smallholders, to help them establish associations, improve the quality of their crops, get access to Fairtrade markets, and gain more influence in their trading relationships)

Tal’s first week at Divine

13 September 2010
Guest blog from Tal Drori – who’s joined us from Heinz as Marketing Manager:

Tal outside Divine HQ

Being the new kid on the block is never an easy one but somehow a minute after I went through the door at Divine towers (not really – its more like a town house) I felt cosy and comfortable. 

Dwennimmen - humility and inner strength

It’s the small things that make you feel welcome, like having a 5 minutes explanation on how to adjust your chair to the optimal posture for your back, or how to choose one of the Ghanaian Adinkra symbols (the ones which are on all our packs) to go into your business card.  I chose Dwennimen which stands for humility and inner strength.

The little open space office down in Gainsford street, is where the Divine people are making a difference. I have sat in some open spaces before, but this one is way more bubbly, even though there is usually not more than 10 of us at the same time.  Perhaps it’s the constant stream of phone calls, people shouting to each other (in a very civilised way though) and perhaps it’s the noise you get when people are really passionate about what they do.

And in my first week which was packed with inductions, the passion was always there, passion about chocolate, about fairtrade about Ghana & Kuapa.  Divine is a passionate brand!

There is no time wasting here, I have to be switched on all the time. So in less than a week -apart from inductions, already starting to manage our next two big events   (Country  Living Christmas Show and BBC Good Food in Birmingham)  , visited our lovely stand in the speciality food trade  exhibition, went for breakfast presentation about experiential marketing, contacted all our devoted volunteers and fair trade partners, and started to arrange my thoughts on how we can do things even better! 

How do I even find time to blog ???

After years in marketing corporate brands, it is such a good feeling to work for a brand you take real pride off, the kind that makes a positive difference to people , and the kind that make people go- Wow I just love It! (+ an envious look J) 

There is always a downside of course which is all this beautiful chocolate lying around winking at me, being hard to resist, this and friends constantly nagging me for free samples..

Introducing the new National Executive at Kuapa Kokoo

9 September 2010

The last in Sophi’s posts from the Kuapa AGM in Ghana:

The new National Executive line up at the AGM

After all the hustings and voting, the new Kuapa Kokoo National Executive were sworn in and were enthusiastic to take up their new posts.   They were a great group of people representing some of the most productive Kuapa societies, a good balance between experience and new blood, men and women, old and young. The Divine team look forward to working with them in the years to come.

They are:

Anna Awere – Executive member
Juliana Fremah – Executive member
Ali Fatima – Secretary
PK Terkper – Vice President
Alhaji Mohamamed Elias – Welfare officer
Christiana Ohene Agyare – President
Yaw Sraha – Treasurer
Samuel Antwi – Protocol OfficeR
Isaac Baidoo – Porter
Esther Kuffour – Executive Member
Appiah Kwarteng – Executive member

Transparent & Trustworthy:Kuapa Kokoo elects first woman President

6 September 2010

Latest post from Kuapa Kokoo, from Sophi:

Christiana Ohene Agyare's campaign banner

I saw Christiana Ohene Agyare elected and declared as Kuapa Kokoo’s first women President. What an achievement. She had been the Treasurer for the last 4 years and fought a competitive election. A woman heading a farmers’ cooperative in Africa with 45,000 members in 1,300 village societies buying 30,000 tonnes of cocoa and turning over just under $50 million.

This is the result of Kuapa’s commitment to gender equality. From the beginning back in 1993 Kuapa’s constitution required that women were represented at every level in the organisation, 3 of the executives at a village level had to be women. And a woman as well as a man had to represent each village at the AGM. This meant that women had their confidence built and over time stood to be Recorders and Presidents for their Societies. They felt as if Kuapa was an organisation that represented them. I am delighted that this has now delivered their first women President and I wish her lots of luck as it’s a big job, with lots of potential and lots of responsibility.

Read more on Divine’s website here and our Facebook page here

Christiana Ohene Agyare with the newly elected National Executive

Kuapa Kokoo refreshed

3 September 2010

The latest post from Sophi at the Kuapa Kokoo AGM:

Mr Buah and some of the members of the outgoing Kuapa NEC

The outgoing President Mr Paul CK Buah, and the outgoing National Executive Committee were leaving Kuapa Kokoo in a considerably better position then they had inherited, they had worked hard and well together.

They met on a quarterly basis to run all the divisions of Kuapa, The Trading company, The Farmers Trust, The Credit Union, and the Union itself.  They had introduced a new constitution decentralising power to the 52 Districts which should prove positive for both the democracy and the business.  They also audited all the Social Projects that had been funded from Fairtrade Social Premiums, and made good those that had fallen into disrepair. 

A Memorandums of Understanding for all the schools they had built was also introduce, as well as a formal transparent process for villages applying for social projects.  They passed formal policy on their commitment to erradicate the worst forms of child labour and developed an internal control system so that they have much more information on all their members in each of the village societies. They were handing over a new and refreshed Kuapa Kokoo and they are all keen to see the new NEC succeed.