In November, Divine Chocolate USA was thrilled to host two women leaders from Kuapa Kokoo. Fatima Ali and Felicia Mensah braved the chilly autumn weather to travel through Washington DC and New York City, sharing the incredible story of 45,000 cocoa farmers changing the face of the chocolate industry.
Fatima Ali is a farmer with 5 acres of cocoa farm in the Western Region of Ghana. At the age of 30, she is the youngest member of the National Executive Council of Kuapa Kokoo, which is the central leadership body of the farmers’ organization. She serves as the National Secretary and is the Chair of the Kuapa Kokoo Trust, which determines how the premiums from Fair Trade are used each year. She is the proud mother of a little boy, and provides extensive support to her father and brothers.
Felicia Mensah is a farmer with 8 acres of land in the Western Region of Ghana. She is 50 years old and is an executive member of her village society. She is also the first woman President of her district, representing over 1,000 farmers. Felicia has been a member of Kuapa Kokoo for over 15 years and has seen it grow not only in numbers but in the level of women’s participation. She is now a leading voice for women’s empowerment in the cooperative. She is the proud mother of three children, all of whom are working or finishing up their studies.
Here are some great highlights from their trip:
Fatima and Felicia’s first stop was at the World Bank, where they participated in a great conversation on cocoa sustainability in Ghana. They told the story of N’nobua, which is a community tradition that means “if you help me, I will help you.” During the cocoa harvest, friends and neighbors help one another gather the cocoa pods and break them open for fermentation. During that time, farmers share best practices and inform one another of problems with productivity or pests. Kuapa Kokoo uses this time as an opportunity for extension officers to provide vital training to farmers to improve yields and protect against any potential diseases. This grassroots outreach strategy has had a tremendous impact on the sustainability of cocoa farms within Kuapa Kokoo.
Fatima and Felicia then headed to New York City, where they met with the students of New York University and members of the New York City Fair Trade Coalition. As NYU has a campus in Ghana, many of the students had visited Kuapa Kokoo in the past, and were eager to learn more about the cooperative’s latest projects. Fatima told them about investments in three new schools and projects to fight child labor, while Felicia discussed microcredit initiatives for women.
Back in Washington DC, the ladies met with the US Department of Labor to discuss their pioneering project with the ILO to combat the worst forms of child labor, and they spoke to a packed audience at a celebration of the launch of the UN’s International Year of Cooperatives.
On their last evening, Fatima and Felicia gave a presentation at the Embassy of Ghana, where representatives congratulated them on their hard work and leadership in the cocoa sector. They headed back to Ghana after 9 busy days, and we can’t thank them enough for their hard work and enthusiasm throughout the trip.