A meeting of co-operatives – The Co-op and Suma visit Kuapa Kokoo

Here’s Divine’s Wendy Rowan reporting on her first trip to Ghana:

Saturday 19th January

We left a snow bound London to arrive in Accra at 10.30 at night with the temperature at a humid 32 degrees. The heat just hits you, right there, at the back of the throat, taking your breath away. Immigration procedure was long and tortuous in the non air-conditioned airport terminal – embarkation cards completed, signed & handed over, iris recognition image scanned, finger prints taken, yellow fever inoculation certificate checked. Our driver was waiting in arrivals and we sped away for our first night in Ghana at the Airside Hotel. 

Lots of these little chaps at our hotel

Lots of these little chaps at our hotel

We were a party of five – myself and my colleague Alistair Menzies from Divine Chocolate, Jenny Dixon and Rachael Gray from The Co-operative and Jenny Carlyle from Suma, the wholefood wholesaler worker’s co-operative in Elland, Yorkshire.

Sunday 20th January

Sunday morning we were up with the cockerels and breakfasted in the Zara restaurant. A splendid buffet catered for everyone’s tastes and offered a delicious choice from fresh pineapple & papaya to rice and spicy beef curry.

Today was going to be a leisurely day visiting tourist attractions and making our way to Kumasi, Ghana’s second city. We were collected by our drivers who were going to accompany us on the whole trip – Enoch, Joe and Abdulai.

The forbidding door leading to a holding room for slaves at Elmina Castle

We set off westward to Elmina Castle. Built by the Portuguese traders in the late 1400’s, the castle was built to protect the gold trade. But following its capture by the Dutch in 1637, it came to serve the Dutch slave trade with Brazil and the Caribbean. The Castle housed luxury suites on the upper levels for the European governor, traders and soldiers. The slave dungeons below were cramped, dark and filthy cells housing up to 600 men and 400 women at a time. The governor could look down from his balcony on to the courtyard where the women slaves would be lined up and he could choose his companion for the night. At the seaboard side of the castle was the infamous “Door of No Return” through which the slaves passed through one by one to board to waiting ships that would take them on a treacherous journey across the Atlantic. Over three centuries it is estimated that 60 million slaves were captured with only 20 million surviving capture, imprisonment and the journey to the New World. We all knew something about the slave trade but to see where the slaves were imprisoned in dark, dank, squalid conditions brought home the true horrors endured by Africans for three centuries.

We continued 4 kilometres from the coast to the Hans Cottage Botel where we stopped for lunch. Holiday cottages and a restaurant situated in a lagoon which is home to crocodiles, turtles and many birds. Although the crocodiles are said to be friendly, we weren’t going to risk getting too close and stuck to taking photos from behind the safety of the wall.  We were however, very adventurous with our choice of food and all opted for the Ghanaian traditional fayre of beans, rice and fried plantain. And very tasty it was too.

A big smile from the croc

A big smile from the croc

Next stop was the Kakum Rainforest National Park. Here a 40m canopy walkway suspended between trees gives a breathtaking view of the forest. We shared the experience with a group of ladies and gents in their Sunday best – men in their brightly coloured printed shirts and the ladies beautiful in their colourful traditional African dresses. And with a gaggle of giggling Ghanaian girls on a church trip out to the forest wilds all dressed up in their trendy, western Sunday best. A 20 minute climb through the moist & humid forest, passing indigenous trees which were hundreds of years old and accompanied by the sounds of cicadas brings you to a wooden platform. From here you step on to the walkway – a narrow wooden plank suspended by rope and netting and underpinned by a few steel bars. At the circular tree house there was a choice to be the adventurer and do 7 more walkways or take it easy and do just 3 more or as I did, take the scaredy-cat option and go back the way we came and get on to terra firma as soon as possible. Exhilarated after our adventure, it was then back on the road for the 4 hour journey to Kumasi along the “B” road – a long and winding dirt road, deep rusty

Kakun Aerial Walkway

Kakun Aerial Walkway

red in colour with plenty of pot holes. Either side of the road was forest vegetation – plantain, banana, papaya and palm trees and road side vendors selling their home-grown produce – water melons, pineapples, oranges, lemons, coconuts and freshly fried plantain chips. We passed villages with unstructured layouts bustling with activity and always with a cleared level area for the football pitch with goal posts either end. We were happy to at last to arrive at Kumasi and check in to the Rees Hotel, where we could revive our hot & dusty selves. We ate in the hotel that evening a mixture of European and Ghanaian dishes.

Monday 21st January

Refreshed and well rested, we met up early morning for an unusual breakfast – spring onion omelette with cold baked beans and 4 triangles of barely toasted, sweet white bread. Surprisingly tasty.

Collected by our trusty drivers we headed from the hotel to Kuapa Kokoo offices where we met up with Francis who was going to be our translator and Vincent who was in charge of taking photos & video recording. Kuapa Kokoo is the co-operative of cocoa farmers who grow all the cocoa which goes in to making Divine Chocolate – and own 45% of the company.

The ancient capital of the Ashanti kingdom, Kumasi has a population of 1.5 million and judging by the gridlocked roads, the same number of cars. It took time and patience to drive out of the city, the roads noisy with horns tooting and nose to tail with yellow painted taxis, motor bikes, seriously large 4 by 4’s, tro tros – the Ghanaian equivalent of the mini bus, with passengers sardined inside and outside packed high with all their belongings  – goats included tied to the roofs.

The city sprawls on forever with a ramshackle shanty town – dwellings fronted by trading posts selling everything from car engines, doors, coffins, beds, carpets to all manner of electrical appliances. And all along the carriage way are street sellers offering their wares to the hot & frustrated drivers – bags of cooled water, refreshing coconuts, snacks, pieces of  water melon, handkerchiefs, sim cards, loaves of bread, all displayed beautifully in baskets and bowls carried securely and proudly on the head.

Here we all are at Amankwatia

Here we all are at Amankwatia

Eventually the landscape changed to a more rural setting and we turned off the main road and arrived at Amankwatia village. In 2010 to celebrate 5 years of sourcing cocoa from Kuapa Kokoo for their own label Truly Irresistible range of chocolate, The Co-operative co-funded with Kuapa Kokoo the building  of a new Junior High School. Jenny & Rachael from The Co-op were here to see how the school was doing and how it was benefitting the 13-19 year old students from Amankwatia and the surrounding villages. We were welcomed in to the village with singing and hand clapping by about 50 cocoa farmers who had given up their time to greet us. We were introduced to the Recorder Samuel Antwi, the society secretary, the village chief who was also a member of Kuapa, and Adwoa Asianaa he oldest cocoa farmer at 83 years- a feisty lady who looked half her age and who had harvested 20 bags of cocoa that season –   and the youngest at 42 years. As well as the school, the benefits to the village for being members of Kuapa Kokoo and co-owning Divine Chocolate have been the installation of a corn mill, solar panels for electricity, and machetes for each farmer – a vital tool for the harvesting of cocoa. And an opportunity for the women to learn new skills to supplement their income – tie dying and soap making with the cocoa pod husks.

Jenny from Suma learns how to crack open a cocoa pod

Jenny from Suma learns how to crack open a cocoa pod

We took a short walk out of the village in to the forest where the cocoa trees grow amongst the orange and papaya trees. It’s near the end of the season and the weather has been unseasonably hot but there were still pods ripening. We were shown how to harvest a cocoa pod – with care and diligence so as not to damage the trunk, how to slice it open with the machete and remove the beans. We all got a taste of the sweet white flesh surrounding the bean. The farmers work as one team, harvesting, fermenting and drying the beans together going from one farm to the next in what is known in Twi as “ Nnoboa” – you help me and I’ll help you & let’s work together. Having read how it’s done, seen the films on how it’s done, and heard the farmers tell me how it’s done, it was wonderful to actually be part  of the harvest and an honour to be presented with a freshly harvested, weighty cocoa pod.

Returning to the village we met the school’s headmaster and were introduced to the senior class. The students were shy

It's really useful to have a bike

It’s really useful to have a bike

so what better way to break the ice than to ask them to do a bit of Azonto dancing for us! Two willing dancers soon got the class clapping and laughing. On a more serious note, one of the students, 19 years old and luckily still in education, said how much he would love a bicycle to make his 6 mile journey to and from the school a little easier. Many of the students come from neighbouring cocoa growing villages and the time it takes for the journey impacts on their learning time.

Time to say our goodbyes and thank the villagers for their hospitality with gifts of Co-op T shirts, pens and pencils for the students and soaps for the ladies.

On route back to Kumasi we stopped off at the regional depot where all the sacks of cocoa are delivered, weighed, recorded, graded and then loaded on to a truck for shipment to the port of Tema. Rachael from the Co-op, in her role as technical & quality manager was full of praise for the efficient and accurate traceability systems in place.

A dinner hosted by Kuapa staff and members of the Farmers Union was a lovely end to a fabulous day.

Tuesday 22nd January

In the morning we went to the Kuapa Farmer’s Union offices where Esther presented the history and mission of Kuapa Kokoo to give us a first-hand understanding of the workings of the co-operative. We also had the pleasure of meeting members of the NEC – National Executive Committee, the elected members of the farmer’s union. It was a pleasure to meet up with old friends – Elias Mohammed who had come to the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight in 2012 and who I’d had the honour of accompanying around Scotland, and Fatima Ali who I had been with in Cardiff in 2011.

IMG_1253We then headed off to New Koforidua, a village which serves as a centre to a community of 5,200 people. Here the school was funded by the Fairtrade premium and the community house was funded by The Co-operative. The community house serves as a meeting place, library and conference centre. We were welcomed by Walter Alifo, the headmaster and driving force behind the success of the village, and cocoa farmers from the villages and all the students. New Koforidua is a fine example of the benefits of Fairtrade as it is not only twinned with Garstang in Lancashire, the first UK Fairtrade town but is also calls itself the first Fairtrade village in Africa. Important visitors are given the honour of planting sapling cocoa trees outside the community centre – trees planted by  Brad Hill from The Co-operative in 2010 and Sophi Tranchell the MD at Divine Chocolate in 2012 are growing tall & strong. Now the honour fell to Jenny from Suma to plant her sapling. May all the trees flourish and produce a good harvest.

It was photo opportunity time with students putting on this year’s Comic Relief Red Noses and posing with giant Dubble bars – and throwing Divine chocolate coins up in the air to encourage everyone in the UK to “Do Something Funny for Money “ this Red Nose Day.  

We had also been given books to distribute which written & illustrated by the students from Surbiton High School. These were very well received and the students were full of admiration for the wonderful illustrations. We lunched under the shade of the trees and admired the village, the school and community centre. And then it was time to say our goodbyes and head to Kumasi airport and on to the winter cold & snow of the UK.

Women welcoming us to Amankwatia

Women welcoming us to Amankwatia

I have worked for Divine Chocolate for nearly six years and during that time have met a few of the cocoa farmers on their visits to the UK during Fairtrade Fortnight and have heard their stories, and learnt a great deal about cocoa production and the global cocoa & chocolate industry. Actually visiting Ghana and seeing for myself how Fairtrade and farmer-ownership have improved the lives of cocoa farmers at first-hand has been an enlightening experience. Seeing the benefits of trading fairly and investing in the health and education of the next generation has made me more determined to make sure Divine is the chocolate bar of choice for all of us chocolate lovers.

One Response to A meeting of co-operatives – The Co-op and Suma visit Kuapa Kokoo

  1. Sounds like you had fantastic time, very busy, lovely, i am envious, perhaps you could run a competition to win a trip there, high profile = more awareness of your yummy chocolate and beneficial Fairtrade is to our world.

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