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

13 February 2013

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.

Reporting, voting and celebrating – it’s the 18th Kuapa farmers’ AGM

11 September 2012

Sophi Tranchell reports from this years AGM in Ghana:

Peter Bennett Jones tries out the well at Kwabeng Society

I’ve just returned from my annual pilgrimage to Kuapa Kokoo’s AGM to report to them on how Divine is doing.  On the way there the Chair of Comic Relief,  Peter Bennett Jones and I visited Kwabeng, which is the President’s Society.  It was the first time Peter had been to a Kuapa farm to see cocoa growing and how beans are dried on a bamboo table.  Comic Relief has supported Kuapa Kokoo since 1994 but this is the first time Peter had visited the farmers. He made a nice speech about his family farming in Britain and was delighted to see the water well that Kuapa had sunk using Fairtrade premiums.  I was joined later by Hannah from Twin and Rosie from Body Shop – it was their first Kuapa AGM and a great introduction to this amazing co-operative.

One of the Kuapa Women’s Groups displaying their batik and tie-dye

The AGM was a celebration. There was a great display from the Women’s project with stalls displaying the different products that Kuapa women had made or grown.  Beautiful batiks including ones with Kuapa’s logo, soap from palm oil and cocoa pods, palm oil, garry and lots of fresh produce.

The delegates meeting began with a presentation of the combined offices and conference centre that Kuapa is proposing to build so that all the different parts of Kuapa could be in one building.   They then discussed the use of Fairtrade Premiums; the farmers were keen to receive cash bonuses and machetes but also recognised the need to invest in the business.  The roving medical clinics which had visited 30 districts were held up as a success, as was the women’s project.   Kuapa has invested significantly in internal controls to ensure that they are delivering on their Fairtrade promises, they also run one of the only farmer-run Child Labour Awareness Programmes which has attracted the support of ILO.  The meeting also agreed to a set up a constitution review committee and elected members to sit on it.

Sophi, Madam President and Chief Barima Ofe Akwasi Okogyeasuo II on the top table

The second day was the formal business of the AGM. As we entered, the women, who were very well represented, were dancing and singing Kuapa songs.  The meeting was chaired by Barima Ofe Akwasi Okogyeasuo II, a local Chief who arrived with his full entourage. He had a young man to hold the official parasol over his head for the whole length of the proceedings! He was adorned in brightly coloured Kente cloth and Ashanti gold. There were speeches from the President, The MD of KKL and many honoured guests including Cocobod, Kraft and visiting farmers from Cameroon.

Sophi joins the dancing

Regina kindly translated my speech into Twi as I presented my speech.  I focussed on two programmes that Divine has supported through our Producer Support & Development fund.  Firstly, the membership database, so that Kuapa can look after its members and run its operations more efficiently.  Kuapa now has 65,000 members, 21,000 are women.  They deliver 42,000 tonnes of cocoa which is nearly 1% of the world’s cocoa.  The database is an essential tool.  Kuapa is also doing a pilot series of hour long radio programmes to promote the benefits of being a member of Kuapa and to share important information with the farmers many of whom are deep in the rainforest and very remote.

In the evening we had a great party in the grounds of Kuapa’s offices with a local band singing in Twi, a popcorn machine and lots of food, drink and dancing. Those Internal Control Officers sure can dance!

Fairtrade and Women and Pancakes

9 March 2011

Fatima and Harriet in their Kuapa dresses at Oxford Town Hall

In Oxford today – this morning as guests of Mid-Counties Co-op at their Fairtrade Fair in the gloriously ornate Oxford Town Hall. After a Fairtrade fashion parade featuring models from 6 months to 60, and their first taste of pancakes, Kuapa farmers Harriet and Fatima presented their experience of farming and Fairtrade. There were lots of questions, photos, and then African drummers from Guinea (via Stourport).

Harriet and Fatima try their first pancakes

In the afternoon we jumped into a cab up to Oxfam GB (divine’s long time supporter and customer) to join their celebration of International Women’s Day. They were involving the staff in a day of talks and displays about gender issues worldwide (Oxfam is one of the NGOs contributing to the EQUALs compaign). Harriet and Fatima drew a big crowd, standing room only. This time they both gave much more personal stories about how membership of their co-operative had empowered them. They have achieved such great things and are inspiring role models for other young women in their communities. They were asked if there was any male backlash (sometimes men are jealous they say), about the size of their farms and cocoa prices. Later they were off to dinner with the buyers for all the Oxfam shops.

Fatima and Harriet at Oxfam GB
Fatima and Harriet with the Oxfam buyers Inma Andres and Sophie Brill

David’s first trip to Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana

4 January 2011

Day one: Heathrow to Amsterdam/ Accra
With 25kg of my 46kg luggage allowance taken up with Divine products, I had plenty of chocolate for the farmers; after all they’re the folk who put the hard work in to make sure the beans we use are of the best quality possible. A packed KLM flight and a short delay reduced our wait in Amsterdam to an hour and as we arrived at our gate we found Ger from Kinsale distribution and Melanie from Fairtrade mark Ireland just arrived in from Dublin. Quick introductions and then through security with the infamous full body scan! Our excitement overshadowed the turbulence we experienced flying over the Sahara and I couldn‟t quite believe that I was finally going to visit the cocoa farms and see for myself the positive impact Divine has on the farmer’s communities.
Arriving at Accra we collected our cases and changed £ for Cedi about (2.4= £1) and headed out for the shuttle bus to the Shangri-La hotel. The dark streets and roads were overflowing with people coming home from work in buses, taxis and tro-tros ( anything that’s not a bus or taxi ); people were selling everything from food , water, tissues, spanner sets and mobile phone holders amongst the traffic. The hotel was only a ten minute ride away; we all checked in, had a quick wash and met for a chat about what we all expected from the trip. For me this was the opportunity to see, touch, smell and generally immerse myself, albeit for a short time, in the motivating force behind my role as National account manager with Divine, and take some of what I experienced back to the UK.
Day two: Kuapa office
The day started at 5:30 in 21 degree heat with a mini bus trip through Accra polo club and to the domestic airport to take our flight to Kumasi. We had to endure a short wait sitting as close to the  fans as possible to keep cool and enjoying people-watching, seeing everything from oil riggers covered in tattoos, and business men dressed in smart suites. We all went through the security checks and boarded our small plane for the 35 min city link flight north to Kumasi, Ghana’s second city. Once airborne we got the chance to see the city from the air, giving a fantastic view of the village structure and nested groups of huts and farms.
We were met by Nicolas Adjei-Gyan from Kuapa Kooko who took us on a 30 min journey through the busy streets passing the Baba Yara stadium to drop our bags at the Rees hotel on Stadium Road and then round the corner to the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative HQ offices
Kuapa Kokoo co-operative office

David meets Nanna at the Kuapa offices

We were greeted by the whole team: Mr Buah (past president) Madam Christiana Ohene Agyare the new President, members of the executive and Nanna Kwaku Bio; there were some familiar faces –  I’ve met Comfort and Erica in UK and seen Kwabena on Skype.
After we introduced ourselves and our reasons for visiting Kuapa Kokoo co-operative I gave a chocolate tasting session that was translated so all could enjoy the masses of chocolate I had brought with me; they all loved the dark and raspberry chocolate.

Regiana gave us an excellent presentation on Kuapa Kokoo co-operative explaining why Kuapa Kokoo co-operative was set up, its values, aims and structure as well as the latest anti child labour programme that’s been rolled out this month to teach adults and protect children in the region. This was something I was particularly interested in seeing, given the recent focus by the UK media on the use of child labour in cocoa farms.
1pm: We all boarded the bus and headed out to Bayerebon number 3, travelling against the flow of traffic north out of Kumasi. The streets were packed with people selling things. Shops that unfolded from crates and parasols at the side of the road or gardens filled with car parts. Women carrying large bowls of nuts, fruit and bags of water on their heads, brightly coloured clothes and numerous European football shirts added to the melee. The scene took me back to pre-earthquake Port-au-Prince in Haiti, a place I have visited many times. Unlike Haiti, however Vodafone appear to rule here as their logo was everywhere, with entire blocks of flats covered in the familiar red and white logo; Coke too is everywhere, with the whole toll booth festooned with the brand.
We travelled for around 2 hours on the road, dodging potholes, coaches and taxis then turned off onto a dirt track travelling through countryside villages spotting cocoa farms with tables full of cocoa at different stages of drying. We drove for a further two hours through trees and shrubs and fields of corn, the road sometimes tarmac, other times just hard mud. The scenery was breathtaking and the experience was enhanced by the smell of burning fields occasionally wafting into the car.

Elias Mohammed - the Recorder

We eventually arrived at Bayerebon no.3 and the familiar face of Elias Mohammed the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative society recorder whom I felt I already knew so well having seen his video on the Divine website  explaining what a recorder does. I have told his story many times.
Elias Mohammed is a 52 year old cocoa farmer, and is a member of the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative living in Beyerebon3. He has two and a half acres of farming land producing about twelve bags of cocoa a year. He has five children and has been able to send them all to the school in the village built with Fairtrade premiums. Two have now gone on to senior secondary school.

The whole village came to meet and greet us asking us our reasons for visiting and then explaining what benefits they have enjoyed since becoming members of Kuapa Kokoo co-operative. The president of the society went on to tell us that the school they have is all down to Kuapa Kokoo co-operative and the Fairtrade community here is growing, the people who live here are now proud to say we live in Bayerebon3 the one with the Bayerebon 3 Kuapa Kokoo co-operative. This was wonderful to see and hear and made me realise how Haiti could benefit from Fairtrade.

Drying beans at Bayerebon3

We walked for about ten mins in 38 degree sun into the forest and to the farm where we were shown cocoa growing along side of cocoa yams, palms and plantains. Elias then explained and demonstrated how to care for the farm telling us the importance with each bag earning the community some more money.
Bayerebon 3 village school

Schoolchildren at Bayerebon3

We saw the positive impact of Fairtrade at the school we visited which had been paid for through the Fairtrade premium. I was struck by the passion the children had for education. They learn from an early age that education is the key that can take whole communities out of poverty and I felt saddened that in the UK we don’t always appreciate the privilege that we have of free education. I met another person I felt I already knew – 14 years-old Jennifer Oforiwaa Kusi. Jennifer lives in Bayerebon 3 village. Her father is a cocoa farmer and a member of Kuapa Kokoo, and her mother runs a shop selling basic food stuffs such as rice. Jennifer knows a bit about the role Fairtrade plays in her community – “Fairtrade supports Kuapa,” she says. “Fairtrade means my father gets a bonus. And I got to go on one of the kids camps that Kuapa Kokoo organises for children of cocoa farmers.” We meet the headmaster and pupils who told us the impact that Fairtrade makes in their lives. He told us that the teachers are paid extra by Kuapa Kokoo co-operative to offer extra help in subjects where the students need it.
The children asked me what football team I support. I live near Leeds, so I said “its Leeds United” but unsurprisingly no one had heard of them.
Who is your favourite player? I told them my favourite Ghanaian who played for Leeds is Tony Yeboah. They all knew Yeboah.
What is your wife called? How old is your son? We left Dubble bars for the students, some school books and a new leather football with a pump. Following this we went back to the village and shared some Divine chocolate. Then it was back to Rees hotel in the dark, a quick wash and a drink at the bar before dinner; we were the only people in the restaurant that had a Chinese themed menu – 2 veggi meals and 2 meat dishes that took a little while to arrive but was good.
Day three
Awaham society, Juaben depot, Bonwire Kente village
It’s 7 am and the sun is shining; the rest of the group are still in bed, breakfast isn’t until 8 am. It’s a great way to start the day! Back into the restaurant to a breakfast that consisted of toast, an omelette and tea or coffee – so that’s 4 toast and omelettes please!
We walked round to the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative office and set off for our next community. After about 1.5 hours driving we turned off onto a red dusty track and waved to passing people who were carrying a whole host of things to and from the market houses.

Juliet with some of her cocoa pods

We arrived at Awaham Kuapa Kokoo co-operative society which is a 25 minute drive from Effiduase in the Ashanti region, to be greeted by Juliet the secretary of the society and some of the executive members. Juliet explained that the women of the community wanted to have a corn crushing mill to take some of the back breaking work out of preparing cornmeal. The nearest mill was 2 miles away so they made a request to Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Trust (KKFT) which manages the invested Fairtrade premium, and were successful. The corn mill project was commissioned on Thursday, July 15 2010 at an estimated cost of GH¢ 5,900. I asked if it was important to the members that they own a chocolate company themselves; she replied by saying: “it makes us all very proud to supply the best cocoa for the best chocolate and because we own it we get more of the profits which helps the whole village‟.
Again after stating our reasons for wanting to visit we shared some chocolate and went to the school leaving behind a football and some more chocolate. I was overwhelmed by the desire for chocolate, despite growing and farming the most essential ingredient, people rarely have the opportunity to taste it for themselves. They are excited that it is Kuapa’s chocolate.
Juliet then took us to see her cocoa farm which was a 10-15 minute walk from the village in around

The corn crushing mill at Awaham

40 degree heat. Juliet usually goes to the farm at 7:30 am, returning around 3:30 pm and often eating there. Juliet took her handbag with her into the farm; I asked her what Ghanaian ladies carried in their handbags “a machete” she replied to my surprise. The heat was oppressive on the farm, which is understandable as it is in a rainforest.
Kuapa Kokoo co-operative society Juaben depot
We had lunch with Wiafe Akenten the regional depot manager. Wiafe explained the collection and shipping point to us which is where all the local societies send the cocoa for QA testing and onward shipping. The day we were there, government inspectors were checking quality and moisture levels.

The Juaben depot

I gave Wiafe an old mobile phone which he was delighted with. The similarities with Haiti in this respect are striking, despite many places not having 24 hour electricity, they do have mobile phones. Wiafe and I reflected how access to information had revolutionised lives.
Bonwire Kente village
Last stop on our long day was a cultural shopping break where we saw the skilful weaving of Kente cloth, a royal and sacred cloth held in high esteem in the Akan family and the entire country of Ghana. Some of the cloth had taken 2 years to weave and cost 600 GH¢ but scarves were only 15 GH¢. Young boys asked our names and while they were talking skilfully weaved our names on bracelets. Then said “here I have one for you, no prices, just give me what your heart says”. Again this was reminiscent of Haiti where we would be surrounded wherever we went with people trying to sell us baskets, carvings and embroidered linen some good some not so good.
Lake Bosomtwe Saturday 27th

View across the lake

Our last day. We had breakfast, packed our cases and Comfort’s son Gordon collected us for a trip to see beautiful Lake Bosomtwe, 35km south of Kumasi in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Lake Bosomtwe is the largest natural lake in Ghana and is encircled by rugged mountains thickly vegetated, reaching an altitude of more than 600 metres.

The lake is cared for by the 24 local villages and in the visitor centre we learnt of two theories about its formation; one that a huge meteorite formed the lake, another that it is the crater of an extinct volcano. Whatever the reason it is absolutely stunning.

Frying fish by the lake

The villagers around the lake (numbering approximately 70,000) fish for tilapia that is deep fried and sold on the shores. The Ashanti people consider the lake itself to be sacred. According to belief, the souls of the dead come to the Lake to bid farewell to the God Twi. Because of this, it is only considered permissible to fish in Lake Bosumtwi from wooden planks.
Central Kumasi sight seeing
Kumasi is the capital city of the Ashanti region, and historical centre for Ghana. We visited the Manhyia Palace, the seat of the King of Ashanti and members of the royal family in the northern part of the city. The Palace has a courtyard and a courtroom where matters dealing with the constitution and customs are deliberated upon the traditional council.
We also saw the monument Kuapa Kokoo has commissioned to commemorate the significant role cocoa farmers have played in the social and economic history of Ghana. Most people in Ghana have cocoa farmers to thank for their education as cocoa has been such a significant income generator over the last century. The statue is on a roundabout in central Kumasi designed by Samuel Tachie-Appiah.
Kumasi is home to the largest market in West Africa. Unfortunately we were short on time so had to suffice with a ride around the central market. Stall after stall, were lined next to each other for miles in every direction, 12 hectares in all. The crowds were endless and the salesmen appeared at times to be aggressive. The best way I can describe the scene is to imagine a mega mall packed to the rafters with jumble sale stalls the Saturday before Christmas!

So what were my overall impressions of the trip? I have been with Divine for 5 years but have been passionate about Fairtrade as a recognised means of lifting communities out of poverty for much longer. I have visited Northern Haiti on numerous occasions and for me Haiti represents the “before” to the Kuapa-Kokoo’s “after” and I can see how such a cooperative could have an immense effect on Haitian communities. To witness the positive effects of fairtrade on the community is a real privilege and the welcome I received was immensely humbling. I know that I will take this experience forward into my work and because of it be better able to communicate the vision that is Divine.

Kuapa Kokoo opens a new school

12 August 2010

Sophi reports from Ghana…

Monday 2nd August 2010: After driving for about an hour and a half from Kumasi, we arrived in Amankwatia to attend the formal opening of the new Junior Secondary School that Kuapa Kokoo has built. It was sponsored by The Manchester Co-operative to celebrate 5 years of sourcing Fairtrade cocoa from Kuapa.  They were also celebrating the building of the teacher’s house which had been paid for by Cord Budde the owner of the factory that makes Divine and The Co-operative’s Truly Irresistible range.

Celebrating the new school

Despite the fact that the village had no electricity we arrived to the heavy beat of the sound system run by the young men of the village to the delight of the children who were all strutting their stuff.

Once everyone had arrived, we sat under a canopy to protect us from the burning sun while we listened to the formal business. 

Ms Juliana Fremah

Ms Juliana Fremah, who is on the National Executive Committee (NEC) and is from Amankwatia, made the first speech welcoming us all to the village.  Ms Comfort Kumeah, the Chair of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Trust, who had commissioned the school, spoke about how proud Kuapa was to build the school in this village and how important it was that farmers sell all their cocoa to Kuapa so that the co-operative can flourish and deliver more benefits to farmers.  Nicholas Adjei-Gyan was the MC and introduced children from the village performing dances and singing songs and doing role play illustrating how important it was to educate your daughters. 

Role play - why educate your daughters!

Ms Comfort Kumeah

The local representative from the Salvation Army which is going to run the school was keen to see if anyone can supply desks and chairs for the children to use.  I made a speech on behalf of The Co-operative and Cord Budde celebrating the formal opening of the building, and emphasizing that is was only possible because of Kuapa Kokoo, and that all the farmers should continue to sell their Pa Pa Paa cocoa to Kuapa so that Divine and The Co-operative can continue to support them by buying their cocoa.

 Nana Wiafe Akenten III then unveiled the plaques, first in the school and then in the teacher’s house and everyone looked inside  Then a celebratory feast of food was shared by everyone.    

Nana Wiafe Akenten III

The teacher's house funded by Cord Budde

NB Junior Secondary schools are for children from 13-15 (at this age education is no longer free).  It hopes to have 75 children in 3 classes.

Belfast Fairtrade Awards

4 March 2008

Today I attended the Belfast Fairtrade Award’s organised by the Belfast City Council at Stormont to recognise shop’s, restaurant’s and cafe’s who had actively promoted and sold Fairtrade product’s over the last year.
There were 7 categories to vote in:
  1. Best independent retailer
  2. Best supermarket
  3. Best café
  4. Best employer
  5. Best bar or restaurant
  6. Best school
  7. Outstanding contribution to Fairtrade

We were delighted to see Oxfam, one of our Divine Chocolate’s top customer’s, win 3 awards and Co-op winning an award for best supermarket.