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!

Cocoa and Co-operatives

7 June 2012
Latest post from guest blogger, teacher and author (and cocoa industry specialist) Michael Niemann:
Members of the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative working together

Members of the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative working together
(photo:Brian Moody)

A farmers’ co-operative is an independent organization of farmers who pool their resources for mutual benefit. Farmers have formed such co-operatives around the world ever since agricultural produce became commodities traded on exchanges. Co-operatives strengthen farmers’ bargaining power, help them survive volatile markets and reap the benefits of cooperation.

Cocoa farmers around the world were no exception. When the mass production of cocoa began in West Africa around the end of the 19th century, farmers in Ghana, the Côte d’Ivoire and other countries formed farmers unions and co-operatives to help each other with the physical labor required to clear brush, plant trees and, most importantly, to deal with the colonial authorities. Strikes and protests against low prices and lack of extension services were common during the first half of the 20th century. Today’s fair-trade co-operatives are simply the most recent incarnation of that long-standing organizational form.

Fair-trade co-operatives play a significant role in connecting farmers with consumers along the fair-trade commodity chain. Their primary tasks are the collection and storage of cocoa beans before export, the provision of extension services, the provision of credit, and the distribution of the fair-trade and social premiums. How they do this varies according to the circumstances.

In Ghana, cocoa is king. It’s the most important export crop for the country and the Ghanaian government manages many aspects of the crop through the COCOBOD, the Ghanaian Cocoa Board. COCOBOD is the sole exporter of cocoa from Ghana, which means that all cocoa farmers have to sell their crop to the board. Since the reforms of the 1990s, the process of selling cocoa to COCOBOD has been liberalized and private produce purchasing companies buy the beans from farmers and sell them to the board. The threat of being exploited by unscrupulous middlemen was one of the key reasons Kuapa Kokoo was formed. The cooperative serves as a produce purchasing company that connects the farmers to the COCOBOD. Since Kuapa represents its 65,000+ farmers, the farmers can rest assured that they are paid the legally set price.

Cocoa farmers in Ghana join Kuapa Kokoo as village societies. This isn’t odd because in the cocoa belt, entire villages are engaged in cocoa production. Each village society has elected representatives that serve at the district and national level, representing their local members. Those same representatives also are responsible for paying the local farmers for the cocoa they deliver to the collection centers. Kuapa Kokoo also distributes the social premium paid to farmers through the Kuapa Kokoo Trust. Individual village societies apply for funds from the trust to finance community projects like schools, water pumps etc.

Cocoa farmers in southern Belize represent just a small fraction of the farming population. Citrus and other produce are bigger crops than cocoa. Members of the Toledo Cocoa Growers Association, live scattered among the villages of the Maya mountains in southern Belize. Like its counterpart in Ghana, the TCGA represents its members to the cocoa buyers. Unlike in Ghana, there is no government marketing board, so the cooperative sells directly to the buyers. It also pays the farmers from the proceeds.

When it comes to the social premium, however, the TCGA follows a different methods. Since there are no village societies, the funds are used to create infrastructure that benefits all coop members, for example common facilities for drying the cocoa after fermentation to insure quality. The social premium also supports a scholarship fund for the children of cocoa farmers. The TCGA also provides extension services and helps farmer produce the best crop possible. Finally, the TCGA deals with issues of land tenure. Given that cocoa is a long term investment for farmers, security of tenure is crucial. But Maya traditions of communal land ownership can at times become a problem and the TCGA helps farmers negotiate in those conditions.

Farmers’ co-operatives are flexible organizations. The two examples above show how their structure and activities reflect the unique circumstances farmers face in different parts of the world. The common theme, however, is that they do what they do at the behest of their members and are therefore homegrown organizations that help give farmers a voice.

Kerry McCarthy MP gets a Kuapa welcome in Ghana

4 April 2012

Kerry McCarthy MP reports from a recent visit to Ghana:

In February I was fortunate enough to have the chance to visit Ghana, representing the UK parliament at a Westminster Foundation for Democracy conference. I took the opportunity to go out a few days earlier and on one of my free days I went to see the work of the Kuapo Kokoo cocoa growers co-operative, which supplies cocoa to Divine Chocolate, the company it owns 45% of, in the UK.

The co-operative structure, with villages grouped into collectives, and those collectives organised under an umbrella body at a regional level, means that distribution, marketing and other commercial arrangements can be done on a larger scale, ensuring the viability of the farms and continued growth. But the decisions that matter are still taken at a very local level and there is a real sense of collective purpose.

Kuapa women making soap

Kuapa women making soap

The welcome from the villagers was very warm, with the whole community gathered to meet me, and women in traditional dress bearing the Kuapo Kokoo logo and their slogan ‘Papa Paa’ –which means “the best of the best” – singing and dancing. We started with a question and answer session, sitting out in the sun, with villagers telling me how the collective was organised, what facilities had been provided – including the village school – and what more they needed – machinery, and a health centre closer to the village were top of their wishlist. Then the women gave a demonstration of their new business sideline, making soap from palm oil, a simple but strenuous process, which, again, would be made easier if/when they can afford to invest in machinery to grind the kernels down.

Young green cocoa pods

Young green cocoa pods

After this I went to look round the cocoa farms. It’s amazing how someone, somewhere, worked out that pods growing on trees, with their bitter, inedible contents, could through a process of fermentation and grinding eventually be made into the chocolate we consume in great quantities. I was shown the inside of a pod, and tried the sweet white pulp. The cocoa beans at this stage are terribly bitter, but I was shown how they are fermented under a pile of palm leaves for some weeks. They look, to be frank, rather disgusting at this stage of the process….  but they are then ground up, and eventually, further down the line, turned into the Divine chocolate we know and love.

Cocoa beans mid-fermentation

Cocoa beans mid-fermentation

The thing that impressed me most about the visit, apart from the warmth and hospitality shown by the farmers, was the fact that the structure manages to retain the best aspects of local, small-scale farming, where decisions are taken in the community, the benefits are felt in the community and everyone has a stake, with the advantages of organising on a larger scale, such as being able to export and reach new markets. It’s an admirable model that could be emulated elsewhere, including in the UK.

Kerry McCarthy MP with cocoa farmers in Kukurantumi

Kerry McCarthy MP with Kuapa cocoa farmers in Kukurantumi

Sweet news from Kasinthula

5 March 2012

Did you know that all the Fairtrade sugar in Divine comes from Kasinthula Cane Growers Association in Malawi.  Masauko Khembo has travelled over from Kasinthula to celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight here in UK. Here at Divine we’re looking forward to meeting him and hearing more about Kasinthula – but in the meantime we asked him a few questions….

Kasinthula women preparing seedcane

Kasinthula women preparing seedcane

KasinthulaCane GrowersAssociation (KCG) is a smallholder sugar cane projectlocated in the in hospitable Shire River Valley District of Chikhwawa in the south of Malawi.Long droughts occasionally result in famine and the twice-yearly rains frequently bring floods.Most families eke out a living growingmaize, cassava or rice on the arid land, whileothers earn cash from sugar cane or cotton or work on nearby sugar plantations. Poverty is rife with most people living in very basic mud huts and few able to afford to keep livestock.

Masauko visiting Divine Chocolate

Masauko visiting Divine Chocolate

What do you think of Divine Chocolate, which is made with Fairtrade sugar from Kasinthula?
Having tasted it I find it much better in terms of taste than those we buy at home which are made in South Africa. Divine Chocolate and other organisations that use Kasinthula Fairtrade sugar are like bringing divine intervention on reduction of poverty on Kasinthula farmers and surrounding communities. Lives of Kasinthula farmers and surrounding communities have really been transformed through FT.

What is the most important impact that being Fairtrade certified has made on the lives of sugar farmers in Malawi?

So much impact. Not only on sugarcane farmers but even the communities around the sugarcane farms. One example I would give is the primary school that has been constructed using Fairtrade premium funds. Before the school construction children had to walk more than 5km to the nearest school. For them to be able to walk such distance they had to be 7 or 8 years old. With the school they are able to start school at 5. Because of starting school late most girls could not complete primary school before getting married. With the school they will be in eighth grade which is the last in primary school at the age of 13. They should be able to go to secondary school before they think of getting married.

Kasinthula farmers are now living in better houses (brick walled and iron sheet roofed). Most of them have houses that are electrified. They now have access to portable water separating them from livestock in terms of sharing source of drinking water.

What are your hopes for the future – for you personally – and for Kasinthula? What is your message for people here in the UK (and the USA where Divine Chocolate is too)?
Personally my hope is to work for a bigger Kasinthula with more farmers than currently are. A bigger Kasinthula means more people getting out of a poverty trap. For the people in UK and US my message is buy more of Divine chocolate. There may be more brands of chocolate in the market but by buying Divine chocolate you are supporting famers and surrounding communities at Kasinthula. You are sponsoring construction of schools, improving maternal and child health of the people of Kasinthula, you are preventing sharing of drinking water between animals and people as people are now drinking from boreholes drilled using premium funds while animals continue drinking from rivers.

A Divine Experience at Kuapa Kokoo

8 February 2012

As the Brand Manager for Divine Chocolate USA, I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit the farmers of Kuapa Kokoo for the first time.  Divine USA and Divine UK were both holding their Board meetings at the Kuapa Kokoo headquarters in Kumasi, Ghana and I was able to come along.  Before heading to Ghana, I made a pit stop in London where I was able to meet the trailblazing staff of Divine Chocolate Ltd. who I’ve been in touch with since the beginning of my work with Divine in Washington D.C.

The Divine UK headquarters

It was great to finally shake hands with the folks who I’ve been in touch with via phone and email for so long! I took some notes of several of the special features they had in their office that we could replicate in our own, such as the incredible spread of all of our flavors at the reception desk, and a conference room surrounded by posters and products from years past to inspire the many meetings and brainstorming sessions that occur in the Divine Headquarters.

After a crisp morning walking along the River Thames and one last photograph of Tower Bridge, I flew to Accra with the Divine Board of Directors, where we would have a short stay before heading to our final destination: Kumasi.  10 of us piled into a van in Accra and soon got stuck in some incredible traffic! Sitting in traffic did, however, provide us with the opportunity to be a captive audience to the vibrant scene of street merchants, church-goers, and soccer fans.  We were then off to the canopy walk above the trees of Kakum National Park.

But first, we had lunch at an outdoor restaurant that was surrounded by a lake of crocodiles.  And for those of us brave enough, we had the opportunity to touch a crocodile lazing under the trees.

David Upton, Finance Director of Divine UK, gets close with a crocodile

Carol Wills, Board member of Twin Trading and Divine UK, crosses the forest canopy

Kakum National Forest was established in 1960 and covers 375 square km in the Central Region of Ghana.  Its highlight is the Canopy Walkway, made up of 7 different bridges towering above the forest floor.  It was a once in a lifetime experience to cross the canopy, and the 10 of us were thrilled to get this unique look at the landscape in this region.

The morning after arriving in Kumasi, we met at the Kuapa Kokoo offices where the staff gave us an overview of their key projects and introduced us to Esther, who would be our guide for the day.  We headed about an hour outside of the city to the Awaham Society in the Effiduase District.  We first stopped at the Juaben Depot, where the district manager showed us a warehouse piled high with cocoa sacks fresh from the harvest.

Sophi introduces herself to the Awaham Society

We gathered under a tree at Awaham Society, where we met some of the key leadership and listened to questions and feedback from farmer members of Kuapa Kokoo.  Awaham Society was first a sub-society, and after working hard for 5 years, they become a full society in 2005.  They spoke about the benefits of membership in Kuapa: a 2 Cedi (the Ghanaian currency) bonus on every sack of cocoa this season, new machetes, and credits for agricultural inputs that have improved yields year after year.

Juliet shows us her cocoa farm

Everyone headed into the cocoa farm of Executive Member Juliet Brago, who showed us her beautiful land filled with cocoa pods and interspersed with avocado trees and other grand shade trees that kept the cocoa plants growing strong.  We also visited the 12 acres of Mr. Anare Mensah, the oldest member of the society.  Nana Aggyei Bada showed us how the farmers break open the pods and ferment them inside banana leaves, carefully sealing the cocoa inside the leaves to ensure sufficient heat is created for fermentation to occur.

Nana Aggyei Bada shows us how the cocoa is fermented in banana leaves

Richard Agyapong shows us the drying process

Once the beans are fermented, they are brought back to the homes of farmers to dry- we were shown the process by Richard Agyapong, who churned the beans and picked out those of inferior quality.  The last thing we were shown was the corn mill that the society had bought through the assistance of Kuapa Kokoo 4 years ago.  Before the mill, farmers and community members would have to travel long distances to grind foodstuffs, but now they had a space in the center of the community to take care of it.  Isaac Kronkiye, the man who manages and maintains the mill, showed us the process.

Grinding corn in the mill

A very happy chocolate taster!

We thanked the farmers of Awaham Society for taking the time to show us the careful process of cocoa harvesting and share their stories of what it’s like to be members of Kuapa Kokoo.  We left them with a tub of milk chocolate to share amongst the community so that they could each have a taste of the chocolate company that they co-own.

The next couple of days were filled with meetings at the Kuapa Kokoo headquarters and seeing the sights of the incredible city of Kumasi.  Kumasi is home to the largest street market in Sub-Saharan Africa, and we were overwhelmed with the sights and smells of this bustling market. I also picked up a good amount of fabric to take home!

Just minutes before we hopped in the car to head to the airport, Monica Dadzie, the manager of Kuapa Kokoo’s gender program, showed us some incredible batik work that a women’s group had recently been working on- how Divine!

Divine batik fabric

My first trip to Kuapa Kokoo was a truly incredible experience, and after working at Divine Chocolate for just over a year now, my inspiration to share the Divine story to the consumers of the US is fully renewed.  Here’s to a fabulous 2012 for Divine Chocolate!

Democracy in action at Kuapa Kokoo

15 September 2011

Madam Christiana Ohene Agyare, President of KKFU, with members of the National Executive, address the AGM

It’s AGM time again at Kuapa Kokoo – when the 45000 farmer members get together to hear how the organisation and business is doing, celebrate achievements, and debate future issues.  Their chocolate company, Divine,  is invited to report on its progress to its farmer owners.

Kuapa Kokoo organised its Annual General Meeting a bit differently this year. Instead of one enormous event with representitives from all 1400 villages, now  members from each of the 54 districts attend their own AGMs, and then send representatives to the final AGM in Kumasi.  This way, in smaller forums, more people can really take part.

KK members at the AGM

Sophi and I flew to Ghana to attend the final AGM and a week of meetings.  I hadn’t been to Ghana for 18 months – so I was very happy to see everyone again, and particularly to meet up with the farmers who have visited UK over the years.  Many of them, like Anna Awere and Kojo Aduhene Tano, are now on the National Executive Committee.

Sophi addresses the AGM (translated into Twi by Regina Corteley)

The AGM ran over two days at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology – a great university campus with space for all the farmers to gather.  Members are bussed into town, all looking fantastic in best Kuapa outfits, and come with a lot of energy and enthusiasm to participate and celebrate together. Lots of impressive dignitaries also arrive – and Sophi and I are flanked by very stately men in full costume.

There is a full programme – including a comprehensive report on all the different parts of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union, presentations on issues important to farmers, and a series of break out workshops, where specific issues are debated.  Farmers are not backward at coming forward in these workshops and making their ideas and concerns known.  Views are then fed back in a plenary session.  Drummers and dancers entertain us during the breaks – and, slightly bizarrely, ‘The Kings Speech’ was showing as everyone arrived!  And of course everyone gets to enjoy some Divine chocolate.

Time to put the motion to the vote

The AGM ends with votes and Sophi and I were invited by the NEC to a great dinner dance complete with Hi-Life band.  Sophi was voted best dancer.

Sophi and KKFU President at KK headquarters


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