What’s on the menu for cocoa farmers

2 April 2012

Here’s the latest post from Erica Kyere of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd:

“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. This is what every mother tells her daughter right from when she can help out in the kitchen.

Cooking is traditionally done by women in Ghana and although it is not written anywhere, every woman takes control of the cooking in the home. It’s one way to attract a good man to marry and that is why mothers hand down their unwritten recipes to their female children right from a very tender age.

Kuapa kokoo farmers cooking arrangements

Cooking in a cocoa farming village

Cooking is done in the kitchen – which is often outdoors. Food in the forest belt of Ghana where cocoa is grown is made from Cassava, plantain, Yam, Rice, Maize, Garden eggs, Kontonmire (our spinach), okro, Fish, beef, mutton and Chicken.

Most farmers cook twice a day – Porridges , Ampesi(Yam and Plantain) with Abomu (Kontonmire and or garden eggs with pepper and onion)and rice with stew are prepared in the mornings or mid mornings whilst Fufu (pounded cassava and plantain) and banku (fermented corn dough and cassava dough) with soup are prepared in the evenings.

On special occasions like Christmas and Easter, Rice and Chicken Stew, rice balls or fufu with chicken soup is prepared.

Raphael helping make fufu

Raphael helping make fufu

You can see much more about the foods and recipes of cocoa farmers at PaPaPaaLive – where children of Great Fammis School take you on a journey of discovery of all the foods and ingredients they use in everyday cooking – see the taster here.  This is just one of a great series of webcasts that schools can subscribe to as a great basis for classroom discussion.

Ghanaian children describe what they eat and how its cooked

Ghanaian children describe what they eat and how its cooked


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!


When a cocoa farmer’s mind turns to love….

20 January 2012
Monica Dadzie, of Kuapa Kokoo posts about courtship traditions amongst cocoa farmers in Ghana:

Monica Dadzie, Kuapa Kokoo Ltd

Here in Ghana Valentines Day was pronounced as National Chocolate Day some years ago – to celebrate Ghana’s cocoa industry and encourage people to buy more chocolate made of Ghanaian cocoa.  This is fine for people in large cities who have access to chocolate and can afford it – but generally it is beyond the means of cocoa farmers.  However Kuapa Kokoo farmers have their own chocolate company – Divine – so in a special position to celebrate National Chocolate Day!
Traditions in love
Most of the time the young men choose their loved ones from nearby villages and the reasons are best known to them.  Some of the men arrange with their loved ones and meet either during the day or at night at a place that will be conducive to them to chat and express their love for each other. The place could be a river side, under a tree or any quiet place. Others may visit theirs at their homes.
The ones who visit their loved ones at home at the beginning will stand behind the house and whistle to draw the attention of the lady that he has come around. This is also arranged with the lady and she will know where the whistle is coming from and the one whistling. She will therefore sneak out to meet him. They may hang around the backyard or take a stroll around and chat.
Eventually the parents will get to know of the relationship and if accepted by the family, the man will be going straight to the house to see the lady. It is at this point that both parties will start visiting each others family to help their in-laws; the man will give his in-laws farm produce, meat from his hunting, weed their farms and do other domestic chores that requires physical strength and the lady will visit her in-laws to fetch water and do other household chores for them. Sometimes parents of the lady will ask their daughter to prepare food for the man when he brings food items or works for them. Gradually both will be part of each others family and will be visiting each other as and when they want to.
Courtship for cocoa farmers doesn’t involve exchange of cards and flowers, buying of expensive parcels, going to the cinemas, nor considers riches and class. It is all about caring for one another and being each others keeper. The traditional aspect of it is, you do not just care for the one you are in love with but the entire family.

A Kuapa cocoa farmer and his wife, Domeabra-Juaben

NB – the village this couple come from is called ‘Domeabra’ – which means ‘come here if you love me’ – appropriately enough!

Kuapa Kokoo Farmer Leaders Visit the US

2 December 2011

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.

Fatima Ali in Times Square

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.

Felicia Mensah at the White House on a rainy afternoon

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.

Felicia and Fatima with World Bank staff

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.

Felicia presenting to the students at NYU

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.

Fatima and Felicia with staff at the Department of Labor

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.

Felicia and Fatima at the Embassy of Ghana


Christmas comes to Kuapa

22 November 2011

Francis Frimpong

Francis Kwakye Frimpong (of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd) posts on Christmas traditions amongst the members of Kuapa Kokoo:

Amanfe, in the Brong Ahafo region, can be described as a typical settler farming village with land size of about 220 square feet. 300 people live there, mostly farmers. Out of this number, over 45 are Kuapa members. About 650 bags of cocoa are produced at Amanfe.

On my recent visit I talked to people there about how they celebrate Christmas. I first met up with the leader of the community, Nana Asamoah Yeboah, himself a Kuapa member, who said their Christmas season starts on the night of December 24th when they plant a ‘Christmas’ tree, build a hut around it out of palm leaves,  and decorate the hut with flowers and balloons.

Early morning of 25th December is dedicated toremembering relatives, friends and other members of the community who have passed on to the next world. This they do by pouring a libation. Afterwards, the elders make toasts in schnapps andother drinks before they attend church services. They do all this to commemorate their dead ones.

 The children are ushered into the festive mood when the family returns from church. The parents and other relatives give them treats of balloons, minerals, biscuits and toffees to enjoy.

The merry making continues the following day, 26th December – a day dedicated to cooking ‘extra-ordinary’ foods fit for the occasion. Some of these dishes are sent to the homes of loved ones and vice-versa. Rice and fufu,with goat or chicken meat are the commonfoods enjoyed by the community during the Christmas festivities.

In celebratory mood (image by Elizabeth Hudson)

26th December is also the day when the children put on their best clothes to visit relations and family friends in other villages. At times, the children are accompanied by the parents during these visits as they too use the opportunity to exchange fraternal season’s greetings. 

Madam Mary Yeboah another Kuapa members in the community added that preparation for Christmas starts way back in October when the new cocoa season is declared open by the government.

According to her, as soon they receive money from the sale of their cocoa, deductions are made as to how much they would re-invest into their farming and children’s education, the rest is used in purchasing items that would be needed to celebrate the yuletide.

Asked to name specifically some items they buy in advance for Christmas, Georgina Kumi Afari mentioned sardines, eggs, chickens, biscuits, oil, rice, yams, cloths, materials as some of the items they buy ahead of the season.

On the menu for Christmas? (Image by Kevin Gould)

In a year that they don’t produce much, the farmers cut short their celebrations and return to the farms on the 27th which is supposed to be a holiday, but only in a year that they get maximum returns; theday is observed as a rest day by the whole community.

Amanfe community,  like most communities in Ghana also use NewYear’s day to adopt resolutions after church service. Among some of their NewYear resolutions are; measures for improving their farms, improvements for children’s education, new businesses and projects they intend doing in addition to their farms.

On a community level, Amanfe has been able to build its own school for their children’s education and  a clinic which still needs staff at the moment.

Their aim for the coming year is to build teachers’ quarters and also to acquire good clean drinking water.


Adinkras in art get a modern and human twist

16 September 2011

Latest update from Tom Allen:

Artwork from Owusu-Ankomah's exhibition at the October Gallery

Last night I went to the private view of a new art exhibition by renowned Ghanaian artist Owusu-Ankomah at the October Gallery in central London. Divine was sponsoring the evening with some very well-received chocolate.

Owusu-Ankomah’s paintings depict monumental human figures moving within an ocean of signs, and they make particular use of Ghanaian adinkra symbols. The West African adinkra symbols are like proverbs in visual form, and were traditionally printed on fabric though they now find their way on to all sorts of other canvases – like the wrappers of Divine Chocolate bars!

There were speeches. The artist is a commanding man, and he began by looking round the room with a slight smile playing on his lips and telling us: “These works are magical… I am magical!”

Then cultural historian and film-maker Nana Oforiatta-Ayim talked to us engagingly about some of the meanings behind Owusu-Ankomah’s work.

Owusu-Ankomah's modern take on adinkras at October Gallery now

One striking theme is how his paintings often juxtapose the past and the present, or the traditional and modern. Owusu-Ankomah mixes adinkra symbols with visual signs of his own invention which often allude to modern scientific insights about the nature of reality. One of the adinkra symbols that crops up in his art is Sankofa, a bird that walks forward with its head facing backwards. It means “go back and pick up what you left behind”, showing that in order to comprehend the present and move wisely into the future you must first understand the past.

Finally, the High Commissioner of Ghana officially opened the exhibition and extolled the virtues of Ghana, explaining to laughs and approval how their country has the best gold, the best cocoa – “I hear that Divine Chocolate are here tonight and they will know this” – the best art … and the best football!

This is one of the first events Divine is involved in for Chocolate Week – which is coming up from 10th-16th October. You can go and look at the art yourself at the October Gallery over the next six weeks. And for you teachers, the charity Trading Visions will be running a free session for teachers at the gallery on 4th October inspired by Owusu-Ankomah and chocolate!

Owusu-Ankomah: Microcron – Kusum (Secret Signs – Hidden Meanings)
The October Gallery
15 September – 29 October 2011
Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12:30pm-5:30pm

Eat Your Own Art: teacher’s session
4pm-6pm, Tuesday 4th October
Email education@octobergallery.co.uk to book a place or phone 027 242 7367


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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