What do women get out of joining Kuapa Kokoo

26 October 2012

I’ve just been to Ghana for some meetings at Kuapa Kokoo – we’ve been working together on communications strategy.  I haven’t been for a several months, so it is always very good to catch up with everyone.  It was also great to go out to Bipoa and Bayerebon3 again and spend whole days in the villages talking with farmers and hearing how things are going, and reporting back from Divine Chocolate.

The women's group in Bipoa

The women’s group in Bipoa

There are women’s groups in both villages – and they are clearly a real force within the community.  I sat and asked a few women about their farms, their families and why they had joined Kuapa – and the obvious benefits of belonging to these vocal and supportive groups was a clear incentive.  Elizabeth Antegoa lives in Bipoa where the first Kuapa women’s group was formed.  She joined Kuapa Kokoo a year ago.  “I wanted to be part of the women’s group, ”she says.  And she describes how much she has gained from joining. “We all join together and we help each other. Together we have learned skills like making soap and screen-printing – and this helps us earn our own money.”

Elizabeth Antegoa

Elizabeth Antegoa

“I like the way women are encouraged in Kuapa Kokoo,” she adds. At the moment Elizabeth only has one room in someone else’s house.  Her dream is to make enough money to have her own house with a kitchen and bedrooms.  “The women’s group will help me make it happen,” she says.

I talked to Georgina Oppong in Bayerebon3.  She joined Kuapa Kokoo three years ago, and said she’d joined first and foremost because “everything is fair”.  Then she talked about how proud she is to belong to the local Kuapa women’s group. Together they have requested a loan from the credit union, to give them seed money for setting up their income-generating businesses.  Georgina sells fish at the local market to augment her income from cocoa.

Georgina Oppong

Georgina Oppong

Women make up about a third of the membership of Kuapa Kokoo – and the development of the groups and the benefits they bring to women is a testament to the really proactive approach Kuapa has taken to its gender equality programme.  The women are not just learning new income-generating skills alongside cocoa farming – but also really honing them.  The tie-dye and batik fabrics I saw this time were considerably more sophisticated than those I saw a year ago.  It seems to me that the women’s groups are creating a growing potential to bring in additional income to families and also to the organisation.  It’s also clear to see that participation in the women’s groups builds women’s confidence, and they are increasingly putting themselves forward for elected positions in the cooperative – and taking on leading roles.

Lovely tie-dye samples from the Women's Group in Amankwatia

Lovely tie-dye samples from the Women’s Group in Amankwatia


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!


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


Kuapa Kokoo women hone their batik and tie-dye skills

21 September 2011

Seth Gogoe of Twin sporting his Amankwatia batik shirt

While we were in Ghana for the Kuapa Kokoo AGM, Sophi and I met up with the new Gender Policy manager Monica Aidoo-Dadzie. She joined six months ago and has already visited all 46 Kuapa Women’s groups and will be working closely with them.  In her office she had some wonderful samples of batik made by the Amankwatia Women’s Group (I remember meeting them on one of my first trips – now their leader Juliana Fremah is on the National Executive – I knew she was destined for great things!).

Sophi in her Kuapa print suit, KK President Christiana Ohene-Agyare in a magnificent Kente dress, and me in the dress made from Amankwatia batik

We ended up buying two shirts (see Seth from Twin wearing one of them here), Sophi bought a dress (here she is wearing it when she planted a cocoa tree at New Koforidua), and I bought some fabric, which the local miracle seamstresses transformed into a dress overnight that I could wear to the AGM.  Most of the pieces we saw feature the West African Adinkra symbols you can also see on Divine packaging. There were lots of other designs and styles – we think they have great potential….. hope that with a little more development and marketing they can sell more in Ghana – and beyond.

Sophi in her Amankwatia dress looking at cocoa seedlings


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


Divine connection: Ex US President meets new Kuapa President

4 May 2011

Mark Magers, CEO of Divine USA posts:

On May 1, International Workers Day, I had the privilege to accompany Madame Christiana Ohene Agyare, President of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union, and Mr. Kwasi Aduse-Poku, Managing Director of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd., to attend church with, and later meet, former US President Jimmy Carter at his church, the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. They were in the US for a Board Meeting of Divine Chocolate Inc, to be held in Washington, DC, and traveled nearly 32 hours total to get to Plains.

For most of the time since President Carter left office, he has held almost weekly Sunday School sessions at his church, part of his commitment to service of others, and also to make himself available to people.

Christiana Ohene-Agyare and Kwasi Aduse-Poku with the Carters

Christiana Ohene-Agyare and Kwasi Aduse-Poku with the Carters. Photo by Randy and Mary Hathaway

When we arrived at the church, we waited in line for our turn for the security dog to sniff our car. Once clear of that, we parked where we were directed by a Secret Service agent, and walked to the next queue, this one to check bags, purses, and individuals with security wands. We then proceeded into the sanctuary, and had the honor of sitting in the front row. What followed was a briefing on dos and don’ts once Sunday School started, and the woman instructing us, Miss Jan, was very thorough, and very informative. Among other things we learned that Rosalynn Carter’s first name is Eleanor, and that President Carter was the first American president to be born in a hospital (his mother was a nurse), and to live in public housing (after he left the Navy).

The ground rules are necessary to make the process manageable for the church, which is quite small, and for President Carter, who is now 86 years young, as there can be several hundred visitors on a given Sunday. Apparently at the peak years back as many as 600 people would show up. This Sunday there were closer to 150, including 50 Canadians on a tour bus.

President Carter came out about 10 am and spoke to the crowd, finding out where people were from, and then told us what he had been up to the past week – meeting with Kim Jong Il in North Korea. When he heard our guests say they were from Ghana, he gave them a special welcome and commented on the work the Carter Foundation has done and is doing in Ghana, both monitoring elections for fairness and also working to eradicate the guinea worm from water supplies. He then proceeded to teach the Sunday School lesson. Madame Christiana was appreciative of his comments about the scriptural foundation of gender equality, a basic tenet of Kuapa Kokoo, and Mr. Aduse-Poku took many notes.

The regular service commenced next, and when Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter entered the church for the main service, they came over again and welcomed our Ghanaian visitors. After the service was over, we went outside and met briefly with the Carters, and took a few pictures, and of course, gave them a sample of Divine Chocolate. We had been told they always give away anything they are given, but Mrs Carter seemed very interested in this particular thank you! We also spoke briefly to them about Divine’s farmer-owned business model, and thanked President Carter for his comments about gender equality.

We went after church to Mom’s Kitchen for fried chicken, collard greens, and other southern specialties, as did most of the local people we met at church, and we had another round of conversations with folks who wondered who the Ghanaians were, and why the Carters had spent time with them. They were thrilled to learn it was all about chocolate!


Fairtrade and international women’s day celebrated at Labour event

10 March 2011

Sophi’s latest post:

Jennipher Wettaka

On Saturday I met Jennipher Wettaka at the Labour movement’s International Women’s Day Celebration in Westminster.  She is vice Chair of Gumutindo the co-operative of coffee growers in Eastern Uganda that supply Equal Exchange

Coffee from Jennipher's co-operative

Her smile was like a ray of sunshine as she described how women do most of the work and the men do not appreciate them, but that since their co-op has been successful the men have been much more interested! This filled the room with peels of laughter, an experience shared.  She was delighted to be here as an ambassador for her co-op and was looking forward to returning to Uganda to tell the women in the other villages of her experience.   She ended by plugging her coffee, thanking her friends at Equal Exchange.  Long Live Equal Exchange, Long Live Fairtrade, Long Live International Women’s Day.


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