A cocoa farmer remembers his first trip to UK

29 June 2012

Elias Mohammed took his first flight out of Ghana this year to join Divine Chocolate as an ambassador for Kuapa Kokoo  on a tour round UK for Fairtrade Fortnight.  Here he remembers his impressions of the visit:

Elias Mohammed

Elias Mohammed by his scales at Bayerebon3 (photo: Kim Naylor)

Bayerebon No. 3 society, where I am recorder sees a lot of visitors from all over the world every year! People in my village always asked me one question I was never able to answer “da ben n’abrofo be ba abe fa wo ako won kuromu?” (when will the whites invite you to their country)? I had heard many tales of how beautiful “Abrokyire”(abroad) is and I always imagined myself there.

My dreams came true early this year when I was selected to participate in the Fairtrade fortnight! I was so excited. My wives were elated when I informed them about the trip. I was in high spirits until I was refused a visa! I thought that was the end but thanks to Divine Chocolate, I was eventually issued a visa after an appeal. This problem cut short my stay by two days!

 The flight was good and the food was even better. I thought the Airport in Ghana was big and beautiful until we reached Heathrow. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It is so big, beautiful and busy!  David of Divine Chocolate whisked me immediately to my hotel after going through immigration process.

My days in the UK were very interesting. I met many people: Fairtrade officials, other producers like me, school children etc.  We had a very busy schedule travelling from place to place in England and in Scotland to attend events and give speeches. I really enjoyed the encounter with school children. The enthusiasm of the supporters of Fairtrade and their love of Divine Chocolate encouraged me to always produce beans that are Pa pa paa (best of the best!).

Elias asked if he could visit a farm – here he is with Agnes and Wendy meeting Martin at Ripple Farm in Kent

Elias talking to pupils at Dunbar Primary School

Upon my return to Ghana, everyone calls me “Burger” (a term used to describe people who have just returned from abroad). I feel proud when people call me that. I admit I would have liked more time to go shopping and more sight-seeing,  but I think  my trip was very successful.

The high point of my visit was people smiling and saying thank you after my presentation.

 


Going further than Fairtrade

15 February 2010

Flying into a country you’ve never been to before in the evening is a bit disconcerting.  In the darkness there is no real idea of the surroundings – you get from airport to hotel having seen flashing glimpses of people, stalls, traffic – but no sense of the terrain covered or where you are. 

through the window of the water taxi

Through the window of the water taxi

Arriving in Sierra Leone is particularly disorienting. The airport is divided from Freetown by the ‘world’s biggest natural harbour’ and the options for getting across are water taxi, hovercraft or helicopter.  Having been warned against the helicopter (there have been some recent deaths) I made for the water taxi – and was transported down a rough track in total darkness to the shore, where you are asked to don large life jackets – and then onto the boat – rather like one of the smaller pleasure boats that takes tourists along the Thames. And off you go – in total darkness – bouncing along for half an hour – and realising you’re lucky the weather is good today.

Next morning in the light one gathers a whole new set of first impressions. I’m in Sierra Leone to meet an association of cocoa farmers – Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise (KAE) – first established in 1996 – during the civil war that devastated the country for 10 years.  Working with Twin (the NGO behind Divine, Cafedirect and Liberation Nuts), and other NGOs, KAE aimed to create a cooperative of farmers, collectively managing their own business and exporting their own cocoa. This is possible in Sierra Leone as the economy is entirely liberalised (unlike Ghana) – but KAE is up against many competitor traders – most of whom do not have the farmers’ best interests at heart – so a big challenge to compete successfully and make it work.

Twin’s man in West Africa, Seth Gogoe and I set off early in the morning for Kenema – about 4-5 hours east of Freetown. The most striking thing about the journey – once we escape the gridlock in Freetown – is the excellent new roads – recently laid by Chinese contractors.  With little traffic and a beautiful clear day – it’s a pleasure to just stare out of the window and take in the scenery – lush tropical greenery and small roadside towns and villages.  I’m travelling to meet the team that runs KAE and some of the farmer members – and find out more about the challenges they face.

It’s a special trip for Divine.  Kuapa Kokoo – the cooperative in Ghana that owns 45% of Divine – has been sharing its experience and skills with KAE to help them develop their structure and processes, and also, importantly to show them how to improve significantly the quality of their cocoa.  As a result KAE has been Fairtrade certified, and Kuapa Kokoo gave Divine the go ahead to buy KAE’s first containers of Fairtrade cocoa.

The story of KAE is important for a number of reasons.  It is yet another demonstration of how an ownership model of fairer trade allows more benefits for more farmers. Because Kuapa has other income streams from Divine (2% turnover for producer support and development, + 45% of distributible profits) they are in a position to help other farmers get established and sell their first Fairtrade cocoa to Divine. It is also a salutory reminder that creating a working collective of farmers – in incredibly challenging conditions – takes a long time, and the absolute dedication and commitment of the farmers making it happen. It is the work of organisations like Twin, and the farmer-owned companies Twin has helped set up, on the ground in countries where farmers have historically been expoited and marginilised, that is at the heart of developing a fairer trade system. It is these pioneers who are demonstrating that trade systems can be fairer still – and continuing to challenge all those businesses who shirk from properly sharing their wealth with those who are fundamental to creating it.

My next blog will be about meeting KAE and its inspirational manager….


Kuapa Kokoo in London for Divine Board meeting

9 July 2009
Mr PCK Buah, President of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union

Mr PCK Buah, President of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union

We are here in London again for Board meetings – for Divine USA and Divine UK – along with all the other Board members.  This morning we were interviewed for a feature in the Greenbelt festival magazine. We got talking about the impact of the global ‘credit crunch’ both in Ghana and here in the UK.  For Kuapa Kokoo one of the big issues is the impact on interest rates – paying huge interest rates is having a significant effect on our profitability – and for the farmers, fuel, transport and food costs are all increasing. Here in UK it is also clear living costs are going up for everyone and people are cutting out non-essentials. We hope people still buy their favourite Divine chocolate – it is a little treat – but a very special one. It is the chocolate company we at Kuapa own, and if you buy it here, it is good news for farmers who are suffering rising costs too.  And how can you resist!  Mr Buah and myself like the Dark Divine best – because it’s got more of our pa pa paa cocoa in than all the others!

Mr K Aduse-Poku, Managing Director of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd

Mr K Aduse-Poku, Managing Director of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd

Mr PCK Buah and Mr K Aduse-Poku


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