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!

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

Divine Board hears about new Kuapa constitution

8 February 2010

Posted by Sophi:

While people in Britain continued to contemplate the length and depth of this year’s winter and when it will ever finish, the Divine Directors escaped to the sun, making the annual pilgrimage to Ghana for our board meeting. I have been making this journey for eleven years. Pauline Tiffen, the Director who helped Kuapa Kokoo set up, has been going there even longer, and now we have people travelling from USA and Holland too.

The Divine US Board meeting in Ghana

I sit on a number of boards and getting people to know and trust each other is always a challenge, involving planning days, and retreats etc. But with Divine we have all been making the trip to Ghana to meet with the farmers that own 45% of the company and see their challenges close up. In the process we have also had a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other, once you have shared the experience of changing planes in Amsterdam at 4.30 am you have nothing to hide!

The farmers have had a difficult autumn but seem to have come through with renewed vigour. At their AGM last year they passed a Constitution, the result of a good consultative process. As this year is an election year they are working hard to embed it at a local and district level. They have created an A3 flip chart to use in villages, with illustrations to explain how the new constitution will work for them. There will be much more going on at a District level rather then at National Executive. This should really help to build Kuapa both as a democratic farmers’ organisation and as a cocoa buying company. The flip chart was another lovely example of Kuapa really appreciating that everyone needs to understand and be able to join in the new constitution.

Both the USA and UK Board meetings went well, chaired by Sandy Balfour in his inimitable way, lots of good discussions on future plans, with no distractions. Kuapa took us all out for a Chinese meal – we all sat at a huge round table with a lazy susan, enjoying the company, the spicy food and the G&Ts.

Divine’s board is really representative of what makes Divine special, made up of talented busy people who generously give their time for the bigger vision, a world where the producers have a real say and a share of the wealth they are creating. They represent organisations: Twin, Christian Aid, Comic Relief, Oikocredit and Lutheran World Relief who have worked for far longer to create a more equitable trading system based on respect and dignity. We talked into the night, putting the world to rights. After two days of meeting, thousands of miles of travel and much food for thought, we began our trips home, grateful for the opportunity to have been part of something so significant.

Mr Buah in town to look after business

24 September 2009
Mr Buah at Tower Bridge

Mr Buah at Tower Bridge

Mr Paul Celestine Kofi Buah, President of the Kuapa Kokoo farmers’ cooperative, is in town for the Board meetings of Divine UK and Divine US, the companies co-owned by the cooperative.

We took the opportunity of a bit a sight-seeing trip in between meetings!

Mr Buah outside Whole Foods Market which has a rather splendid range of Divine Chocolate

Mr Buah outside Whole Foods Market which has a rather splendid range of Divine Chocolate

From cocoa farmer to international Kuapa ambassador!

11 September 2009


Kuapa Kokoo National Executive and staff. (Cecilia Appianim second from left)

Kuapa Kokoo National Executive and staff (and Sophi and Sandy from Divine) - Cecilia Appianim second from left

I am Cecilia Appianim. I joined Kuapa Kokoo back in 1998 – the year that Divine was born.  I am a cocoa farmer from Agona Swedru, in the Central Region of Ghana.

Coming from a community where women are not given the opportunity to partake in active decision making processes, being a member of Kuapa Kokoo has been an eye opener. I was attracted to Kuapa when I realised I could gain more in terms of bonuses paid for selling my cocoa, as well as sharing in development projects undertaken for my community. The income generating activities specially designed for women in my Kuapa society have also gone a long way to empower me financially.

I was elected National Financial Secretary of Kuapa Kokoo Union about three years ago. I work closely with the Treasurer to ensure that the finances of the union are in order. I contested with a man and had a land slide victory. I guess it is because everyone knows women can be better trusted with money than men! My job is very challenging but with the training I have received form Kuapa Kokoo, i have been able to handle it.

I have had the opportunity to travel to the United States of America on two occasions. On both occasions I had the chance to tell people about what fairtrade and the ownership of Divine Chocolate means to members of Kuapa Kokoo.

Cecilia and Kuapa colleague at the Library of Congress in Washington DC

Cecilia and Kuapa colleague at the Library of Congress in Washington DC

My trip to US was an eye opener! I was able to see big supermarket chains that stock our Divine Chocolate! It was amazing and I felt really proud that my cocoa had been turned into something so sweet! Things were very different from what happens over here in Ghana. I met a lot of people who support fairtrade and Divine and I entreated then to buy more fairtrade so that villages like Asentem could enjoy good drinking, mobile clinics etc.

Ownership of Divine chocolate has enabled me to meet highly placed people I never imagined I will meet. Divine has indeed given us recognition in the chocolate world. This is evidenced in the way people trooped to the various centres to listen to me.

Kuapa farmer Cecilia Appianim at Kuapa HQ with Divine

Kuapa farmer Cecilia Appianim at Kuapa HQ with Divine

Why Divine and Kuapa Kokoo are unique

29 April 2009
MD of Kuapa Kokoo ltd Kwasi Aduse-Poku in London this month

MD of Kuapa Kokoo ltd Kwasi Aduse-Poku in London this month

My name is Kwasi Aduse-Poku, I am the managing director of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd and I am here in the UK to attend the Divine Chocolate Ltd Board Meeting.

I am from a cocoa farming family and I myself have a cocoa farm. I was appointed as Managing Director back on the 1st September 2008. Previously I worked for the PBC (Produce Buying Company), the buying company of the Ghanaian cocoa board. Moving to Kuapa Kokoo has been both challenging and interesting. Kuapa Kokoo is unique among the Licensed Buying Companies (LBCs) in being owned by the farmers who sell their cocoa to it. My role as MD is unusual as I am working with the people who are the workers, but also my employers.

I think the co-operative structure is working well here in Ghana – people perform better if they own the company.  It is a challenge running a cooperative of this size – you need to have enough working capital, and make enough profit to help maintain the structure and the principles. 

Having been in the USA for the Divine Chocolate Inc Board meeting there last week, and being here for the Board meeting and other appointments this week has really highlighted to me how important owning Divine is for Kuapa Kokoo.  We not only have our own chocolate company which gives us a stake in the chocolate market, and a Dividend, but also the opportunity to network across the industry worldwide – which gives us very useful knowledge and more influence.  The transparency of the relationship between Divine and its stakeholders makes the company truly unique.

I also appreciated the opportunity to see a little of Washington DC – in fact I got to see a bird’s eye view of the city from 500 ft up the Washington Monument!  I also visited the Washington Zoo and saw their elephants. Back in Ghana we can have problems with elephants trampling crops – the story goes that when elephants are going to water to drink they are very scared they will suck crabs up their trunks at the same time, so they trample hard before drinking to ensure they have crushed all the crabs!