A story of cocoa farmers in London

14 March 2013

As well as offering a fantastic range of chocolate, Divine is here to give cocoa farmers a voice – and it’s so great to see the relish with which they take up that opportunity each Fairtrade Fortnight!

Mary & Esther

Mary Appiah and Esther Mintah Ephraim at Kuapa HQ

This year we were delighted to host a visit by Kuapa Kokoo members Mary Appiah and Esther Mintah Ephraim – both from the Western Region of Ghana, and both first time travellers to UK.  Mary is 60, and comes from Enchi where she has a 7.5 acre farm. She’s been a member of Kuapa Kokoo for 6 years.  Esther is 28, from Agyedum, and her family farm is 38 acres. She’s been a Kuapa member for 8 years.

As you can imagine, arriving in the freezing cold, and emerging from the plane in Heathrow Terminal 5 is quite overwhelming!  But Mary and Esther not only took everything in their stride, but were open for all experiences and interested in everything they saw and heard.  We had a very busy schedule arranged for them – ensuring they addressed really diverse audiences, and in turn discovered as much as possible about the UK chocolate market they supply (and lots of sight-seeing too).

Sampling Divine at Liberty's chocolate shop

Sampling Divine at Liberty’s chocolate shop

The farmers attended Fairtrade events at St Mary le Bow Church, at St Paul’s Cathedral, in Crystal Palace, and in Haringay – telling audiences about their lives, about the impact Fairtrade and owning Divine has had on them and their fellow members, and their hopes for the future.They toured a real mix of shops where Divine is stocked – delighting customers who weren’t expecting to meet cocoa farmers when they bought their chocolate – from Liberty’s to Budgens in Crouch End, and Whole Foods to Oxfam in Covent Garden.


Esther and Mary visit Oxfam in Drury Lane

 8thMarch is InternationalWomen’s Day – and once again the Kuapa farmers were given the opportunity to participate in the international Women of the World Festival (WOW) at the Southbank Centre – amongst amazing women from all backgrounds and circumstances.Primary school St Barnabus in Tunbridge Wells, and Imperial College and Royal College of Art all hosted lovely events where Mary and Esther narrated a film showing how cocoa is grown, harvested and prepared to ensure it is “pa pa paa” and answered many questions about how belonging to Kuapa Kokoo has changed their lives.  We also visited Hadlow College where Esther and Mary were able to share knowledge and experience with a whole theatre of farming students, including many international students from Africa.  We were given a tour of the College farm – and the size of all the animals amazed them!

Esther & Mary visit the lambing shed at Hadlow College

Esther & Mary visit the lambing shed at Hadlow College

Last – but absolutely not least – Esther and Mary were very special guests at our fantastic Pop Up Shop in Monmouth Street WC2 – talking to customers, speaking at our discussion event “Can smallholder farmers save the world?”, and throwing some shapes at our fabulous free Azonto dance sessions – the Ghanaian dance craze sweeping the world.

We were very sorry to see them go (but they were extremely glad to miss the sudden big dip in temperature!).  They said everywhere they went how proud they were to be here and to be representing their co-operative – and that their very presence here was a demonstration of how things were changing for cocoa farmers.  They loved fish & chips, but hated escalators, they were amazed by Tower Bridge and the fact it could open, and blown away by the size of the Thames. They were delighted by the glimpses of countryside through the train window on the way to Kent, and impressed by buildings, roads, and automatically opening doors.

They will be taking all their experiences back with them – and most importantly the impression that growing cocoa is worthwhile, that we in UK love chocolate, and everyone they met loved Divine.  In turn they have inspired so many more people here to support Fairtrade and to cherish and value the favourite foods we buy – especially chocolate!

Esther dances Azonto at the Divine Pop Up

Esther dances Azonto at the Divine Pop Up

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!

From the archive: Dubble trouble in Edinburgh

13 August 2012

As we in London bask in the glow of Olympic sporting glory, up in Edinburgh the world’s best creative performers are showing what they’re made of at the Fringe .  It’s this time of year I get to remember fondly the three glorious years  that the Dubble Act Award made headlines at the Fringe – an award we created in collaboration with the great Mervyn Stutter,  host of probably the longest running review show at the Festival. This is how it worked – Mervyn’s hard working team spends the entire duration of the Fringe looking out for some of the best shows, and inviting them to do a five minute taster for the Review.  Together we formulated an award as part of this process – so at the end of the show, unbeknown the acts on show that day – one great double comedy act was chosen to win the coveted Dubble award (sponsored by Divine‘s cheeky little sister brand).  The audience in Edinburgh is notably Fairtrade friendly and the link with our partner Comic Relief added extra resonance to this comedy-loving crowd. 

Mervyn Stutter gets his teeth into Dubble

Mervyn Stutter gets his teeth into Dubble

Being in Edinburgh during the Fringe is a real buzz, there is no public space that isn’t being used to perform, or plug a performance (possibly a few private spaces too).  It was a very special perk to be able to go up there to sponsor the Award (a serious competitor to the famous Perrier Award!) – but the whole process turned into a mini-comedy of its own.  I think my relationship with the wonderful hand-made Dubble Trophy, which was made specially for us each year, was jinxed. It was a large eccentric, but very delicate construction – totally full of Dubble bars. The problem was that, despite every attempt to protect it,  it broke in transit.  The first year we ran the award I only discovered the award trophy was broken hours before the show.  Mervyn looked decidedly unamused.  I managed to find a very kind techie bloke who spent a couple of hours gluing it back together for me.  Come the time for the show – all we could do was pray and cross our fingers that it wouldn’t fall apart on stage. I think I may have lent over and whispered “be careful with it, it’s fragile” to the winners.  It was ok – relieved drinks all round afterwards. 

The next year…. it happened again.  This was seriously not a joke.  I called HQ in a panic – and Sophi guided me to the nearest DIY/model-making store – where I bought my own hot glue gun. Not an implement I was that familiar with.  I spent most of that night working out how to use it, and applying liberal splots of hot glue to the broken trophy.  Success – it didn’t fall apart on stage – disaster averted again.  The following year I took the glue gun with me,  and with an experienced hand, applied a few blobs to all the weak looking points.  I felt like an Edinburgh veteran.

The winners of the Dubble Act Award have all gone on to be really successful – in 2003 it was Laurence and Gus (Laurence Howarth and Gus Brown – both behind some great comedy writing for TV) and the great Barry Cryer handed over the award.

Barry Cryer presents Laurence and Gus with their Dubble Act Award

Barry Cryer presents Laurence and Gus with their Dubble Act Award

In 2004 the winners were the extraordinary and very physical Japanese mime act Gamarjobat – who have gone on to be internationally famous. Top comedian Dara O’Briain presented this one – and Gamarjobat mimed their surprise and appreciation!

Dara O'Briain presents Dubble Act Award to Gamarjobat

Dara O’Briain presents Dubble Act Award to Gamarjobat

And the 2005 Dubble Act Award winner was US comedy duo Pajama Men – who have also become a comedy phenomena all around the world – and have just been back in Edinburgh where they first had their big UK success. Comedian and TV Presenter Sue Perkins joined the show to present the Award.

Pajama Men win the Dubble Act Award 2005

Pajama Men win the Dubble Act Award 2005

Sadly we then decided, despite having so much fun with the Dubble Act Award, we needed to focus our time and resources on more children-oriented initiatives – Dubble’s heartland – so 2005 was the last time a comedy duo could bag this prestigious award.  It would be great to know if some expert gluing has meant these extraordinary trophies are still adorning mantlepieces in pride of place – or at least being extremely efficient much-loved doorstops. 

But we haven’t stopped celebrating other great Dubble Acts!  Dubble fans will know that last year we started a smashing partnership with Dennis and Gnasher of the Beano.  We’re delighted to say Dubble and Dennis & Gnasher are still big pals – and look out for another Dubbly brilliant new launch PLUS a really famous TV duo getting in on the act in the Beano this autumn!!

Dubble gets together with another cheeky double act

Dubble gets together with another cheeky double act

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.


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 does Glastonbury

29 June 2011

Like other performers doing Glastonbury for the first time, we were all set for the most exciting gig of our lives.  After fretting over weather forecasts for weeks, we had crammed waterproofs, boots, Divine t-shirts, chocolate, summer gear, some items of ‘festival chic’ + tent and sleeping bag into bags and backpacks we could hardly carry – and we were on our way.

Divine had been invited to be the official chocolate bar at Glastonbury – a perfect union of ethical values and delicious fun – and we – Tal Drori, Simone Lindsay, Asi Sharabi and me – were going to see how the whole thing works.

The Divine team

I don’t know quite what I was expecting but the sheer scale is what knocks you out first. And then there was the mud. Mud that developed from the first day, when your footsteps hardly made a mark, to the deep, sticky, sucky mud that you sink into up to the top of your boots and have to beg people to pull you out.


Over the five days we explored most of the site (you had to factor in hours to get from one part to another) – from the sea+fish theme of the Greenpeace field, to the surreal shanty town of Shangri-La.  We made regular trips to Essential who were the wholesalers selling Divine on site – and to all the stores stocking Divine for the Festival.

Some of the Oxfam team

Met up with the Oxfam team – promoting the Grow campaign and inviting passers by to ‘get their hands dirty’ with green paint, and said hello to the Fairtrade Foundation team with their stand in the Greenpeace Field. 

The Fairtrade Foundation stand

Handed out the exclusive Glastonbury Divine bars in the Press Tent – where News of the World and Times, mingled with local SW press and journalists from all around the world – from Toronto to Buenos Aires.  Met up with long time colleague Ken Gascoigne who introduced me to Billy Bragg – who has always been a great Divine supporter (Ken got a Divine Glasto t-shirt signed by Billy and by Phil Jupitus which we’ll be offering as a prize soon!).  Caught up with Katy Stephens and Clive Jones

Billy Bragg gives thumbs up for Divine

from The Guardian (who along with Orange were providing Festival necessities –  mini-guides to the Festival, and tents where you could charge up your phone).

We had passes to the Hospitality Area for which we are eternally grateful – a (relative) zone of tranquility away from the heaving masses outside (with the chance of a bit of celeb spotting – Bono, Will Young, Alexa Chung, Fatboy Slim amongst others) .   Arriving there early on Sunday morning after packing the car – we were surrounded by police and heard the news of a death… soon to be identified as Chris Shale…

Sunday was HOT.  We were waiting for someone to call to say they had found the Golden Ticket giving them a stage-side pass on the Pyramid Stage…. but no call came.  So we decided to choose someone at random… and spotted Joyce Henderson sitting with her friend Ellie Cox having a cool drink of Pimms.  We must have Fairtrade radar, because Joyce turned out to be a local primary school teacher, who introduces her pupils to Fairtrade! Cue huge excitement and a flurry of phonecalls telling family, friends and anyone else they could think of – at 5.45pm we escorted them through the stage side gate – and they went off to see Plan B – right there on the stage with him.

Lucky winners Ellie and Joyce

And yes we did see some bands – including bits of Metronomy, Aloe Blacc, Elbow, Laura Marling, Coldplay, U2, Jessie J and more.   Feeling pretty tired we set off before Beyonce – very sad to miss her – but the desire for a bath, loo without a layer of mud, and comfy bed was too strong…..

Check out more from Glastonbury on our Facebook and Twitter pages

Painted boys enjoy a Divine treat


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