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!

Spending time on Comfort’s farm

4 November 2009

I travelled to Ghana last week for meetings with Kuapa Kokoo (we’re working on more synergy between our Ghana, UK and USA communications, and I had an update on the workshops Kuapa has been running on climate change). I was also meeting up with Comfort Kumeah, the Chair of the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Trust, at her village an hour or so west of Kumasi.  There will be many people both in UK and USA that will remember meeting Comfort – as she’s become a well-travelled ambassador for Kuapa Kokoo and Divine, and has shared all her learning about the chocolate market and attitudes to ethical shopping with her colleagues and community back in Ghana.

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Adim Mensah, President of his local Kuapa Kokoo society, in his funeral robes

There was a big funeral and a big wedding going on in the village on the same day so everyone was dressed up – either in black for the funeral, or in the Sunday best for the wedding.  Funerals are a very big deal in Ghana – with people all but bankrupting themselves to buy a good coffin, put on a really good ceremony, and invite the whole community.

Within minutes of arriving all the kids in the village were excitedly drawing us pictures of what they had been doing at school – lots of detailed diagrams of plants (particularly cocoa trees) with all their parts clearly labelled. 

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The walk to Comfort's farm

We spent most of the day on Comfort’s farm which was about a mile and a half’s walk out of the village. We’d had to wait till Saturday to go as there is a taboo preventing women crossing the stream between the village and her farm on Fridays. It was beautiful walk and we were glad of the wellies we’d been given – at the bottom of the valley it was pretty muddy – there’s been some heavy downpours recently.

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The palm nut crusher bought with Fairtrade premiums

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Comfort's cocoa farm

We walked around the farm – with Comfort pointing out the boundaries, marked by evergreen bushes, and sometimes with pineapples.  The harvest is well and truly underway, with the first batch of ripe pods already mostly picked – and the next wave starting to turn yellow now.  Nicholas pointed out how there was a particular good distribution of tall rainforest trees across Comfort’s farm – giving the right amount of shade and protection above the cocoa trees.

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Cassava, plantain and a machete

We had chicken, tilapia, plantain and jollof rice for lunch with some very good spicey sauces. Comfort showed us some ‘sweet apples’ – some very nobbly fruits about the size of a small melon – I’ve tried to look it up since I got home but haven’t found it yet.  For afters we handed out bars and gold coins of Divine for everyone.

We left with everyone preparing for the evening’s parties – and were sent off with all the drawings the children had done.

Back in Accra, waiting for our flight home, we saw a glimpse of a different slice of Ghanaian life – a cosmopolitan group of young Ghanaian students, Lebanese business men, NGO representatives and diplomats’ wives and families – all enjoying a day off on Sunday round a swimming pool.