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

Big Food Debate – September 2010, Abergavenny

29 September 2010

Speakers from all over the world at the Big Food Debate

 What made last week’s Big Food Debate an especially important forum was that it gave voice to so many farmers and producers from around the world.  Yes, there were UK pundits and experts, but there was no doubt we were all there to listen to and understand the challenges and ambitions so lucidly explained by more than twenty five producers who had come from across Africa, Latin America and Asia. 

Organised by Twin (the NGO that has 25 years experience working specifically with smallholder farmers) and Fair Trade Wales, the Big Food Debate was a logistical miracle, as getting visas and travel arrangements sorted for this many farmers will not have been easy.  The sense of unity, sharing of problems, and extraordinary persistence and resilience amongst the farmers was palpable throughout.

The Debate opened with plenary presentations from Tomy Mathew representing the Fairtrade Alliance of Kerala, Southern India, from Peter Lipman of Transition Towns Network, and from Gareth Edwards-Jones of Bangor University. They set the scene for and against consumerism and Fairtrade in the search for sustainable solutions to trade injustice and food security.

The Debate then broke into six workshops all focused on different issues farmers face worldwide and the challenges faced here in the UK in engaging civic society to support farmer-centric solutions to the food security issues we are all now becoming aware of.

In the workshop on “how farmers can move higher up the value chain” we first heard about Zaytoun. This brand of Fairtrade olive oil is a triumph of hope over adversity for Palestinian olive farmers with every possible obstacle in the way of them producing the excellent product the country has been known for over 3000 years. Dyborn Chibonga of NASFAM farmers association in Malawi described how the farmers he represents have succeeded in making more money from their groundnuts and thereby moving further up the value chain, by adding roasting and salting to their offer. Kuapa Kokoo. Like Zaytoun, was another example showing how owning your own brand in the Northern consumer markets brings so much more than extra income.

Another workshop discussed “how farmers can build the capacity to be sustainable, particularly in respect of climate change’.  Here it became clear how profound the impact of changing weather patterns has been around the world. Carmen Willems of Junta Nacional del Café coffee farmers union in Peru described recent harvests being severely decimated due to the multiple effect of very heavy rains and drought at the wrong times. Coffee cherries are either not being pollenated, being washed off the bushes by the rain, or becoming more exposed to pests and diseases.  Junta Nacional del Café has an ambitious and well-conceived adaptation programme in place but they estimate it will need $130m to complete.  So far they have raised $5m. Emmanuel Arthur of Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana explained how important it was to present adaptation solutions to farmers in terms they understand, and which relate to their experience on their farms.  It should be they, the farmers, in control of their own destinies so they need to understand the problems.  Adaptation programmes should not be imposed on farmers by manufacturers and their technical experts.  Farmers should have the training and funding to implement these programmes themselves.

The overriding themes that came out of this Debate were the need for biodiversity, the potential for further organisation, networking and collaboration of farmers, and the need for funding.  Farmers cannot be expected to fund major adaptation programmes out of FT premiums. What is very clear is that it is the farmers themselves who are best placed and most experienced in stewarding the land and keeping it productive, and they should therefore have equal control over funding and how it is used – the power should not be in the hands of the funding provider.

Note: For more about how smallholder farmers are key to the future of the world’s food security read George Monbiot’s piece ‘Small is bountiful’ here

The first Fairtrade cocoa from Sierra Leone

17 February 2010

The day after arriving in Freetown we drive for five hours to Kenema in the Eastern Province. Kenema is the third largest city in Sierra Leone with a population of around 165,000. There is a mix of all the country’s ethnic groups, as well as many Liberians and Sierra Leonean-born Lebanese. It is a major diamond trading centre and also home to some of the country’s cocoa trading enterprises.  Sierra Leone has a liberalised economy – so anyone can trade and export cocoa.

Ibrahim Moseray and members of the KAE team

Ibrahim Moseray (left) and members of the KAE team

It’s here we meet Ibrahim Moseray – the charismatic general manager of Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise (KAE).  He, like all his fellow cocoa farmers, experienced firsthand the terror of the civil war that waged in the country throughout the 90s, and lost family, friends and the ability to work his farm. Despite the terrible circumstances, Ibrahim nurtured his idea that farmers should run their own cocoa buying and trading business, and liaised with NGOs on the ground and his farmer colleagues to help bring his idea to fruition. 

Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise was first established in 1996, and Ibraham persevered with persuading farmers to come on board.  Today KAE has over 1200 members from 50 villages and has made great strides in creating a working, vibrant cooperative and the farmers are starting to see the tangible benefits of doing things for themselves.  Key to their progress has been the input from Twin, and in turn the help and technical advice from Kuapa Kokoo, the Ghanaian cooperative behind Divine Chocolate.  They have helped on organisational issues, helped them improve the quality of their cocoa, and helped them receive Fairtrade certification.

Ibrahim guides us to KAE’s new offices on the edge of town and we join all his management team in singing an introduction song – where everyone sings a verse including their own name.  The team are a mix of men and women, young and old, and all equally energised and enthusiastic about the organisation they are creating.  The Chairman, Sellau Momoh, was born in 1933 and remembers the British encouraging Sierre Leone to plant more cocoa when he was young.

Sellau Momoh, Chairman of KAE

We sit and talk about the challenges facing the KAE.  In Sierra Leone there is only one harvest a year and in between, during the summer months is the ‘hunger season’ – when there is next to no income for buying food. The staple food is rice – and the farmers do grow some of their own – but the local market is undermined by subsidised imports.  Farmers have become dependent on being pre-paid for their cocoa with rice – and then not being paid enough on delivering their cocoa to feed their families for the rest of the year.  It’s a cycle KAE hopes to break – ultimately ending up with farmers producing more, higher quality cocoa, and being paid a good price when they harvest their cocoa so the income takes them through the hunger season.  Other cocoa traders have responded to KAE’s recruitment of farmer members and offered a range of short term incentives to lure them away. But both a good price for the cocoa and the growing number of other benefits they can see – a new school, a new truck, a new depot – are starting to keep members loyal to KAE.

Members of the KAE team

Next day we set off to Batiama, a small village two hours out of Kenema, along some challenging roads and tracks. We arrive to a reception of KAE members and once again the ‘introduction song’ gets everyone laughing.

The truck bought with funding from Divine

This is a significant occasion. My mission is to represent Divine Chocolate and explain how their fellow farmers in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo, agreed to KAE selling their first container of Fairtrade cocoa to Divine, thereby forgoing the premium they would get for the same amount of cocoa.  I explain that Kuapa Kokoo was once small like KAE – but over 17 years it has grown and thrived – and it also established its own chocolate company – something to consider for the future!  It makes sense for Kuapa to help other farmers sell to Divine – as they still receive their share of the profits.

KAE farmers cutting open cocoa pods

 KAE’s first premium was spent, with the agreement of the members, on buying land for the first proper KAE offices and storeroom which have now been built.  It has made the company seem even more tangible – the farmers can see it really is established, professional and in business.

The new KAE office and store

 The farmers gathered in Batiama are very interested to hear more about Kuapa Kokoo, but are more focused on the fact that the very chocolate that now contains their first Fairtrade cocoa is in a coolbag next to me.  A major tasting session follows – thankfully there’s enough for every single adult and child (with enough left over for Ibrahim to impress his bank manager).

We visit two farms and hear the stories of how they had to abandon the farms when the rebels came to their village.  Most of the farmers had to flee and came back to the village years later.  It took five years to get the cocoa trees back in good condition again and a lot of work needs to be done on planting new trees and pruning the existing ones to improve production.  The farmers are very proud of their new skills to produce better quality cocoa – they have learned about fermentation and slow drying and now have quality testing equipment.  Like Kuapa, they vote for the key KAE representatives in every village and they are seeing the benefit of having their voices heard. Batiama has built its own small school and paid for a teacher to come out to them so now the children no longer walk four miles to school and back each day.

Everyone has harrowing stories but there seems to be a sense of determination and optimism – if we went through that, we can get through anything. 

Swaray Salia

56 year old Swaray Salia says:

“Our biggest challenge is getting good money at the right time – and ensuring we have enough to eat through the Hunger Season. We need to work hard on weed control in between harvests and we need food to give us the energy to do it.  Cocoa is our only source of income.”

“Since I joined KAE we have been able to build houses for ourselves – I now have my own house.  Kpeya had the idea of building a school here in this village so the children didn’t have to walk four miles to school any more. It opened this year.”

“Our water supply is from the river.  I hope one day we can earn enough Fairtrade premium to have our own well.”

“My personal dream is to ensure all my children go to school.  One of my sons wants to be a cocoa farmer, so the farm will go to him.”

“My message to the people who love chocolate: As we are now exporting our cocoa please help us – and stretch your hands out to us.  Let there be communication between the people who eat chocolate and the farmers here.  We are simple people and need your support, so our children can be educated.   We sometimes go hungry – and we need our cocoa to give us a sustainable income. Two sacks of cocoa is not enough to send one child to school.”

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….

Fairtrade anniversary tea at 10 Downing Street

15 October 2009
Sophi Tranchell with Brad Hill of The Co-operative taking tea at Downing Street

Sophi Tranchell with Brad Hill of The Co-operative taking tea at Downing Street

Posted by Sophi:

What a delightful way to start the week! Tea in Downing Street to celebrate 15 years of the Fairtrade Mark.  A wonderful collection of everyday heroes who have made Fairtrade what it is today.  From Justino Peck from the Toledo Cocoa Growers in Belize, whose story has inspired consumers like Bruce Crowther who made Garstang the first Fairtrade town in the world, spawning a social movement across the western world.  There were three 15-year-old campaigners and people from Fairtrade Towns and Cities across UK, and of course Harriet Lamb, the head of the Foundation and lots of her lovely team. 

Sarah Brown hosted the event and announced that 10 Downing Street was now officially Fairtrade, a commitment that meant that when they host international dignitaries for events like G20  they will be introduced to the best of Fairtrade. In her speech she acknowledged role of Fairtrade companies like Divine and Cafédirect and described the impact on millions of smallscale farmers across the world.

There was tea, coffee, sandwiches, fruit skewers and a magnificent chocolate cake, but it was the selection of people that really made the event, a roll call for Fairtrade.  Representatives from founders’ organisations like Paul from Christian Aid which has a network of committed and active supporters, Deborah from the WDM which has continued to expose the causes of global poverty, Paul from Traidcraft whose network of Fairtraders continue to sell Fairtrade goods tirelessly through rain and snow, Kevin from CAFOD, Tammy for the Women Institute.  Louise from Comic Relief which has brought pzazz, celebrity endorsement and money to the party, Brad Hill who helped us get that first Co-op Divine bar on the shelf in 2000 and was part of Co-op brave move to be the first retailer in Britain to convert a whole category to Fairtrade; Chocolate in 2002, followed by coffee in 2003.  DFID who supported the establishment of Divine with a loan guarantee and have continued in their unstinting support Fairtrade though out the last ten years.  Harry Hill was strutting his stuff, he visited Ghana early on to promote Fairtrade banana, and has now leant his name to Liberation the Fairtrade Nut Company you can try Harry Nuts in Sainsburys

An finally the Innovators who were creative enough to think of a different way of doing business and were brave enough to take the leap; Martin Metyard from the Co-op, Andy Good from Equal Exchange, a fair trade workers co-op whose latest products include Palestinian olive oil available through Sainsbury, and Robin Murray from Twin which founded Cafédirect, Divine and more recently Liberation.

With a capacity of 50 you are never going to include everyone but congratulations to Sarah Brown and the Foundation for a impressive turnout and Happy 15th  Birthday!

Joining 3000 farmers for the Kuapa Kokoo AGM

28 August 2009
On overhead view of the Kuapa Kokoo AGM

Farmers gather for the Kuapa Kokoo AGM

I was in Ghana recently to join Kuapa Kokoo for their 15th delegates conference, followed by their AGM in the grounds of Knust University in Kumasi.  3,000 delegates gathered from all Kuapa’s 1,300 village societies making the journey from across Ghana’s cocoa growing regions. Gloriously dressed in Kuapa’s ceremonial cloth, cut to every shape and size you can imagine, men and women, some with their children in tow, creating a real spirit of celebration.  Seth Gogoe from Twin travel up with me, Ernest Adzim from FLO was in attendance with Emilie Persson a Swedish intern and Divine supporter.  Cord Budde, the owner of the factory that makes Divine, was also there. The AGM is always an occasion to meet old friends.

The delegate conference on the Wednesday broke into three groups.  One to look at the proposed Fairtrade premium Projects, one to review Kuapa’s policy on child labour and one to discuss the final amendments to the new constitution. The seriousness and patience of all the delegates despite the heat and the complexity of the discussions was impressive.  This was the culmination of months of consultation.  There was lots of debate in English and Twi (their local language) and when people returned for the plenary, there was a sense of a job well done and the right decision being taken.  The evening ended with a song and a prayer.

Next morning the AGM was opened by the President Mr PK Buah dressed in ceremonial white and black Kente cloth.  He presented Mr Aduse Puko the New Managing Director of the trading company and Mr Arthur the new Chief Officer of the Union.   The delegates listened attentively and voted, and in good Kuapa tradition there was music and dancing to break up the business.  I reported on how Divine had performed over the last year in UK and USA and I welcomed the work they had done on the constitution. Regina translated my speech and Comfort Kumeah stood with me in support. 

Divine received a citation from the President for all the work it has done over the last 10 years – you can see what it says on our website.

Divine MD Sophi Tranchell receives a special Citation from Kuapa Kokoo president Mr Buah, in recognition of the work Divine has done over its first decade

Divine MD Sophi Tranchell receives a special Citation from Kuapa Kokoo president Mr Buah, in recognition of the work Divine has done over its first decade

 A citation was also given to Francis who has worked as a driver for Kuapa since 1993, he had become the chief driver and was now retiring after 15 years service. 

The membership agreed the new constitution and the Fairtrade Premium Project plans and accepted the annual reports.  The Managing Director announced the payment of the Government bonus to great applause, and the AGM voted to invest a large proportion of the £33,602 Dividend from Divine Chocolate in their US Divine business. 

Awards were made for the most productive societies in each area, they included machetes and spraying equipment.  There was also an award made to a disabled farmer who had managed to get his society to deliver 2,000 bags of cocoa.  He was awarded a motorized quad bike and I handed over the key.

Handing over the keys to a quad bike to a disabled farmer who has spurred his society on to produce 2000 bags of cocoa

Handing over the keys to a quad bike to a disabled farmer who has spurred his society on to produce 2000 bags of cocoa

A doctor made a long speech about the importance of health and hygiene emphasising how important it was people to take medical advise from properly qualified doctors and then to take any medicine as prescribed.  

The AGM closed with another song and prayer and members began their long hot trek home until next year….


Posted by Sophi