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Fairtrade Fortnight: Life as a Ghanaian cocoa farmer

SUSTAINABLE: Farmer Mavis Adu Gyamfi checking her crop

FOR MOST Brits, chocolate is a taste of sweet luxury and a potent means of relaxation where one small bite can help soothe everything from a bad day or a broken heart.

But for thousands of cocoa farmers in the developing world, chocolate is their livelihood.

West Africa has been the centre of world cocoa cultivation for over six decades and today produces 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa. The Ivory Coast is the largest cocoa producing country, and Ghana is the second biggest.

For decades, though, chocolate production companies have been criticised for paying cocoa farmers an unfair price for their crops, often using inaccurate weighing scales and complicated payment schemes which often leave farmers out of pocket.

In the early 1990s when a structural adjustment programme paved the way for the marketing of cocoa to be liberalised in Ghana, a group of farmers realised they could take on the internal marketing of cocoa and sell their produce directly to exporters without fear of being cheated or treated unfairly.

This led to the establishment of Kuapa Kokoo as a farmer’s cooperative in 1993. Its aim is to improve the social, economic and political wellbeing of its members. Kuapa Kookoo – which means ‘good cocoa growers’ in the local language Twi – now has over 65,000 members in approximately 1,400 villages across Ghana. Two years after seeting up, the union received its first Fair-trade certificate.

Cocoa farmer Mavis Adu Gyamfi, 28, from Sefwi – Akotombra, western Ghana, joined the organisation in 2009 and is a recorder of the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union – a role not unusually offered to women.

Adu Gyamfi said: “I am proud to be a Kuapa Kokoo farmer. They promote female empowerment.”

She continued: “There have been two female Kuapa Kokoo presidents so far, and I hope to be the third one day.”

Five years after Kuapa Kokoo was formed, Divine, the first ever Fairtrade chocolate bar aimed at the mass market was launched in the UK. The Kuapa Kokoo co-operative owns 45 per cent of Divine Chocolate Ltd (the rest of the shares are owned by Twin Trading and international development finance organisation, oikocredit) and the additional shares are owned by individual farmers.

Charlotte Borger of Divine told The Voice: “The whole point is to give farmers a voice. These farmers can now live sustainably.”

Having set out with an objective to catalyse change in the chocolate industry, it was a pinnacle moment for cocoa farmers when Cadbury’s made the decision to convert its Cadbury Dairy Milk bar to Fairtrade. In 2013, approximately 11 per cent of all chocolates sold in the UK carried the Fairtrade mark.

Adu Gyamfi, whose parents are also cocoa growers, said: “I feel happy to manufacture quality chocolate and I hope people will buy more Fairtrade chocolate, as it helps us farmers so, so much.”

Every year, to celebrate Fair-trade Fortnight, which takes place between February 29 - March 13 this year, two members of Kuapa Kokoo are invited to the UK to see firsthand the chocolate that is produced from the cocoa they grow being sold in the marketplace.

COCOA CURIOUS: Chocolate farmers Mavis Adu Gyamfi and Mercy Zaah (right) on their UK visit in 2014

Mercy Zaah visited the UK two years ago. The 53-year-old, who has a 12-acre farm, told The Voice: “Before, farmers would have to wait months before they were paid for their cocoa, but now we get paid straight away.”

Zaah’s commitment and loyalty to the organisation over the years has resulted in her colleagues electing her as the treasurer of the Adiyaa society, the president of the Women’s Society and vice-president of the Dadieso district.

Like all the Kuapa Kokoo farmers, Zaah receives a share of the profits from the sales of Divine chocolate.

She explained that “because of Fairtrade premium rates and Divine dividends, I now have water pipes in my village so we can have clean water.”

The mother-of-five continued: “I have been able to send my children to university, and my eldest is now a qualified nurse.”

So life for Fairtrade farmers, quite literally, is now looking more like a box of chocolates.

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