Meet the Divine Cocoa Farmers

Posted on March 6 2014 by Jenny Linford

Divine Cocoa Farmers portrait scaled

Behind the widely-recognised Fairtrade logo, is the human reality of what Fairtrade is doing. People buy Fairtrade food products because they feel that by doing so they are helping farmers in developing countries, but usually this remains an abstract concept.

Divine is the only Fairtrade chocolate company 45% owned by cocoa farmers, in the form of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union, a co-operative of Ghanaian cocoa farmers. Cocoa goes on a long journey before it becomes the chocolate we know in Europe and the voices of the cocoa farmers are very rarely heard directly. Through Divine, however, Chocolatier.co.uk was able to meet two of Kuapa Kokoo’s cocoa farmers, Mercy Zaah and Mavis Adu Gyamfi, when they visited the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight and hear their stories and learn what Fairtrade means for them and their communities.

“Cocoa farming is very tedious work ,” says Mavis, frankly. “There are so many activities that go on at our farm: weeding, pruning, harvesting.” Mavis explained the work involved in harvesting her cocoa crop. “When I see the cocoa is ripe and ready for harvesting, I wake up very early in the morning, I take my basket, machete – we have a long stick with a sharp cutter at the edge, which is called ‘go to hell’ – I start harvesting the ripe cocoa. After harvesting I gather all the cocoa to one place, maybe I’m tired so I go home and sleep. Come the next day, I call my colleagues – the co-operative spirit, we help each other – to break the cocoa pods and remove the cocoa beans. These are very sweet. I cut plantain leaves to make a mat, put all the cocoa beans on the plantain leaves and cover the cocoa beans with plantain leaves. We ferment the beans to get the chocolate flavour from the beans which takes seven days, but after three days we have to come back and turn the cocoa to ferment it well, and cover it again. Then we put all the cocoa beans on a raffia mat in a sunny place to dry it. You have to stir the cocoa beans to remove all the unwanted material from the cocoa beans – you should make sure that every cocoa bean is well-dried.”

Not only is the work hard, it is dangerous. “When harvesting the cocoa you can find dangerous snakes, so you have to be very careful. Also, when breaking the cocoa,” here she gestures to a photograph of a cocoa farmer cutting open a cocoa pod held in one hand with a huge knife held in the other, “you have to be careful not to cut your hand.”

Once the cocoa is dried, it is then taken to a Kuapa Kokoo recorder to be weighed and recorded, with Mavis, who studied accountancy, herself one of these recorders; “Due to my education and the way I play an active part in the organisation, my people have elected me as a recorder in my village; the farmers trusted me a lot and elected me to that position.”

Talking to Mavis and to Mercy, it becomes apparent that an important advantage for the cocoa farmers of being part of the Fairtrade movement is prompt payment. “Before I joined Kuapa,” says Mercy, “when they buy cocoa, it will take you two months before you get your money. Since I join Kuapa, the recorder weighs my cocoa and that same day I collect my money.” Mavis agrees; “We Kuapa Kokoo members are proud because you get your money immediately you weigh your cocoa, not like other cocoa buying companies.”

Both women explain that there are other benefits to the Fairtrade relationship. “Since I started selling my cocoa to Kuapa,” says Mercy, “I have seen that Kuapa has helped us a lot because of the Fairtrade premium and Divine dividends. Fairtrade premium come every year, the Divine dividends help us develop our societies. With the Fairtrade premium I use it to pay my son’s school fees, Divine helps us, so I have a pipe to drink in our village because of Divine dividends. We get schooling, training, they educate us – we have women empowerment – we are trained in batik, soap making, even cake making – we do these things to help ourselves and our villages. So Divine dividends and Fairtrade premiums help us in so many ways – that is why I like Kuapa Kokoo. I am so proud. I have been telling other farmers what is going on in Kuapa and how we benefit.”

Mavis has also seen the Fairtrade premium and the Divine dividend benefit her community. “We use the Fairtrade premium to do a lot of developmental work in our communities like schools to give our children a better education, toilet facilities, water to drink and me in my village I have benefitted from toilet facilities and also mobile clinics – Kuapa brings doctors to cater for the health of our farmers. We also get extra bonus and I use my bonus to continue my education from secondary school and now I am using it to support my younger sister’s education.”

Once Kuapa Kokoo’s cocoa has been weighed and sold, it is taken first to depots for quality control testing, then to port, then, as Mavis declares proudly and with a warm smile, “It is sent to Europe for Divine chocolate company to manufacture delicious Divine chocolate!” There is a sense of ownership and pride. “Our chocolate tastes great,” says Mavis, “We are very proud that we own a big chocolate company and we are very fortunate that we have travelled all the way from Ghana to the UK to meet with business executives, with school children. We are very happy.”

In order for the cocoa farmers in Ghana to thrive, however, it is essential that Divine chocolate do well. Mercy sums up the importance of this relationship clearly: “The more you buy Divine chocolate chocolate, the more dividends we get to improve our lives.” Mavis echoes the sentiment: “I always say UK people should buy Fairtrade products, especially Divine chocolate, because we get dividends and premium from it and it improves our lives in our communities.”

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