Worldwide demand for cocoa to make chocolate products may be growing; but that does not necessarily point to increased income for cocoa farmers.
As the cocoa industry gathers for the annual International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) conference in Abidjan to discuss the future for cocoa, Ghana’s Kuapa Kokoo, the biggest cocoa farmers’ cooperative explains how Fairtrade, democratic organization and farmer empowerment are key to the success of its operations and the future livelihoods of farmers.
According to Christiana Ohene-Agyare, President of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union, the co-operative exists for the benefit of its members and Fairtrade has played a crucial role in helping farmers improve their livelihoods.
“Fairtrade has delivered significant additional income to Kuapa Kokoo and through our democratic processes we have allocated that money. A significant part has been paid directly to our farmer members and to projects that directly benefit them. Without the support and extra income which Fairtrade and our Fairtrade partners deliver, we wouldn’t be here today and cocoa farmers would still have no say in their own futures,” she stated.
Formation of the organization
Kuapa Kokoo was formed in 1993 when the government of Ghana liberalized the cocoa industry. A group of farmers led by Nana Frimpong Abebrese, thinking of what they could do for themselves in the new environment to derive maximum benefits from their toils, decided to form Kuapa Kokoo.
Kuapa Kokoo belongs to the farmers themselves – it is an organization in which the farmers take their own decisions and see to its implementation.
Today, the co-operative is made up of 65,000 members from five cocoa growing regions in Ghana – Ashanti, Western, Eastern, Central and the Brong-Ahafo.
To become a member of Kuapa Kokoo, one has to apply to an existing society, go through a training programme and pay membership dues of GH¢2.00. Members are then part of a democratic organization in which they elect and can stand for positions at village, district, and national level. As well as meetings and communications at all levels throughout the year, there are annual general meetings at district and nationals level at which issues are debated and voted on.
Kuapa Kokoo and Fairtrade
Kuapa Kokoo joined the Fairtrade movement in 1995 as one of the pioneering farmer-based organisations. Having realized that the Fairtrade movement was the one great idea to ensure poverty eradication and producer empowerment, Kuapa Kokoo together with others set up the Divine ( formerly Day) Chocolate Company as the first fair trade chocolate brand in the UK in 1999.
Since the formation of Divine Chocolate in the UK (and subsequently in the USA), Kuapa Kokoo and Divine have promoted the fair trade movement in Europe, and USA. Consumers have come to understand that indeed trade can be done in a different way.
Kuapa Kokoo has earned Fairtrade premium for the past 17 years and through the premium farmers lives have been touched and their communities have seen significant improvements.
There is a democratic process in place for the use of Fairtrade premium. Information is gathered right from the society level, through the district level to the national level. Each year, at the annual general meeting, the members discuss Fairtrade premium budgets and financial reports, and agree on priorities.
How the Fairtrade Premium is invested – an example from the last year
In the 2011/12 season, Kuapa Kokoo purchased 43,544 tonnes of cocoa – 25,275 tonnes of which was purchased by Fairtrade customers.
In this season the Fairtrade premium income was spent as cash bonuses per sack in total of GH¢1.4million; machetes for all members at GH¢7 per machete; farmer agricultural training total for 2011 COCOBOD-run services at GH¢295,000; Kuapa Kokoo Internal Control System and Child Labour Awareness Programme at GH¢1.38 million; medical clinics (including cataracts and hernias) at GH¢336,138 in 25 districts; and support for 50 women’s groups in 22 districts at GH¢35,000.
Over the years, Fairtrade premiums have also been used to fund projects in farming communities, such as building of schools, construction of boreholes, extension teams, establishment of credit unions to give loans to farmers, among others.
Kuapa Kokoo itself is constantly improving the way knowledge, learning and information is disseminated across the whole membership, which is spread over many hundreds of square miles.
The latest initiative is a pilot series of radio programmes in Western Region – which are easily accessible by members, and offer an ideal channel to reach, inform and have interaction with membership locally. Issues covered include membership of Kuapa Kokoo, Fairtrade, Farming Practices and Child Labour. Further programmes in other regions are planned to increase the outreach.
Fairtrade goes beyond the payment of premiums
Fairtrade gives farmers empowerment in many ways – from being able to elect and trust the person responsible for weighing the cocoa and paying farmers, to having a say in running their own organization, and, importantly, in the encouragement and support of women.
For example, women, who constitute about a third of members, have fully participated actively in the decision making process of Kuapa Kokoo. In 2010 Kuapa Kokoo elected the first woman president of the union.
Also through Divine and Fairtrade, farmers have had the opportunity to interact with consumers in Europe and America. Each year farmers travel to UK and US to talk about their industry. They interact with school children and other consumers of chocolate to tell them their stories, their farming activities and the benefits of Fairtrade, and in turn are able to share their knowledge with their communities.
“Farmers have gained confidence through such opportunities and have increased their understanding of the world of cocoa and chocolate,” said Mrs. Ohene-Agyare. “This is what Fairtrade does for farmers and we are proud of it.”