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Sweet Developments: Fair Trade Chocolate in Ghana for the 21st Century

November 28, 2011
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From left to right: Felicia Mensah, Amanda White, Fatima Ali, John Gershman

Kuapa Kokoo is the major farmer’s cooperative in cocoa, representing over 45,000 farmers in Ghana, the world’s second largest cocoa producing nation. Founded in 1993 as a response to new government policies that opened cocoa marketing, the cooperative soon received Fair Trade certification and created a three-tiered governance structure.

Two Kuapa farmers made the long trip from Ghana to New York City for the first time, taking time for a special stop at Wagner to speak about fair trade chocolate, cooperative farming and gender roles in Kuapa leadership on November 17. Fatima Ali is the youngest person the National Executive Committee, where she serves as General Secretary. Felicia Mensah is a 50 year-old farmer representing her region as District President, focusing on women’s empowerment issues. Felicia and Fatima described the Kuapa model as a holistic, sustainable endeavor built on principles of economic, environmental and social equity.

Ghanaian chocolate is held in high international regard, its beans are said to be some of the world’s best–Kuapa’s focus on human rights issues extends the conversation about cocoa production beyond issues of taste and content: as the only Fair Trade certified cooperative, Kuapa has transformed labor rights issues and community development. Felicia stated that Kuapa is the “only company in Ghana that has crated an awareness on child labor.” Cocoa farmers interested in joining the cooperative must invest into the structure–Fatima explained that farmers “must go through a one year training to join because of a very rigorous quality control program.” Commitment to the cooperative helps to build lives for farmers and their families: the Kuapa Farmer’s Trust invests in social programs in its communities, building schools and sanitation services, opening mobile clinics and providing education and empowerment programs.

Both Fatima and Felicia spoke to the power of their experience as women in leadership roles, Fatima said”we women have power now to talk in public and share ideas. We meet every week to share ideas, sitting around the cocoa. Sometimes we give advice about making a better farm.”

Fatima and Felicia were joined on-stage by Amanda White, Marketing Coordinator at Divine Chocolate, an international Fair Trade chocolate manufacturer. Kuapa partnered with Divine USA in 2007 and now owns 30% of the company shares and has two seats on its board. Amanda joked that the Kuapa farmers were “her boss.” Amanda listed the benefits of the partnership, where Divine commits to “investing two percent in producer support to sell cocoa and democracy development through community building, training and support.” She pointed out that Divine is one of Kuapa’s many clients, but they are the only client that Kuapa owns–Kuapa has gained reputation among international brands, now providing 100% of the cocoa for the Body Shop’s cocoa butter.

The night wrapped on a local note as Pamela Alimurung, Chairperson of the New York City Fair Trade Coalition,  spoke about supporting Fair Trade in our own backyard. Pamela commented that issues with Fair Trade stemmed not from unwillingness to purchase more expensive products, but from a “lack of awareness” of Fair Trade products, which are popping up in clothing, flowers and coffee in addition to chocolate. Some local stores are leading the effort to put out the word about Fair Trade, including Sustainable NYC in the East Village.

For more information on Kuapa Kokkoo, visit their site.

More on Divine Chocolate.

Get involved with the NYC Fair Trade Coalition!

Learn more about the Fair Trade certification process, Fair Trade USA.

Find Divine Chocolates at Whole Foods and coming soon at Duane Reade.

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