Divine Chocolate is challenging the terms of trade by moving farmers up the value chain. It’s the only fair trade chocolate company owned by its cocoa producers, a cooperative of Ghanaian farmers known as Kuapa Kokoo.
The cooperative was born in 1993, a year after the official liberalization of Ghana’s economy. Liberalization allowed for smaller companies to organize and collectively market their products in the global economy. A small group of cocoa farmers, led by Nana Frimpong Abrebrese, seized the opportunity. With the help of Twin and Twin Trading Co., an organization working to reform supply chains and trade relationships, the cocoa farmers formed Kuapa Kokoo, or “Good Cocoa.”
Just two years later the co-op earned its Fairtrade International certification, and by 1998 Divine Chocolate was founded with the help of Twin and Twin Trading Co. Kuapa Kokoo is now recognized as the leading cocoa cooperative in Ghana and has championed social, political, and economic empowerment for its members.
Yet today, the business's ability to protect its farmers income is being challenged by bad weather and a crop-killing fungus.
Already, this year’s crop in Ghana is expected to fall 200,000 tons below the Ghana Cocoa Board's forecast. Global cocoa bean traders are starting to sweat, driving the cost of cocoa up 12 percent since January. Ghana is the second largest cocoa producer in the world, which means hardship awaits the 6 million people dependent on the industry.
Fortunately, the partnership Kuapa Kokoo and Divine Chocolate have forged will protect the co-op’s 85,000 smallholder farmers from turmoil. Over the past 12 years, Divine Chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo have established a wide range of social services, worker protections, and shareholder agreements to safeguard the incomes of its producers.
This is because Kuapa Kokoo owns 45 percent of Divine Chocolate. Two co-op members sit on Divine Chocolate’s board of directors, giving Kuapa Kokoo decisionmaking power. Divine Chocolate not only pays Kuapa Kokoo farmers the worldwide Fairtrade International minimum and premium of $2,200 per ton, but it also distributes 44 percent of its profits and 2 percent of its total sales to Kuapa Kokoo.
But, the safeguards aren’t limited to income. From a radio program to a credit union, Kuapa Kokoo and Divine Chocolate listen and respond to farmers’ needs.
The radio show Kuapa Mmere increases access to information for farmers living in remote regions of Ghana, who are often illiterate. The talk show, featuring weekly guests, allows farmers to call in to ask questions on farming techniques, pest and fungus management, fair trade standards and benefits, child labor standards, company updates, and more.
A commitment to gender equality assures women can provide for their families. Divine Chocolate’s Women’s Cocoa Farming Training program and The Kuapa Kokoo Women’s Fund teach women small business skills, new trades, reading, writing, and mathematics. Skills like soap-making, batik, and vegetable gardening give women additional income to pay for school fees or medical bills. And with a higher level of education, women can take on leadership roles. In 2010, Kuapa Kokoo elected its first female president, who was succeeded by Ms. Fatima Ali in 2014.
Mary Appiah, a single mother of seven, is the treasurer of Kuapa Kokoo and her district's "recorder," or elected cocoa bean buying clerk, for Divine Chocolate.
“They have empowered women in our communities to become leaders, which was not encouraged in Ghana,” she says. “As a single mother it was very difficult for me to cater to my children, it was difficult to have three meals a day. But as I joined Kuapa Kokoo, from the premium I was able to cater for my children and education.”
The co-op and the chocolate company are finding creative ways to encourage the growth of future generations, too. A pilot program funded by Divine Chocolate and operated by Kuapa Kokoo distributed 100 bamboo bicycles to Kuapa Kokoo member’s children – some walked four or more miles to school. Workshops taught cyclists and local people basic upkeep for the bikes and safe riding skills.
“I normally get to school late and tired,” says Paul Nisah, age 12, “But with this bike that Kuapa and Divine have given me I will reach school early.”
The pilot was a success, and organizers plan to distribute more bikes.
Providing community members with financial services is also a central tenant of the partnership. The Kuapa Kokoo Credit Union encourages members to save and provides microloans for school fees, bills, or starting new farms. The fair trade premiums the farmers receive for their beans are pooled in the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Trust. A board of trustees distributes funds for new schools, mobile clinics, water boreholes, and even a mobile "cinema" playing educational videos on healthy sanitation practices.
The Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Trust invests in materials and technologies that help protect crops from changing weather patterns and fungi like the kind that is destroying Ghana’s cocoa crop today. Because mitigating the effects of climate change is critical to making a profit, Divine Chocolate partnered with local and international agricultural experts and Twin and Twin Trading Co. to develop farming practices that help farmers adapt to irregular rainfall. For example, planting shade trees increases moisture conservation and biodiversity, which improves soil quality so cocoa trees can grow.
This year’s crop is likely to fall short. But, thanks to Kuapa Kokoo and Divine Chocolates, member farmers should not have to break contracts, default on loans, or fall into debt, as many cocoa farmers will. Instead, the wide range of services and benefits the co-op and the chocolate company provide will protect farmers from hardship. Together, Kuapa Kokoo and Divine Chocolate are proving chocolate can do as good as it tastes.