June 27, 2005

Ghana cooperative overcomes trade barriers

By Eleanor Wason

DADEASE, Ghana (Reuters) - Delegates at the G8 summit inGleneagles, Scotland next month will find in their luxury hotelrooms a complementary bar of Fairtrade "Divine" Chocolate.

As the leaders of the major industrialized nations debatehow to dig Africa out of poverty, they can savour cocoa grownby a cooperative in Ghana that has found its own way toovercome trade barriers and gain a larger slice of the profitmade from its produce.

Kuapa Kokoo's 45,000 members are the world's only Fairtradefarmers with a stake in the end product made from their crops-- the Divine chocolate bars consumed in Britain.

By setting up a London-based chocolate company in 1997, itcut out the exporters, the international food giants andvarious obstacles that prevent many African nations fromproviding the west with processed products -- which earn morethan raw materials.

"I have been farming for a very long time and recentlyjoined Kuapa," said 72-year old Jacob Mensah, speaking througha translator in the village of Dadease, about an hour outsideKumasi, Ghana's second city and the center of its cocoa-growingheartland.

"Before, when it was the lean season we didn't have money.Now we can get a loan from Kuapa to take care of our childrenand grandchildren."

Making the most of the presence of an official from centraloffice, he added a plea for more "cutlasses" -- the machetesused to chop the rugby-ball shaped cocoa pods from the treesand the other farmers clapped and cheered.


Currently there is only enough demand for the cooperativeto sell about three percent of its cocoa to companies using theFairtrade ethical trade labeling system.

The premium paid by those customers is used to buildschools and wells and pay for farmer education and support.

Once the Day Chocolate Company that makes the Divine brandhas started turning a profit, Kuapa will also be entitled to athird of the earnings thanks to its stake in the company.

Other cocoa buyers say they also offer many of the benefitsprovided by Kuapa and argue that Fairtrade is not the only wayof offering producers a better deal.

For example, Cadbury Schweppes does not sign up to thelabeling system but works on community projects with Kuapa andaid agencies in Ghana.

Two foreign commodities merchants buy cocoa in Ghana -- theworld's second-biggest supplier of the beans -- OlamInternational Ltd and Armajaro Holdings Ltd. Both providefarmer communities with aid on projects such as schools, wells,micro-financing and training.

But Kuapa Kokoo says its democratic structure, whichextends from the election of a president from each membervillage all the way to a place on the Day Chocolate Companyboard, provides illiterate farmers struggling to support largefamilies on a few hundred dollars a year with a sense of powerand pride.

To start a cooperative meeting, the village recorder,responsible for weighing cocoa contributions and payingfarmers, rallies the group with a cry of "Kuapa Kokoo" --meaning "The Good Cocoa Farmers Company" in the local language.The farmers clap and cheer and respond heartily with therefrain "Pa Pa Paa" -- "The Best of the Best."


Another important part of the Kuapa ethos is the promotionof women growers, typically disenfranchised in the land-basedcocoa economy. About 25 percent of members are female and theyare encouraged to take management roles.

"In the beginning, no woman would try for a President orRecorder position but Kuapa helped us," said 42-year-old farmerFlorence Antwi. "Now we know that whatever a man can do, awoman can do it and do it better."

"Our President organizes us well even though she cannotread or write," she added, gesturing toward Maame Akia Fokuo, a65 year old mother of seven wearing a yellow Kuapa T-shirt.

The cooperative's Managing Director Kwabena Ohemeng Tinyaseexplained that the organization tries to provide them with rolemodels.

"There has been a tradition of male ownership in most cashcrop farming. Women and children contribute but the man is incharge. We let them understand what women can do -- we tellthem that there was a female prime minister in India. We tellthem about Margaret Thatcher and that one of Kuapa's foundingmembers is now a member of parliament."

Kuapa recently set up a second cooperative because it facesincreasing membership demand but doesn't want to become too bigand lose the direct contact between management and growers.

Critics that say Fairtrade encourages overproduction andends up further depressing world prices, as well as detractingfrom deeper causes of African poverty, such as trade barriersand Western agricultural subsidies.

But Tinyase argues: "This is an additional complement tofighting trade injustices. Let us go with these two packages.Both can make the world more balanced."