This year sees the 20th anniversary of co-operative cocoa farmers Kuapa Kokoo. Established in 1993 by six farmers, the group is now the biggest farmers’ co-operative organisation in Ghana with over 85,999 members creating the special ingredient for Divine Chocolate.
To highlight the importance of cocoa to the country’s economy, the government declared 14 February the National Chocolate Day. Kuapa Kokoo was actively involved in the celebrations. With help of Divine, they hosted a promotional event where people in Ghana got to find out about Divine Chocolate and about the co-op. Kuapa Kokoo, which owns 45% of Divine Chocolate, also receives a share of its distributable profits.
“We wanted to seek an opportunity to tell Ghana and the whole world what we stand for and what we have achieved in 20 years,” said Emmanuel Arthur, managing director of Kuapa Kokoo.
In May he was in London along with Fatima Ali, interim president of Kuapa, in order to attend Divine’s annual general meeting (AGM).
Ms Ali joined Kuapa in 2000 after hearing about the benefits of being a member of the co-operative from a friend. She now uses the dividends she receives to buy the fertilisers needed for production and to send her son to school and help the rest of her family.
“When I joined Kuapa the first thing I was happy about was democracy,” she said, adding that members get to hold the management accountable, unlike in other companies. After joining the co-operative, she stood for election and became an elected member and later on the vice president of the co-operative. Following the death of Kuapa’s former president, she stepped in as interim president.
Kuapa Kokoo has a gender committee that gives women the necessary support, training them to learn new skills and to become leaders in the co-operative. With the support of Divine, they developed a literacy programme for women so that women could read and write.
Ms Ali thinks women are more likely to thrive in a co-operative like Kuapa Kokoo. “In Ghana companies don’t have time for even one woman,” she says. If elected president, she aims to expand the gender programme to all districts, making sure that all women members of Kuapa Kokoo benefit from training.
Kuapa Kokoo is also working with Divine on a bicycle project by using local material – bamboo. These would be locally assembled and people will be trained to be able to maintain them. The bicycles will be given to the children of farmers to help them go to school – sometimes they have to walk kilometres and this could prevent them from going to school.
Expansion is both an opportunity and a challenge
Emmanuel Arthur started working for Kuapa in 2002 after reading an article in the local newspaper about the farmers’ AGM. “I said this was fantastic. This would be an interesting company to work for.”
Now managing director of the co-operative, he aims to continue to grow the business. “The fact that Kuapa is a co-operative and has managed to stand the test of time is a marvellous experience in Ghana because it doesn’t usually happen,” he explained. “People wondered how we sustained the system to this point.”
Kuapa is the only co-op organisation of farmers in Ghana. And while having more members is desirable, expansion is also a challenge because according to Mr Arthur, it exacerbates logistics and expenses.
“We are embracing this challenge by doing a lot of decentralisation”, he said. Each region would take control of activities in that district and this would make it easier to manage and more farmers could join.
However, in order to do so, farmers need to have trust professionals like Mr Arthur, who are running the business.
“The fact that we have been able to co-exist for 20 years and we are still able to progress means that the farmers have that trust in their professionals. The more transparent the management is, the more trustful the members become.”
Another major barrier is getting cheap source of finance to be able to buy cheap cocoa from farmers. If they could source cheaper finance they could give back bigger profits to farmers, says Mr Arthur.
In spite of the different challenges faced, the co-operative is growing stronger. “Farmers are enthusiastic and the future looks bright for them”, according to Mr Arthur.
Around 40% of Kuapa Kokoo’s products are currently sold as Fairtrade but Mr Arthur thinks that more Fairtrade cocoa could be sold if producer were able to meet buyers.
He said: “It’s not just about us selling a certain percentage of cocoa, but about creating an interface which would support the capacity of the producer – a true partnership towards getting fairer deals for farmers.”
There are currently 1.6m people involved in growing cocoa, which is cultivates in six regions in Ghana. Cocoa accounts for 35-40% of the country’s foreign exchange.