The Sweet Story of Divine Chocolates
For some, the taste of chocolate is bittersweet. Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa comes from small-scale family farmers in West Africa, whose economy is critically dependent on cocoa (revenues account for more than 33 percent of Ghana’s total export earnings and 40 percent of the Ivory Coast’s total export earnings). In Ghana alone, one million farmers supply cocoa to the international market.
But few ever taste the fruits of their labors. The millions of small cocoa industry farmers have been plagued by concerns about concerns of human rights abuses including both child labor and forced labor. That’s finally beginning to change.
The Kuapa Kokoo cooperative is a key stakeholder in Divine Chocolates, the first fair trade chocolate company co-owned by cocoa farmers. Fair trade certification ensures that farmers receive a fair price for their cocoa, encourages sustainable farming practices and monitors the use of slave and child labor.
On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, Divine Chocolates and Kuapa Kokoo announced Christiana Ohene Agyare as national president of the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union, a post she will maintain until 2014.
She is the first woman to hold the office—and a symbol of the role of women in Kuapa Kokoo. Women participate in all aspects of decision-making, and hold leadership roles. Additionally, the new Kuapa Kokoo Women’s Fund increases economic security for cocoa farming families. Through the fund, the women will be able to provide training for their members to set up and run small businesses that can generate income during times of the year that cocoa farming does not. The fund supports training in batik making, soap making, small gardens, and other community enterprises traditionally run by women. It also offers small business loans through the co-op’s credit union.
“Today, I am a proud owner of a five-acre farm. Last season, I was able to harvest about twenty bags of cocoa. I was elected a recorder of my society about three years ago... Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could hold such position,” said Fatima Ali, cocoa farmer and member of the National Executive Council of Kuapa Kokoo.
Divine Chocolates is committed to improving the lives of West African farmers through ownership of the brand. The 45,000 member-owners of Kuapa Kokoo receive a 45 percent share of profits as well as a fair trade premium on the sale of their beans, and have access to Kuapa Kokoo Credit Union, a microfinance institution dedicated to providing quality financial services to its members. Ownership allows the farmers to stay on the land, keep their children in school, learn new skills, and bring clean water and health care facilities into their communities.
Forty-six percent of Americans (me included) say that they can’t live without chocolate. At the same time, we see farmer-owned product as a significant food trend; here are 20 farmer-owned brands.
Imagine if, with every bite of that much-desired chocolate, you also helped a farmer halfway around the world pursue his or her own desires for a better future? That’s pretty sweet.Jeffrey Hollender is the co-founder of Seventh Generation and the American Sustainable Business Council. His blog, “The Next Generation of Business,” is at jeffreyhollender.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JeffHollender.