Breakfast did not happen at 6.30. The chef had probably fallen on his own can-opener, but a frantic waiter manged to deliver omelettes, barely toast and some cold baked beans by around 7.00. We left at about 7.30 and enjoyed the turmoil which is the Kumasi rush hour. Luckily we were going out of the centre, so our delays were minor compared to those coming in. We were heading north on the main road to Tamale which is excellent. Then we headed off into the middle of nowhere (our guide’s phrase, not mine!). We were visiting the village of Amankwatia and travelling down very narrow, potholed dirt roads to get there. We passed areas of swamp and small cocoa farms as well as the main town of Ofinso and some small villages.
Amankwatia, is in many ways beautiful, in a way that poverty strangely can be. There was a smell of woodsmoke in the air, the houses were mainly wattle and daub but were charming. Women and children sat outside cooking or washing. Mat tables were laid out waiting for the coffee beans. Chickens and their chicks rooted about for grain amongst the red mud. It was peaceful, surrounded as it was by forest and cocoa trees.
Except two things caught the eye and brought you up short. Firstly there were street lights. Tall poles with lights and solar panels on top of them. We learnt later that they had been given by the Cocoa Board and didn’t work anyway. Secondly, up against the forest wall was a large green and cream toilet block, apparently donated by the Methodist church. It looked very new and displayed pictures to show which gender should go where.
The farmers were not quite ready for us so we visited the school at the back of the co-op’s meeting place. This had been paid for by the FT premium and meant that children no longer had to walk 6kms to school each day. The children all seemed to be doing Science, but the top class were revising for a mock exam. Their teachers did not live locally but cycled in from Ofinso, quite some distance away.
We met with the local farmers selling to Kuapa Kokoo in the small meeting house, outside on the verandah. Again we had to introduce ourselves and we were introduced to the committee members. As before we opened in prayer, the Moslem members joining in along with the Christians. Then we were free to ask questions of each other.
The cocoa farms are essentially family businesses but the government controls the whole business through two organisations:
1. The Ghana Cocoa Board
2. The Cocoa Marketing Company.
The Cocoa Board sees to the welfare of farmers and their farms. They help farmers get the best yield by researching into new strains of cocoa tree and how best to combat diseases.
The Cocoa Marketing Company oversee the buying of the cocoa and market it. They licence private companies to buy from the farmers. They check the quality of it before it leaves the country so that only the best is exported. The quality of the beans is checked at every stage.
Fairtrade cocoa is organic but certain chemicals are permitted for use . 2% of the profits from Divine go to Kuapa Kokoo who own 46% of Divine.
In this community there are 78 farmers supplying KK . The recorder buys the cocoa from the farmers on behalf of KK. He is elected by them and other communities that he deals with.
There are a lot of women farmers, and KK makes sure that women get a fair deal in all sorts of ways. There is a women’s group leader who arranges special activities for women on Fridays.
The farmers pointed out the benefits of FT to them. As always the most important advantage was that their children could now go to school. FT gives women special training in activities like soap making and Batik so that the family has some income when cocoa is out of season . The farmers are aware of climate change and speak of scorched plants because of the drought and heat. They are now planting trees donated by KK to shade the plants. Every year each KK farmer gets a new machete and a cash bonus depending on how much cocoa they have sold. Each year, on average, a farmer will produce 60 bags of cocoa beans. Everything he sells is recorded in a passbook, so the bonus can be worked out. They also get a pension based on what is recorded in the passbook.
After a photograph we moved into the heart of the village to learn about the cocoa bean processing. The beans are removed from the pods on the farms and are then laid on banana leaves to ferment. They are covered with more leaves and left for 6 – 7 days to ferment. Then they are brought from the farm to the drying tables where they are laid out in the sun for 5 – 7 days to dry. They are turned regularly by hand and small stones are added to the table so that any dirt or fibres are rubbed off. We tasted a bean from the table and it was very good. Then the beans are bagged and sent to the depot.
We walked up through the village, past the toilet block to a cocoa farm. 1 acre can hold 450 trees on average. The pods are harvested 3 or 4 times a week in the season. The pods can be used for fuel. Some trees still produce pods when they are over 100 years old. On this farm they were only 16 years old. The ground has to be weeded regularly as well as the organic agro-chemicals applied. The pods are cut from the trees by a knife, if necessary on a pole. Then the pods are cut open and the slippery coated beans dug out. We were given some beans to suck on . The White flash around each bean has a very distinctive and pleasant flavour……a bit citrusy perhaps.
Then it was back on the bus for the journey to Ofinso. We passed through the bustling town and out to the southern edge where the Kuapa Kokoo depot is. Here the beans come to be checked and stored until they can be taken to the port. Samples are taken from each sack and examined by Cocoa Board officials for quality. One does a ‘cut test’ which means that the cuts open 300 beans and looks at the colour of them. He can then tell which are mouldy and therefore more bitter. Above a certain percentage and the sack is rejected and will be sold at a lower price fifth internal consumption. The beans can also be checked for weevils by the test. A moisture meter is also add to test each sack for humidity. If all is well the sack gets a silver tag on it and can be exported.
Unfortunately only about 30% of what is produced as Fairtrade is sold as such. The other 70% goes to the government for general export. This emphasises the need for us to sell more Fairtrade chocolate!
We drove back to Kumasi and to our disappointment lunch at our hotel. It was almost ready on time, but was much the same as we’d had the night before. However it was improved by a glass of excellent tangerine juice.
Then it was back on the bus for a 5 minute ride to Kupa Kokoo’s headquarters. We could have walked, but as we are beginning to realise walking is distinctly frowned upon!
I won’t go into too much detail, ad a lot is on their website, but KK was founded in 1993 when the government liberalised the internal cocoa market.there are 100,500 farmers in 6 cocoa regions supplying KK. There are 1,281 active zones with an average of 78 member farmers in each zone. KK offers a guaranteed price of $2,000 a tonne with a social premium of $200 a tonne. This premium makes a real difference to people’s lives:
- potable water in villages
- teachers’ bungalows so they stay in remote villages
- 9 schools have been built by KK
- books and stationary for schools
- improved sanitary facilities
- a mobile clinic which looks after farmers and their families
- trainng for women in other forms of employment
- giving extension officers motorbikes so they can visit farms
- continual monitoring of child labour
and other benefits as well
KK has 6% of Ghana’s cocoa farmers supplying it……about 1% worldwide. But we need to eat more Fairtrade chocolate to make further progress!
We left the offices having bought some KK T shirts and asked to walk back to the hotel. Apparently it was much too far, so we were taken about 500 yards from the door and told we could walk from there! Ah well, better than nothing.
The pool had been cleaned so some of us had a swim and then sat quietly reading. Not for long! What we needed was entertainment, so the faltering sound system in the bar was switched on and African pop music was played at us until we were all driven away.
Later we walked down the road to a restaurant owned by the Pentacostal church next door. We had been told this was good and indeed it was. Being Pentacostal there was however no alcohol, which upset a number of us, including our two Methodists! Christine and I had pizza which was recognisable as such and quite tasty. The journey home would have been more perilous had we consumed alcohol, so perhaps it was ax well we didn’t . There was a distinct lack of street lights, uneven pavements, gaping chasms in places and the lottery that is crossing the road in Kumasi. We all made it home and headed for our beds. A lie in tomorrow until 7.00 at least!