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A People's Organization

Fair Trade
Trade Unions

Best of the best

Why Ghana's cocoa farmers are no longer content to be used as pawns in the international cocoa-marketing game, and are building their community organization and fair trade instead.

LIVING he headquarters of Kuapa Kokoo are on a tree-lined street near the main stadium in the Ashante capital of Kumasi - Ghana's second-largest city and the heart of cocoa country. Its offices occupy the two floors of a large villa-like building. The number of comings and goings is a good hint that this is where a lot of the cocoa action in town takes place. Despite the obvious busyness, this is no stuffy office. Cocoa farmers sit around chatting, and some have spent the night on the floor of a large sleeping room - testament to the comfort and sense of ownership of Kuapa members.

Kuapa has several faces. It is at once a farmers' union, a cocoa-purchasing com-pany and a trust fund for its members. It started back in 1993 when Nana Jampon, a far-sighted farmer's representative on Cocobod, realized that the partial privatization of internal purchase might leave cocoa farmers at the mercy of unscrupulous private companies. He feared a return to the bad old days when traders and moneylenders preyed on defenseless farmers. The best way to avoid this, he surmised, was for the farmers to organize themselves to collect, sell and profit from their own cocoa. To do this the union had to set up its own purchasing company, as under Ghanaian company law it was illegal for a co-operative to buy cocoa.

[image, unknown]
The cocoa action in Kumasi:
Nana Anson works to build a farmers'
organization from the bottom up.

Asamoah and I make our way to the office of Nana Anson, who is the Society Development Officer of Kuapa. A local society is the basic building block of Kuapa and can vary from dozens to hundreds of members. When it started, Kuapa had 22 local societies - that has now mushroomed to 160. Nana Anson estimates that there are 30,000 members spread right across Ghana's cocoa belt.

Anson is a short, balding man of formidable intellect - Nana is the Ashante designation for a traditional chief. He has the tactical and strategic sense to blend the desirable and the possible without giving up either. This is crucial for fledgling grassroots organizations such as Kuapa, which needs to avoid becoming a voice in the wilderness or falling into business-as-usual cronyism. He spends a good deal of time on the road, strengthening existing societies or establishing new ones. He balances a passionate commitment to the cocoa farmers' cause with caution based on his knowledge of the importance of the annual crop to the whole country: 'Ghana has developed on the back of the cocoa farmer: roads, hospitals, schools, everything comes from cocoa.'

It is ironic that it is the structural-adjustment program, so unpopular throughout Ghana, that has given the space for Kuapa to exist. It forced Cocobod to give up its monopoly on internal purchase, allowing the farmers themselves to take over this function. Nana Anson is optimistic that the Cocobod will keep its word and allow the producer price to rise to 55 per cent or even 60 per cent of the international price soon. But, while he shares the farmers' enthusiasm for increased prices, he is cautious about the total liberalization of cocoa marketing that is being pushed by the World Bank and the IMF. He points to other countries in West Africa, such as Cameroon, Nigeria and - to a lesser extent - Côte d'Ivoire, where opening up cocoa purchase and export to external companies has led to a perilous deterioration in quality and a rush for quick profits. 'Ghana produces the best cocoa in the world and we get a premium on the price. It is the Cocobod's Quality Control Division that is largely responsible for maintaining these standards,' he cautions. He is also quick to underline other deleterious effects of adjustment policies on farmers, such as the collapse of a once-vital rural-credit system, due to reforms imposed under the IMF-imposed Financial Sector Adjustment Programme. Most farmers can no longer meet the stringent criteria for collateral demanded by the banks and end up either without vital credit, or borrowing from private moneylenders and purchasing companies at rates of up to 100-per-cent interest. 'This is exactly what had happened to Moussa back in Camp,' says Asamoah.

It is not hard to figure out the attraction Kuapa has for Ghana's cocoa farmers. Not only do they run their own show, but it's a much better deal. This past year, for example, Kuapa paid an extra 500 cedis per bag over and above the Cocobod price. An additional 300 cedis per bag went into the coffers of the local societies. At the end of the year four representatives from each society - two women and two men - come to Kumasi for a big meeting to divide up the year's profits. In the last two years this has amounted to 700 cedis per bag. With the cedi hovering at about 2,300 per US dollar, this may seem like small potatoes - but for a hard-pressed farmer it can make a big difference.

[image, unknown]
Papa Paa - 'best of the best':
Kuapa farmers take pride in their cocoa.

About 11 per cent of Kuapa's output is sold to fair-trade organizations in Europe - these include Gepa in Germany and Coopéracion in Switzerland, as well as the Body Shop, which uses fair-traded cocoa butter in its line of natural cosmetics. The British-based fair-trade organization, Twin Trading, helps orchestrate these arrangements. However, they are by no means assured, as I learn when I meet the no-nonsense Managing Director of the buying company. He expresses some fear that fair-trade organizations may not buy the full amount of cocoa that Kuapa has allotted for them this year.

On what they do purchase, these fair-traders return a premium to Kuapa which varies from 10 to 20 per cent of the world price. The percentage goes up as the price drops and goes down as it increases, to compensate for speculative market fluctuation. I assume that this premium goes right back to the farmers, but am pleasantly surprised when Nana Anson explains to me that it goes into a trust fund to support community infrastructure. 'Already $246,000 has been accumulated and, starting this March, proposals will be taken from different communities for such things as health centres, water boreholes, improvements to schools and credit schemes.' Asamoah is quick off the mark to mention an upgrade for the school building and a loan scheme to help bankrupt farmers as potential Camp projects. It is interesting that Kuapa members have opted for funds to go for common welfare rather than to support individual farmers.

Kuapa has also recently hired a sustainable-agriculture officer to teach integrated pest management, and a gender-and-development officer to ensure the empowerment and financial well-being of women members. Nana Anson points out that a large number of farmers can no longer afford expensive imported pesticides, now that adjustment policies have removed price subsidies. Cocoa is, worldwide, one of the most highly sprayed of all food crops. So going at least partially 'organic' is a practical as well as a philosophical step. Also, organic is popular with the fair-trade organizations who need 'papa paaa...' - which, as both Asamoah and Nana Anson drown each other out to remind me, means 'best of the best'. The license plates of all the Kuapa trucks have papa paa neatly inscribed under each plate number.

I worry out loud that the ageing farmer population - most are in their sixties or seventies - plus a liberalized market situation may result in the sale of farm land and the centralization of cocoa production in much larger units. Nana Anson expresses scepticism that this would ever happen. His faith is based on the importance of cocoa farms to the rural culture of Ghana. 'I cannot imagine a farmer, whose inheritance and personal security and even sense of self are tied up with the cocoa farm, ever walking away from it. We try and encourage cocoa farmers to think about their farms in a businesslike manner, but most farmers still regard them primarily as a way of life.' It is one of the strengths of Kuapa that, while it works to strengthen the economic position of farmers, it is also dedicated to defending and improving this way of life by empowering farmers and protecting the environment in which they work.

Once we leave Kumasi and make our way back to the coast and Accra I get a further sense of Asamoah's commitment to Kuapa. It is the night we are finally to fly to Britain and we are having supper at the house of one of Asamoah's former students, who is now in business in Accra. He is one of the people who has fared well in Ghana's new market-friendly economy. With typical Ghanaian hospitality and allegiance to extended family, his new house has become at least a temporary living space for some 14 or 15 people. Among the temporary residents is his brother - a cocoa farmer from the Western region. As we sit around the compound yard in the twilight, Asamoah explains to the brother why he is going to London. The conversation is now in Twi and the speed and intensity of discussion precludes translation. Asamoah waves an issue of the NI on fair-traded coffee and gesticulates about how little both coffee and cocoa farmers make from the final consumer price of their product. When the conversation quiets down I ask Asamoah for a brief translation. He indicates the brother and says: 'He used to sell some of his cocoa to Kuapa, but most to the Cocobod. But now he will sell it all to Kuapa.' He proclaims, with the pride of an evangelist amongst a flock of new converts: 'I have convinced him.' If Asamoah is anything to go by, Kuapa will be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.

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New Internationalist issue 304 magazine cover This article is from the August 1998 issue of New Internationalist.
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