‘If persons who haven’t wielded cutlasses before are making money from cocoa purchasing, why not ourselves?’ This was said to be the motivating refrain of the founding father of Kuapa Kokoo, the late Nana Frimpong Abeberese, a fetish priest and renowned cocoa farmer.
Kuapa is the only cocoa farmers’ co-operative in Ghana. Though there is a National Cocoa, Coffee and Sheanut Farmers’ Association, it does not have much appeal. And there are a good many farmers who have no faith in co-operatives either. Their cynicism has historical roots. In the past, leaders of such groups turned them into wings of the ruling political party, to serve their own selfish ends. The suspicion has stayed with many farmers to this day.
Kuapa is steadily killing that distrust. From an original membership of 200 in 1993 the total is now approaching 50,000. Some farmers in the Ashanti region – one of Ghana’s key cocoa-producing areas – believe the secret of Kuapa’s success lies in a ‘foundation ritual’ performed by Nana Abeberese. Others laugh this off as a joke. Travelling across the cocoa-growing regions, I can sense that the name itself has a measure of attraction. From Twi, the most widely spoken language, ‘Kuapa Kokoo’ can loosely be translated as ‘excellent cocoa farming’.
What makes Kuapa particularly useful is the social programmes it undertakes in several cocoa-growing communities. In Nankese, a village in the Eastern Region, it has provided corn mills and palm-oil extractors which help women to generate additional income. There is also a microcredit scheme for women who want to go into other agricultural activities, like vegetable farming or small-scale (‘backyard’) poultry rearing. Kuapa currently runs about 150 projects across the cocoa belt.
Such services have been made possible largely because of fair trade. Kuapa sells only about four per cent of its annual cocoa purchases to fair-trade organizations, mostly in Europe. But the additional monetary value of this is about $200,000 – a ‘princely’ sum in Ghana.
For now, Kuapa represents hope for the Ghanaian cocoa farmer.