Kuapa Kokoo – which means ‘good cocoa farmer’ in the local language Twi – was founded in 2003 and now represents almost 50,000 small-scale cocoa farmers in more than 1,200 villages across Ghana. They are a remarkable success story that reflects a long tradition of enterprising activity by cocoa farmers in this part of the world.
Cocoa farmers are central to the Ghanaian economy. Revenue from cocoa exports underpin the government’s tax base.
In recognition of this, Kuapa Kokoo commissioned a striking bronze statue of two cocoa farmers, which was unveiled two months ago. The monument stands on a road island in the centre of Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana and the heart of the cocoa-growing regions.
Kuapa Kokoo’s managing director, Kwasi Aduse-Poku, made a speech at the inauguration of the monument to ‘honour our gallant and dedicated farmers whose efforts contributed in no small way to the building of our nation’. He reflected on the central place that cocoa – ‘the golden pod’ – occupies in Ghanaian national life; the equivalent in the UK might be a body like the NHS.
‘It is safe to say that very many people in leading positions in private sector, public sector and national politics are indebted to cocoa farmers for providing the state with the resources to educate them and safeguard their health and wellbeing.’
It is fitting that Kuapa Kokoo, the only local cocoa buying company in Ghana set up and run by cocoa farmers themselves, should fund and build this striking monument to cocoa farming. For it was Ghana’s cocoa farmers who had originally put themselves on the world economic map.
Though various pioneers could be said to have had a hand in introducing cocoa to Ghana back in the nineteenth century – including German missionaries and the British colonial governor at the time – the most successful was a Ghanaian, the famous Tetteh Quarshie, a blacksmith from Accra. He established a cocoa farm and nursery in the Eastern Region in the 1880s, and soon production spread rapidly.
So the emergence of cocoa farming in Ghana was led by local farmers, not by white colonists or the European chocolate companies. Furthermore, they did so by being willing to migrate, invest and re-invest in the acquisition and planting of new land.
There is a popular narrative which stereotypes African producers as sedentary and unimaginative, as subsistence farmers in need of outside assistance, be that from colonial imperialism, overseas aid or even Fairtrade. Yet the story of Ghanaian cocoa farmers shows us that producers are often entrepreneurial and far-sighted, willing to take risks and innovate, using efficient and adaptable faming methods.
The formation of the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative in 1993, a democratically run organisation that sells to the Fairtrade market, is the latest stage in this inspiring farmer-led story!