Contemporary West African cacao agribusiness is fraught with problems. Most farmers are not adequately financially compensated, involved in the corporate decisions that affect their farms, and usually do not have access to the finished chocolate product that their crop creates for the Western world.
West Africa provides the majority of the world’s cacao supply, with Ghana producing 17.5%. There are about 2 million African family cocoa farms, most of which are very small, and more than 75% of cocoa farmers state that they do not want their children to go into cacao farming. Even though Ghanaian farms yield 2.8 million metric tons of cocoa per year, in 2011 the average income per capita per day for a Ghanaian farming household is less than 30 cents USD (Martin 15: 1-9).
African women, despite being an integral labor force behind the cacao industry, are many times not empowered and are disenfranchised due to problematic power structures inherent to the cocoa supply chain that echo from European colonialism and continue in many rural areas. Cacao farming is culturally considered “masculine work” and men typically are the heads of cacao plantations; as a result too many times female farmers slip through the cracks within the chocolate industry’s distribution of wealth. (Martin 15:1-9, Robertson 124-125).
Cocoa Ghana Project photo.
Another problem with modern cacao farming is the use of child labor, which is defined by the International Labor Organization as work that is likely to harm the physical as well as psychological health of children, either due to the nature of the work or because of hazardous conditions in the workplace. According to a 2009 Tulane University study, there are about 1 million children in Ghana working on cocoa plantations, where children can experience dangers such as heavy loads, sharp tools, and pesticides with little to no protection or training. Hard labor at a young age can delay children’s development and increases a child’s likelihood of dropping out of school. (Martin 15:11-26).
Responses to the issue of child labor on cocoa farms such as boycotts, the formation of the International Cocoa Organization, World Cocoa Foundation, and the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol that have aimed to eradicate child labor have mixed results at best. Many corporations have denied the problem in public forums and almost never tackle the question of paying living wages to cacao laborers. (Martin 15:26-34).
And lastly, in addition to anxieties about the harms of mass cacao production on the environment (Ford) there is unfortunately a long legacy of community upheaval in West African cacao-growing societies, i.e. Ghana:
“Conflict over cocoa resources fueled monumental upheavals that took place in Ghana over the past thirty years, against the background of competition between capitalist-oriented peasants, regional ethnic groups, and a national government which sought to control export production…contributed to the fragmentation of lineages and other kinship/community groups.” (Mikell, xix)
Some ways to combat these issues include equal rights interventions, especially for women and children, grassroots in lieu of top-down approaches, knowledge and resource sharing both on the production and consumption sides of the chocolate industry, and increase pay for cocoa. When chocolate is a $100 billion/year industry, cacao farmer poverty is avoidable and inexcusable. In order for the industry to improve as a whole, there needs to be cross-sector cooperation among governments, NGOS, chocolate manufacturers and consumers with active involvement and leadership from cocoa farmers. (Martin 15).
Martin, Lecture 15, Slide 26.
Divine Chocolate, a U.K./Ghana-based chocolate brand founded in 1998 that is increasing in popularity in both Europe and the United States, seems to tackle seemingly daunting issues in ways not unlike the solutions Gwendolyn Mikell proposes in her book Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana:
“(Because) rural vibrancy contributes to national stability…(it is in both the chocolate industry’s as well as national governments’ best interest) to…(allow) local agricultural organizations to address local socio-economic needs…(while) establishing rural labor policies which encourage a sexually balanced rural labor force.” (Mikell 253).
In the 1990s a group of farmers, including Nana Frimpong Abrebrese from the Ghana Cocoa Board, set up a farmers’ co-op called Kuapa Kokoo (“good cocoa growers”) that would trade its own cocoa rather than relying on the middleman system of government cocoa agents. Kuapa co-owns Divine Chocolate Ltd; the company is dedicated to providing cocoa farmers with improved quality of life, to increasing women’s participation and recognition in cocoa farming, in addition to developing environmentally friendly ways to cultivate cocoa while contributing to community development and enrichment. The company is committed to transparency and democracy; as shareholders in the company themselves, the farmers receive a share of the profits from the sale of Divine chocolate bars, have two representatives on the executive board so they can influence how the company is developed, and one out of every four annual board meetings are held in Ghana. In 2007 after Divine Chocolate paid off original loans, the company was able to present their first cheque to the cooperative. This was a milestone in chocolate history, and a step in the right direction concerning Divine Chocolate’s mission.
Divine is made with cocoa bought from Kuapa Kokoo at the guaranteed minimum Fairtrade price of $2000 per ton which protects the farmers from the unreliable, ever-changing market. The cooperative receives an additional $200 per tonne, which the cooperative invests into Producer Support and Development Funds. Kuapa Kokoo weighs, bags and transports the cocoa and handles all legal issues for its members. The association now has upwards of 65,000 members in approximately 1400 village societies. (Divine: The Divine Story).
The company is also trailblazing in regards to chocolate advertising; their campaigns broaden consumers’ conceptions of African female farmers in the supply chain as well as providing positive representation of women of color, a rarity when it comes to chocolate advertisements. The women are presented as confident, independent business owners, countering stereotypes of African portrayals in the media. (Leissle 121-139).
A not uncommon example of how African bodies are hyper-sexualized and dehumanized in chocolate advertising.(cocoh.net).
Ghanaian female cocoa farmers tend to have smaller, less productive farms due to low literacy rates that make them more susceptible to being cheated. Divine and Kuapa currently work towards increased literacy and numeracy training for women so that they can earn outside income through other enterprises such as selling clothing. By increasing education opportunities to Ghanaian women and girls, many of the prime causes of child labor (such as poverty) are being combatted as well. With more educated families, there is more gender equality and potential for financial mobility, all factors that decrease a region’s “need” for child labor. Divine’s Dark Hazelnut Truffle honors the work Divine and Kuapa do to ensure equality for women cocoa farmers. You can buy one here:
Divine refuses to use palm oil in its products out of concern for environmental sustainability in cacao production. The company also has its own radio program that spreads farming techniques even to remote villages, a still immensely popular tool in Ghana. Since many of Ghana’s farmers are not literate, radio programs provide them with the information and advice on various agricultural issues (such as pests and fungus) in the format they can best understand it. By having this radio program, Kuapa Kokoo creates a more truly democratic cooperative by ensuring that all members understand and have access to the tenets of the organization, learn about Fairtrade standards and benefits, learn about their company’s progress, as well as hear updates on child labor programs from government officials, regardless of literacy rate. Ongoing sales of Divine chocolate fund this and other programs that focus on access to clean water, health care, education, supplying new farming equipment and sanitation to improve standards of living. Kuapa Kokoo has also taken a lead on addressing child labor and adapting to climate change. Today Kuapa Kokoo produces up to 5% of Ghana’s cocoa (up to 640,000 sacks of cocoa a year!) (Divine Kuapa Mmere).
In conclusion, increasing pay for cocoa farmers, empowering and educating women, protecting children, while simultaneously innovating environmentally beneficial cacao-growing techniques and improving quality of life in cocoa producing regions is going to have to be a multifaceted effort, with cooperation across multiple sectors of the chocolate industry over time. The growing success of Divine is indicative of the plausibility of this type of cross-sector cooperation (Kuapa set up Divine in 1998 with the help of The Body Shop, Christian Aid, The Department for International Development and NatWest) and highlights the success of alternative business models involving communal indigenous practices and farmer involvement, not unlike Bolivia’s El Ceibo (Healy Ch. 6,7). Because Divine was created in order to propel change in the chocolate industry, it was a historic moment when UK chocolate giant Cadbury’s converted its most popular brand Cadbury Dairy Milk to Fairtrade standards. Divine had succeeded in creating and expanding a market for Fairtrade chocolate and creating a supply chain with the capacity to support a mainstream product. When Cadbury made its decision Kuapa Kokoo started profiting from the Fairtrade premium on cocoa bought for this commodity. Super-giants Nestle and Mars have since taken their first Fairtrade steps by choosing to buy cocoa primarily from Cote D’Ivoire. In 2013 11% of all chocolate sold in the United Kingdom now carries the Fairtrade Mark. Over the past 17 years. Divine has grown in popularity around the world, now available in Europe, the U.S., South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. Chocolate companies should seriously consider adapting similarly to Divine’s missions and business practices, for they are radicalizing the way that chocolate can be done.
A Tale of 2 Women, 2 Races, and 2 Chocolates. N/A. Image. 1 May 2015. http://www.cocoh.net.
Cacao Ghana Project. Image. 5 July 2012. Web. 1 May 2015. cocoakiss.blogspot.com
The Divine Story, Divine Chocolate. About Us. 2011. Web. 1 May 2015. http://www.divinechocolate.com
Ford, Matt. “Chocolate’s bitter sweet relationship with the rainforest.” CNN. 7 July 2008. Web. 1 May 2015.
Healy, Kevin. Llamas, Weavings, and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia. Notre Dame, UND Press, 2001. Chapters 6 and 7. Print.Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 15: Modern Day Slavery.” AAAS 119x. Harvard College. April 20, 2015. course website.
Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements, Journal of African Studies, 24:2, 121-139 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194
Kuapa Radio Hour:Kuapa Mmere http://www.divinechocolate.com
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 15: Modern Day Slavery.” AAAS 119x. Harvard College. April 20, 2015. course website.
Mikell, Gwendolyn. Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana. New York: Howard UP, 1992. Print.
Nita, Catalina. Divine Chocolate with Social Flavor. Impressivemagazine. 24 July 2013. Web. 1 May 2015.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, women, and empire: a social and cultural history. New York: Manchester University Press, 2009. 124-125. Print.
Russell Brand Trews Extra. “The Dark Side of Chocolate-Modern Slavery//Top Documentary Films.” Online video clip. Youtube.com. 22 Nov 2014. Web. 1 May 2015.
VPRO Metropolis. “First taste of chocolate in Ivory Coast.” Online video clip. Youtube.com. Feb 21, 2014. Web. May 1, 2015.