Comfort and joy

On the 10th birthday of Divine Chocolate, Ghanain cocoa farmer Comfort Kumeah celebrates the benefits of more and fairer trade. Paul Northup reports.

Comfort and JoyAt first glance, there seems nothing that remarkable about the small, softly spoken cocoa farmer who lives just outside Mansomem in rural Ghana – but it doesn’t take long to discover that Comfort Kumeah has a remarkable story.

For starters, as well as being a smallscale cocoa farmer, Comfort is now the most senior woman on the national executive of Ghana’s biggest and brightest cocoa farmer’s cooperative, Kuapa Kokoo. She chairs its Farmers’ Trust – the body responsible for administering the Fairtrade premium (the money paid on top of the agreed Fairtrade price for investment in local development projects) which comes from the cooperative’s trade through Divine Chocolate. Not bad for a 60 year-old mother of five in a developing economy with a deeply patriarchal culture.

Her story begins 15 years ago with the foundation of the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative. Before that time, there was only one buyer of cocoa in Ghana, a government-owned operation. Comfort’s farm produced between 15 and 20 sacks of cocoa each year and she would have to sell all these to this monopoly; an outfit that even ‘controlled’ the scales at the heart of the cocoa trading process.

When Comfort became an early member of the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative she got to see the scales on which her sacks of cocoa were weighed for the first time – and even to vote for the person recording these weights. This transparency was one thing, but Comfort also began to enjoy being part of a democratic organisation too – one in which women were welcomed and empowered. 

These new experiences of transparency, fairness and empowerment marked the beginning of a journey which has seen her trade her way out of poverty and into the position she enjoys today – one where, she says, “I am proud and honoured in my community.”

A vital turning point came when, in 1998, the cooperative found its first overseas market and became a 45% shareholder in a new Fairtrade chocolate company in Europe, Divine. The Divine idea – a direct and equitable alliance trading arrangement between a European chocolate maker-distributor and the west African cocoa growers – was given a leg up by a DFID loan guarantee enabling Divine to raise the necessary startup finance. Over the 10 years since this groundbreaking alliance was formed, Comfort has seen the lives of her fellow Cooperative members transformed.

The Kuapa Kokoo farmers can now “speak for themselves” explains Sophi Tranchell, Divine’s Managing Director. In fact they are increasingly being consulted about labour conditions in their own country by the Ghanaian government and beginning to shape their own history. As Mr Kwabena Ohemeng-Tinyase – the Managing Director of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd, the trading company of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union – says: “The farmers are taking their destiny into their own hands”.

Comfort’s story personifies what trade like this can mean for developing countries. She now earns a decent, guaranteed income for her product, and participates in the way that product is brought to market and in educating others about it. Most powerfully, she is now directly involved in administering the money flowing back into her country’s cocoa-growing communities from the Fairtrade premium – money that pays for clean water wells, sanitation, schoolrooms, better roads and new farming equipment. This is essential, because the rural communities of Ghana find themselves under-resourced, despite the fact that they produce much of the country’s wealth.

There is an infectious confidence about Comfort today. It’s not difficult to see why, on a recent Kuapa Kokoo advocacy visit to the United States, she held her own on Capitol Hill and made the front cover of the Washington Post. Her remarkable story is emblematic of the difference trade can make to communities and countries.

As well as being a smallscale cocoa farmer, Comfort is now the most senior woman on the national executive of Ghana’s biggest and brightest cocoa farmer’s cooperative