Ghana and the future of fair trade
70% of all the world's cocoa is grown in just two countries in West Africa - Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. The Chocolate Has A Name project is focussed on a girls' school in the remote village of Tarkwa Breman in the Western region of Ghana, so when Joanna Pollard, the Chair of the Fairtrade National Campaigner Committee, decided to visit cocoa farming communities in Ghana she wanted to include a visit to the school. Over the next few weeks she will be sharing her thoughts, feelings and experiences here on the Chocolate Has A Name website.
"Our flight from Amsterdam arrived in Ghana about 90 minutes later than scheduled and I was met by Samuel, my driver and tour guide. Samuel is the good friend - and adopted son - of Bruce Crowther MBE, the father of the fair trade towns movement, so I was excited to meet him.
As his little car swerved and ducked through the Accra traffic on our way to the apartment in Sakumono we chatted excitedly about the plans for the rest of the trip, which would include visits to Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Fort - along the coast whose connection to the Transatlantic Slave Trade is a UNESCO world heritage site. We would ultimately end up at the Co-operative House in New Koforidua, built by the fair trade community for the fair trade community, in Africa's first Fair Trade Town.
I had been in regular Zoom calls with the community at Tarkwa Breman and knew that the heavy rains had been causing big problems for connectivity. When I sat down with my host Judith - fellow Africaniwa tribeswoman and part of the Chocolate has a name project, she told me that the road to the school was completely flooded and impassible. It would require a canoe trip just to get to the school. We took the difficult decision to abandon our trip and reschedule the visit for the dry season. My main concern was - knowing that October is the key time for the cocoa harvest - how the cocoa farmers would be able to sned their beans out to be weighed, examined, and for them to be paid.
Cocoa is native to central America. It was a sacred drink for the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs in Mexico and Honduras. But it has been grown in Ghana since 1879. Legend has it that Tetteh Quarshie smuggled four cocoa pods from Fernando Po (modern day Equatorial Guinea) and planted them, and Ghanaians never looked back. In truth it was probably slightly more complicated than that, with the first pods planted in the 1860s by a group of Swiss missionaries who ran the school where Tetteh Quarshie studied. Their plan was to help the local community find a cash crop that would increase their income, arguably the first fair trade project in Ghana. The mistake the Swiss made was to try and plant the garden (which also contained coffee, plantain and other crops) on a European style garden plan, everything planted in individual neat rows. The hot sun shrivelled the plants and the crop failed.
Tetteh Quarshie witnessed this failure and grew up to become a carpenter who travelled extensively around West Africa. When he visited Fernando Po he spotted that farmers there were able to grow cocoa successfully. The big difference he saw was the shade trees creating a canopy above the cocoa bushes and the leaf litter on the forest floor. He brought this knowledge home and set about creating a successful cocoa industry. Between 1891 and 1918 exports of cocoa from Ghana increased from £4 a year to £4 million a year, and the country has never looked back. The cocoa farmers I visited - on two separate farms (one Rainforest Alliance certified and one Fairtrade certified) grow and process their cocoa in exactly the same way as Tetteh Quarshie would have.
Over the coming days I will share my thoughts, feelings and experiences of Ghanaian cocoa and how we can and must be part of the change that's needed to keep more of the value of cocoa in the hands of the farmers and workers - from cultivator to consumer. Chocolate Has A Name.