Green Shoots is our regular series on businesses and projects that demonstrate a fair and sustainable alternative. You can see previous entries here. This time we look at Divine Chocolate.
90% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown by smallholders, so most of the big chocolate companies rely on smallholder cocoa farmers in developing countries for their key ingredient. Some of those companies pay Fairtrade prices, some of them don’t. Either way, the farmers are usually just suppliers to the big chocolate companies. They are not involved beyond the physical production of the raw ingredients, and it’s a relatively low profit activity. Much of the value is added later, in manufacturing, branding, and retailing the finished chocolate. Those profits go to the company and its shareholders.
Divine Chocolate is unique, in that it is the only Fairtrade chocolate company that is owned by the farmers. It was started by a farmer’s cooperative in Ghana called Kuapa Kokoo Farmers’ Union. This 100,000-strong coop retains a 44% stake in the company, and it means that a much bigger share of the profits returns to the people who grow the cocoa in the first place.
Kuapa Kokoo formed the early 90s, bringing together some two thousand farmers across 22 villages, in order to secure Fairtrade status and improve their incomes. In 1997 the farmers voted at their AGM to set up their own chocolate company that would sell their product in the UK. As a premium chocolate, it wasn’t long before supermarkets began to stock the line.
Partnerships have been important in developing Divine. There has been support from the British government, Christian Aid, Oikocredit and the Body Shop, among others. But at heart it is an Ghanaian company, something that is reflected in the West African symbols used on the packaging.
As profits have flowed back to Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo has been able to invest back into the local cocoa industry, as well as running health care, literacy and agroforestry projects. It has also been a leader in eliminating child labour and supporting women in leadership. Environmental projects include ‘forest-friendly cocoa‘, a scheme that encourages wildlife alongside cocoa farming, eliminating palm oil from products, and organic production.
This year Divine celebrates its 20th anniversary. Its chocolate is sold in the US and elsewhere, and it has developed new relationships with growers’ cooperatives beyond Ghana, in places such as Sao Tome and Sierra Leone.
Divine is a great example of how international trade can take place in a way that brings real benefits to smallholders. It’s a business with a mission beyond profits, that values people and relationships, and that points the way to a fairer global economy.