Case Study: Women Cocoa Farmers in Ghana

Gaining Confidence, Visibility and Economic Opportunities: A 15 Year Perspective of the  Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union, Fair Trade and Women Cocoa Farmers (1)


Since cocoa was brought to Africa from the Americas in colonial times, Ghana has been a leading global producer of cocoa beans for the world market. Ghana is the second largest producer, contributing 16 per cent of the global supply. Until the recent discovery of oil and despite growth in some other export sectors, cocoa has been the mainstay of Ghana’s economy for a century. Ghana earned $715 million from the export of cocoa in 2009.

Is Cocoa Production in Ghana Part of the Informal Economy?

While cocoa sales are critical to the national economy, the production of cocoa is largely an informal activity. Cocoa production in Ghana is fully a family affair: there are no plantations and more than 700,000 individual small-scale farmers with only 2-3 hectares. Both men and women are active in cocoa farming, with women often gaining title to farms as gifts from their family or husbands to provide a reliable income for their lifetime.

What Policies Affect Cocoa Farmers in Ghana?

The state retains full control on the cocoa marketing system and sets a minimum price at the start of each season based on its projected sales income less expected costs. This makes the cost of state support to the sector of critical importance – the more spent on government workers, the less there is available for farmers. At times, farmers have received less than 30 per cent of the export price, with the rest going to government (2). Farmers were largely powerless to influence government over this vital issue, despite having two (traditionally male) representatives on the Board of the Cocoa Marketing Board and a national “Farmers Association.” Contrary to much conventional analysis on liberalization, the pressure on the Ghana Government by the World Bank contributed significantly to the rising returns to farmers since the 1980s.

How Have Farmers Attempted to Change their Status?

Most cocoa farmers in Ghana have never tasted chocolate. Farmers have no opportunity to see what happens to their cocoa in the final market, or to be involved directly in exports. The formation of the cooperative “Kuapa Kokoo” in 1993 changed this irrevocably because, while it did not involve a challenge to the state-dominated system locally, it brought the cooperative into direct relationships with fair trade buyers and gave them a perspective on the global chocolate market unique among farmers in Ghana (3). This initiative took a historic turn in 1999 with the formation of Kuapa Kokoo’s own chocolate marketing company, Divine. Kuapa Kokoo farmers hold 45 per cent of the equity. It is the only farmer-owned chocolate company in the world, trading branded products in more than 10 countries globally (4).

Many farmers were cheated at the hands of government agents who fixed the scales and delayed payments, and they feared worse from the private sector after liberalization in 1993. Forming their own cocoa trading company at this time was their response to ending the village-level exploitation. Kuapa Kokoo is a democratically run organization and has flourished, growing from 2,000 to more than 60,000 farmers in 1,350 villages; 38 per cent of members were women (at the end of 2008). Kuapa Kokoo’s members produce almost 6 per cent of Ghana’s annual crop and have earned a good reputation for repayment of loans, cocoa quality and timely delivery within the industry.

As a successful cocoa trading company, Kuapa has joined other traders to form a representative body to lobby the government, and its voice is particularly powerful because it is the only farmer-owned trading company in Ghana. Currently, farmers expect to receive around 70 per cent of the export price. Because it is well organized at the village level, Kuapa Kokoo has been able to leverage many other supports from government, development agencies and sponsorships from local service providers (e.g. mobile phone companies) for its members, including scholarships, credit, farm inputs and development project resources.

How Did Women Farmers Do So Well?

From its formation, embedding an equal opportunity approach in Kuapa’s democratic systems and services was a major objective. Enforced quotas exist for female representation at every level, from village to district to national bodies. In 2006, 32 per cent of primary society committee representatives were female (2,079 women out of a total of 6,524 representatives), and 45 per cent of area level representatives were female (81 women out of a total of 182 representatives). Sixty per cent of the National Executive Board members are female, even without a “quota” system at this level. As early as 1998, Kuapa established a Gender Programme to address women’s unequal access in the cocoa sector, as well as specific issues identified in a 1996 survey (5). For example, no collateral is required to secure loans – often a problem for women; only a peer group approval of someone as credit-worthy is needed. Between 2000-08 Kuapa Kokoo’s Gender Programme supported 800 women in 35 communities to develop viable income-generating activities. Applications for community projects to be funded with Fairtrade Social Premiums must be defined and approved at the village level, and at least three committee members must be women.

A number of Kuapa Kokoo women have taken key roles in the organization’s Boards of Directors and executed these very credibly. For example, Comfort Kumeah has been the Chairwomen of the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers’ Trust since 2005, managing a budget that has grown to more than US$1 million a year under her management and passing a full systems inspection by FLO-Cert (6) in 2009.

Many women have travelled overseas to promote Kuapa Kokoo, Ghana and Divine chocolate.  Including women in overseas delegations has had a huge impact not only on the self-confidence of the individual women involved, but also on other women members of the co-operative who now see these women as role models (7).

What Role did Fairtrade Partnerships Play?

Kuapa Kokoo was founded, and its developmental journey has been travelled in solidarity and partnership with TWIN, UK and Divine Chocolate UK and USA, who are fair trade organizations. Ensuring the farmers had access to start-up financing when their mould-breaking efforts to start their own company were laughed at within the industry was vital – and only made possible by connecting them to the emerging fair-trade markets, as this gave them foreign exchange with which to guarantee and repay the initial loans.

Trade Unions in Ghana, who would normally be positioned to advocate for informal or un-organized workers, have traditionally seen cocoa farmers as outside their remit: farmers were not workers or employees who were thought to be “organizable,” even though their total output is put into the hands of one monopoly buyer or “employer” (the state). Because of the national importance and strong governmental role in all aspects of the industry, until recently NGOs have not directly attempted to integrate or intervene in this sector (8). With the growing scandals around the worst forms of child labour on cocoa farms in West Africa, many large chocolate companies are now engaged in community-oriented projects, including adopting Fairtrade (9).

Fairtrade, by contrast, supports and incentivizes small-scale farmers to organize themselves effectively (from a commercial perspective) and politically (celebrating democracy, human rights, women’s equal access and social progress).


How can core labour rights be promoted for individual and family farmers and their communities? They are not “employed” by anybody and will not benefit from labour legislation. So the crux of effective interventions for peasant farmers, as informal workers, is around the terms of trade and their presence through formal and representative organization, and then their visibility in the market to consumers. These are the key elements to improve their negotiating power. These unique focuses remain the preserve and priority only of fair trade certification schemes at present.


  1. Article commissioned by WIEGO and written by Pauline Tiffen.
  2. In 1982 farmers only received 29 per cent.
  3. Visit
  4. Visit
  5. Kuapa Maa – “Emaa PaPa Paa”: The best of women (Kuapa Kokoo Gender Programme summary)
  6. FLO-CERT is an independent international certification company offering Fairtrade Certification services.
  7. See for example: The Sunday Times, March 21, 2010: A Life in the Day: Comfort Kumeah
  8. By contrast with a decade ago, three areas are now being targeted by international and local NGOs for interventions: ending child labour and child trafficking; carbon sequestration and carbon trading; and productivity and sustainable production.
  9. 2009 saw both Cadbury and Nestle (Kit Kat) adopting FT certified cocoa for some of its products made with cocoa from West Africa. Only Cadbury sources from Ghana at present.