Divine Bites of Inspiration

Yesterday, I met two women visiting from Ghana. For the past ten days, Cecilia Donkur, 62, and Cecilia Appianim, 47, have been traveling around the country talking about the chocolate brand they own and the cocoa beans they grow. In fact, they've got to fly home this weekend, as the second cocoa harvest of the year is underway and there's much work to be done.

The West African nation of Ghana is cocoa country; it is the world's second largest producer after Cote d'Ivoire, producing an average of 640,000 tons a year, a figure based on stats from the Vienna, Va.- based World Cocoa Foundation. Last year, 3.7 million tons of cocoa was produced worldwide, 70 percent of which came from West Africa. (Other African cocoa producers are Cameroon and Nigeria.)

Ghanaian cocoa farmers Cecilia Donkur (left) and Cecilia Appianim (right). (Kim O'Donnel)

Sounds like big business -- and it is -- depending on whom you're talking to. Chocolate is a $13 billion industry in this country. But the typical Ghanaian cocoa farmer earns about $200 a year.

Until 1993, the Ghanaian cocoa bean was subject to wild market fluctuations and exclusive government control and price gouging. As a result of legislation that lifted some of the control, the market became semi-liberalized, and Kuapa Kokoo, a cocoa farmers' cooperative, was born. Kuapa Kokoo, which means "good cocoa farmers" in the Ghanaian language Twi, is now 45,000 members strong, including my new friends, the Cecilias.

What's significant about Kuapa, for starters, is that it's a highly democratic organization, starting at the village level, and women, who make up about 30 percent of the membership, have decision-making power. In fact, each of the 1,200 member villages has two representatives for board elections - one man and one woman.

Kuapa also weighs, bags and ships its own cocoa, and as a Fair Trade cooperative, farmers receive a guaranteed minimum price (currently at $1,600 per ton) and a $150 premium for each ton, which is distributed to the cooperative and used however they see fit - healthcare, schools, drinking water.

However, as helpful as Fair Trade is, it became apparent that it represented a small percentage of cocoa bean sales -- about one percent at the time -- which was a call to action to launch Kuapa's own brand of chocolate. With the help of a coalition of British charities and cosmetic company The Body Shop (which had been using Kuapa cocoa beans in its line of body butters since 1995), Kuapa launched a chocolate company now known as Divine. That was 1997, when the Cecilias, who had been farming for 12 and 34 years respectively, remember tasting chocolate for the very first time.

A few Divine selections. (Kim O'Donnel)

Divine, which is sold in supermarket chains around the U.K., saw its first profit last year, and as a result, Kuapa received a dividend of about $93,000, enough to give each farmer a small bonus and a means to reinvest in future crops, say the Cecilias. Last year, Divine crossed the Atlantic and opened its U.S. headquarters, here in the nation's capital.

The line of chocolates, which is manufactured in Germany, includes milk, dark (70 percent), mint crunch, fruit and nuts and hazelnut, is now available in four-ounce bars at Whole Foods, as well as several businesses around the Washington area. (D.C.: Olssson's Books & Records, Pangea, Biagio Fine Chocolate; Virgina: Ten Thousand Villages in Alexandria; Maryland: Roots Market, Takoma Co-op, Bethesda Co-op)

In honor of Fair Trade Month, Divine has launched a chocolate recipe contest and is receiving online-only entries until Dec. 15. A local panel of judges, including chef Ris Lacoste, Robert Egger of DC Central Kitchen and hotelier Monique Greenwood, will pick three winners, who will be notified early next year.

In the meantime, think of the Cecilias when you get your next chocolate hankering. I know I will.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 18, 2007; 11:09 AM ET Chocolate
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Kim, Thanks for the great blog on these women. I live in the Charlottesville area and our church is sponsoring a fair at the end of the month where we bring in fair traded items from all over the world. We have included a large order of Divine chocolate again this year, as it was one of our best sellers last year.

Posted by: peapod | October 18, 2007 1:09 PM

... but I just got hooked on Theo chocolate! This is a slippery slope for my figure...

Posted by: Anonymous | October 18, 2007 3:48 PM

Wonderful! It's not easy to find fair-trade coffee. But I think you can also get Divine at the café at Politics & Prose bookstore in DC.

Posted by: Reine de Saba | October 19, 2007 9:18 AM

Articles such as this one alway make me wonder when you are going to have a direct "email this article" link on your column! (And if I am somehow not seeing an already exiting one, can someone please point it out to me?)

Posted by: from michigan | October 19, 2007 3:42 PM

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