SHE is a long way from home, but Mary Appiah is delighted to be in Sydney, sharing her chocolate secrets. Surprisingly, the Ghanaian cocoa farmer, a member of Fairtrade co-op Kuapa Kokoo, reveals she is not a fan of sweet things, including chocolate, preferring to use the cacao she grows on her farm to make a savoury dish instead.
“I mash it with tomatoes, onion, pepper and I roast the beans and mash it with palm oil. I eat it with plantain,” the 61-year-old says.
Almost two decades ago she took over her elderly mother’s three hectare farm and planted cacao trees. She now harvests more than 20 bags of cocoa annually, a huge improvement since joining Kuapa Kokoo, the Fairtrade certified cocoa farmers’ co-op which has helped fund schools, a mobile clinics — handy when Appiah was bitten by a snake — and sanitary facilities in the Enchi district, in western Ghana. The Fairtrade Premium also heled fund two daycare centres, and has been used to purchase two mobile cinema vans for a farmers’ education program.
Farmers who are part of Kuapa Kokoo are guaranteed a fair price, for their cocoa beans, with tools and training provided to ensure knowledge and practical resources are reinvested back into the farms.
Workers have also been trained in baking, batik print making and soap making, using the potash produced from burnt cocoa husks, to create extra income.
Many farms are in remote and marginalised areas, meaning most cocoa growers have limited access to healthcare and clean drinking water. Most villages do not have access to schools, educational materials or teachers.
“It’s just extraordinary how the positive effects can flow on,” says Jodie Van Der Velden, owner of Josophan’s in King St, Sydney, where Appiah helped host a chocolate-making class.
Appiah is now treasurer of her Kuapa Kokoo, which represents 110 farmers, with the single mother to seven’s eldest son now returning to the farm to manage the crop. Her mother passed away last year. The farm is almost a 12 km walk along a single track from her home town.
“There’s no other way to get there, it’s so tedious,” she says.
Brought to Australia by Fairtrade, Appiah has visited Adelaide, Melbourne and now Sydney. In the last two years she has also travelled to the UK.
“There are some many exciting places and all the people here are so friendly. I feel at home. I don’t feel homesick. In the UK they won’t look at you.”
A QUESTION WORTH ASKING THE EASTER BUNNY:
HOW FAIR IS THAT CHOCOLATE
With Easter fast approaching and only a day left until we’ll be consuming copious amounts of chocolate, have any of us truly given thought to where our (beloved) chocolate is coming from, or how exactly it’s produced?
Many Australians have no idea most chocolate products stocked in supermarkets contain ingredients that are sourced from developing countries where there are high levels of exploitation and unsustainable practices.
In this interview, Fairtrade cocoa farmer and single mother-of-seven Mary Appiah in Ghana shares the effect Fairtrade certified products have in enhancing underdeveloped communities. And after reading it, we’ll never shop for chocolate the same way again.
I was born in the western part of Ghana – from Enchi.
My childhood was not an easy one, my parents were very poor to take care for me. So I left school at Elementary level.
When I left school, I got married to a French man in the Ivory Coast, but because of a misunderstanding I had to leave him and come back to Ghana.
I get up at 5:30, sweep my compound and fetch water. Then I walk to my farm, which is about seven miles away. It takes me a long time to get there and I have to cross rivers. At 2:30pm I go back to my house, eat my food and go to Kuapa Kokoo shed to receive cocoa from fellow farmers. Part of my job is as a ‘recorder’ – to be a recorder means to buy the cocoa farmed from other farmers of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperation.
Can you walk us through the process of farming the cocoa?
Firstly, when you see that it’s about to rain, you plant the cocoa seeds. Within five years the cocoa trees will start to yield – so from zero to five years you have to weed the farm. Then when the cocoa trees are ready to yield, we harvest. You need a sharp machete to cut the cocoa pods.
After we have collected the pods in one place, all the workers break open the pods – that is what you call “nnobua” in our language. It is very lively: some will sing, some will dance.
After all the pods are broken, you have to leave the beans to ferment – fermentation brings out the flavour in the beans. Fermentation takes six days.
Once fermented, we dry the beans and separate the good ones from the bad ones. This takes about 10 to 12 days. After it’s well dried you collect all the cocoa to be weighed.
Once weighed, I record all the news of the farmers in their pass books and ledger book so that at the end of the year they will get their premium, their cash bonus and a machete. We do that so the company can check no one is cheating. I have to pay the farmer his or her money.
Then I put the cocoa in sacks and seal them. After that, men from the Quality Control Division come and check all the beans are dried correctly and of good quality.
Then they are ready to be exported, to be delivered to Australia and the UK to make chocolate.
As a single mother it was very difficult for me to cater for my children, it was difficult to have three meals a day. But as I joined Kuapa Kokoo from the premium I able to cater for my children and education.
What Fairtrade programs are in place for women in the community?
They have empowered women in our communities to become leaders which was not encouraged in Ghana. Women are not allowed to take decisions, but now, in Kuapa Kokoo we are all allowed to – there’s no discrimination you all take decisions together.
Our current president is a woman, she is the head of all Kuapa Kokoo, and as I am speaking to you, I am at a society level a recorder; I am the President of Enchi district and at the National level I am a Treasurer – I’m also a member of the board of directors, so we are empowered.
Women are trained to make batik and dye, liquid soap, bar soap. They have even given us corn mills so we can mill our corn and we can get income from it and support our family in the light crop.
They also have new schools for communities and boreholes for potable drinking water stations. They have mobile clinics and they have even built a clinic in Kumasi where all the farmers can go there for treatment and it is free of charge. We have sanitary facilities too for the communities.
I am pleading for retailers to buy more cocoa beans from Kuapa so that consumers can buy more Fairtrade chocolate and we (farmers) can have enough premium money and we can cater for ourselves.
I am very happy to be in Australia to witness Fairtrade Easter and thank you all I wish you good luck.
To find out more information about Mary and how you can support Fairtrade this Easter, head to www.signwithmary.com.au to sign the petition to encourage more Australian retailers to stock Fairtrade products.http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/where-does-chocolate-come-from/