This year marks 10 years since we started working on making cocoa sustainable in Ghana. To celebrate, anniversary activities have taken place every month this year: from brass band parades through the streets, to community clean-ups, to health screenings, to distribution of books to local Reading and Child Rights Clubs and the provision of physical community infrastructures such as schools, water facilities and clinics.But to really appreciate how far we have come in the past decade, we need to look at where it all began.
Cocoa Life started with the farmers. Founded in January 2008 as the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership, it evolved into the Cocoa Life program we know today, in 2012. This was a collaborative process from the beginning: together with the farmers, we mapped out a cohesive program according to their needs.
Yaa Peprah Amekudzi with Hubert Weber, President Mondelēz Europe
Yaa Peprah Amekudzi at the Women’s Summit
The last decade has also been made possible thanks to our implementing partners, who have been instrumental in managing the design and communication of the program, and our community animators who are in the communities 24/7, overseeing the day to day activities.
Over the years, we have all grown together. Our colleagues might come from different partner organisations, such as VSO, or even government, but they see themselves as Cocoa Life. Everyone is completely dedicated to and knows the program inside out – meaning we’re able to work as one team.
"I am so proud of how far we’ve come. Cocoa Life in Ghana is now getting international exposure and recognition, as well as recognition within our business. It’s amazing to see farmers’ commitment to adopting good agricultural and financial practices as well as improving their communities."
These past 10 years have not been without their challenges. Managing expectations within communities at grassroots level has been a huge learning for us: sometimes we have faced the misperception that Cocoa Life is a “Santa Claus” figure; coming bearing gifts or quick fixes to development issues.
Fortunately, we have evolved our methods to overcome this challenge. The key is to remember to start engagement with the partners. When we start activities in a new community, first we organize a meeting with the chief, political leaders and religious leaders. Then, we organize meetings with the whole community members – also known as a Durbar. It’s very important they get the message right at this stage.
The Akan people of Ghana often express themselves with proverbs, sayings and symbols. One of these ancient proverbs is: "wo foro duapa a na yε pia wo" as seen below:
This is a symbol of support for good causes. Literally, it translates as, “when you climb a good tree, we will help you up”. A good tree in this case is a strong tree that bears fruit, or whose leaves have medicinal qualities. If you spend your efforts trying to do something worthwhile, people will support you. We explain this to our communities, and it helps frame the purpose of Cocoa Life. It helps us communicate that progress is a joint effort. Our vision is to see cocoa farming be a prosperous business, and we work together with partners and farmers to create real, lasting change for the farmers and the communities.
Ten years is a long time, and on this journey we have had some incredible moments. One memory that stands out happened when Cocoa Life was still very new. We introduced a community farmers’ forum to discuss challenges. Whilst only a few farmers and policymakers were able to attend, we had an important discussion around cocoa weighing scales. A few days later, I saw the CEO of the Ghana Cocoa Board on TV, Tony Fofie, pledge to provide better cocoa weighing scales for farmers. I found out later that a member of the Board had been at the forum, and had taken the issue directly to the top.
But over the years, the biggest transformation we have observed is within community members themselves; their outlook. Farmers and community members realised they were part of the solution, and can implement change in their lives. Today, they make plans with each other, have dreams, and support each other in their development. This is where the real, long-term benefit lies.
This year was our first Women’s Summit – the culmination of our annual Gender Dialogues. Confident in the great progress we have made, we pushed for the women themselves to be the panellists. It was a great success and thanks to this, the Summit will now be an annual event. This is a great demonstration of the socio-economic empowerment of women we’re achieving through Cocoa Life.
"Female cocoa farmers have become so confident in their opinions! I am now frequently challenged by them, and we are able to have really productive discussions."
With the 10 year anniversary, we also look forward. In the next few years, one of our principal goals is to achieve greater alignment with Ghanaian Government programs, to maximize value for farmers. The Government is often in need of implementing partners and this presents a great opportunity to join forces.
There are exciting times ahead for Cocoa Life in Ghana. The journey so far has been a learning curve, with great relationships formed and some fantastic memories. I am so proud of what we have achieved, and look forward to the future of Cocoa Life: helping grow opportunities for our cocoa communities so they can develop and achieve their goals.