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February 2011

Community Investing
Brings Fair Trade to a War-Torn Country

Destabilized by a decade-long civil war in which tens of thousands were killed, and more than a third of the population was displaced, the West African nation of Sierra Leone is a country in need of new hope and new opportunity.

In February of 2010, a group of farmers based in Kenema, the third-largest city in Sierra Leone, celebrated the beginning of a new partnership that will help raise the standard of living for hundreds of that country’s cocoa producers. That’s when the first shipment of Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa from the Sierra Leone cooperative Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise (KAE), was purchased
by Divine Chocolate, for inclusion in its chocolate bars and other Fair Trade chocolate products.

First founded in 1996, during the civil war, the KAE cooperative has grown to more than 1200 members. The new partnership with Divine Chocolate (co-owned by the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in nearby Ghana) represents KAE’s first entrance into the global Fair Trade marketplace, and marks a new era of regional cooperation, with exchange visits between Kuapa Kokoo and KAE used to share expertise on things like tips for running the cooperative and for raising the quality of the cocoa.

photo courtesty of Divine Chocolate


If Kuapa Kokoo’s experience is any guide, then KAE can expect big things from the new partnership. The Fair Trade system provides farmers with a fair price for their products, offering a social premium over conventional market prices. Kuapa Kokoo’s work within the Fair Trade system has resulted in numerous community development projects, including new schools, water wells, bridges, and a community-based credit union available to cooperative members for new entrepreneurial projects, such as small-scale manufacturing efforts (soaps or batiks, for example), or for the diversification of crops.

On the larger financial scale, none of this would have been possible without up front investments from a community development financial institution with a commitment to the Fair Trade system.

An initial investment from international lending pioneer Oikocredit helped Divine Chocolate launch its successful entry into the US market in 2006, and continuing investments from Oikocredit have enabled the company’s current successes — including the expansion to welcome cocoa from the sister cooperative in Sierra Leone.

“As Divine grows, as a result of investments like those from Oikocredit, it allows us to work with more farmers, work with more Fair Trade commodities, and extend the benefi ts of Fair Trade,” Divine CEO Erin Gorman told Green America. “Being part of a Fair Trade organization has also meant that the farmers get to be community investors themselves. Members of Kuapa Kokoo have access to the community credit union, which they’re very proud of, because a problem for many small-scale farmers is that they have no access to credit.”

Gorman explains that small-scale borrowing in West Africa can have a disproportionately positive effect on local communities, telling the story of one Kuapa Kokoo farmer who was able to set up a side business for his wife and sister in-law with a loan of only $75. Investors in Oikocredit can know that their dollars are being directed into such a system, improving the lives of farmers at the beginning of the supply chain, while making high-quality Fair Trade chocolate more available in the United States.

“Divine’s mission has always been to improve the livelihoods of West African farmers,” says Gorman. “With this cocoa from Sierra Leone, we are extending our reach beyond Ghana and increasing our impact. Our partners at Oikocredit are doing more than just investing; they’re helping grow the market for the farmers and helping build a better way of life.”

– Andrew Korfhage


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