15 Dec 2020

Cooperative spirit helps West African cocoa farmers through the COVID crisis

COVID-19 response by ABOCFA Co-operative Cocoa Farmers and Marketing Society Limited in Ghana
COVID-19 response by ABOCFA Co-operative Cocoa Farmers and Marketing Society Limited in Ghana

Along with small-scale farmers the world over, West African cocoa producers were hit by the pandemic. Lockdowns caused transport problems and workers were unable to travel. Export shipments were delayed and, as a result, some contracts were cancelled. At the same time, additional health and safety precautions have piled on extra costs. For Fairtrade Africa, the pandemic meant a halt to field visits and the introduction of remote training.

“The Fairtrade Relief Fund came at just the right time when the producers needed it most,” says Anne-Marie Yao, Fairtrade's Regional Cocoa Manager for Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. “Fairtrade Africa supported producers to apply for the funds, which they used to provide emergency items such as personal protection equipment (PPE), hand sanitiser, sanitary items and food parcels to their members. We also helped them educate community members about how to prevent the spread of the disease. It seems to have paid off, as fortunately we have not heard of any cases of infection or death.”

“At the peak of the lockdown, most producer organizations had to close their offices, and Fairtrade Africa staff had to work from home, which meant we could not conduct field visits. Some coops set up community information centres to provide health and safety training and to disseminate information, although community meetings were scaled back.”

As early as April, the CEO of Cocobod (the government-run Ghana Cocoa Board) warned that Ghana would probably lose around US$1 billion due to collapsing cocoa prices caused by the pandemic. Cocoa shipments slowed significantly following a ban on international flights and internal transport restrictions. Some Fairtrade producer organizations in Ghana were unable to export their certified beans or had shipments delayed, resulting in delayed payment of the Fairtrade Premium. In Ghana, especially, the Premium is the main source of income for Fairtrade cocoa farmers, so any delay is a major blow.

In Côte d'Ivoire, the Conseil du Café et du Cacao (Ivorian Coffee and Cocoa Council) has yet to estimate the loss of sales but reports from Fairtrade coops suggest some contracts have been cancelled, leading to a slight decrease in sales volume.

Despite the continuing crisis, says Anne-Marie, the impacts would have been a lot worse had it not been for Fairtrade. “The empowerment model of Fairtrade makes easier for farmers to come together to mobilise resources to support each other in times of crisis,” she says. “Most coops used their Premium to support each other, especially the most vulnerable in the communities. Farmers understand their problems better than any external organization. The cooperative structure means they can swing into action faster. That is the ultimate aim of a good coop - to respond quickly to its members and communities in times of need.”

Despite working from home during the various lockdowns, Fairtrade Africa staff supported producers remotely on a range of issues including applying to the Fairtrade Relief and Resilience Funds. “All the eight certified cooperatives in Ghana which submitted applications got some funds amounting to around €23,000 approved to procure emergency items to distribute to their members and their community to prevent the spread of the disease,” says Anne-Marie. “In Côte d'Ivoire, 157 cooperatives shared a total of more than €344,000. That may not seem much when set against their needs, but it has provided critical support during difficult times.”