3 Nov 2020

Financial independence and women’s empowerment for Fairtrade cocoa farmers in Ghana

Asunafo North Union cocoa cooperative in Ghana is living proof of how Fairtrade can transform trade and transform lives. Eight years of Fairtrade certification has turned what was a small cooperative producing around a thousand tonnes of cocoa beans a year into a major operation exporting fifteen times that amount.

“It’s very amazing looking at how far we’ve come,” says Manager Patrick Owusu. “We never thought we would have got to this stage. Currently we have around 7,000 farmers operating in 67 communities and producing over 15,000 metric tonnes of Fairtrade certified cocoa beans. It’s exciting and amazing.”

Situated in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana, about 200km north west of the capital Accra, Asunafo North Union is a success story - but that brings its own challenges. Some of the coop members’ farms are close to protected areas or forest reserves, meaning expanding production is challenging.

“Fairtrade has enabled us increase cocoa production in a more sustainable, ethical and environmental way,” says Patrick. “Increased Fairtrade sales in the future will mean we can invest in our people, our farms and our environment.”

Investing in their children’s education is one of the most popular uses of the savings and loans scheme. “Previously, I couldn’t save or afford to send my children to school,” says cocoa farmer Yaa Asantewaa, who is also President of the Sekyerekrom coop, a small group within the bigger Asunafo North Union. “But now my children are furthering their education with one in Senior High School and another in Training College. Before Fairtrade we didn’t even have a pre-school facility, but now we have education running all the way through to Junior High School.”

“Fairtrade has helped me earn enough income to be able to facilitate the education of my children,” agrees her fellow farmer Oti Manu Rexford. “The savings and loans scheme also allows me to put aside some income for rainy days.”

University student Brefo Jones Manu is one of those to benefit. “The union has helped me to pay my accommodation fees and relieve my parents from some of the financial stress. Before I was able to pay my fees, I had to work on the land.”

Asunafo North Union’s remarkable progress is just one of the reasons it won the Small Producer Organization of the Year category of the 2020 International Fairtrade Awards. “We’ve supported our farmers by providing social amenities and infrastructure which have reduced child labour and improved living conditions,” says Patrick. “Farmers can now enjoy good drinking water and access high quality education in their communities.”

Around half of all union members are women, and in the past eight years much effort has been put into improving both their economic and social empowerment. “Fairtrade organised training to empower women to aspire for greater achievements like the men,” says Yaa. “Today, many women are able to effectively express themselves in a crowd.”

“As a result, the women have built up a lot confidence,” she adds. “I myself stood for the position of women’s organiser and I won the vote through hard work and dedication. Now we have set up a women’s association, which I also lead.”

For President Daniel Amponsah Gyinayeh, being a finalist in the International Fairtrade Awards gives Asunafo North Union a chance to tell the world about their achievements. “We wanted to showcase what we’ve done with the Fairtrade Premium we have received so far,” he says. “We want both the cocoa buyers and the consumers who purchase Fairtrade products to see that we use the premium wisely.”