A Q&A with Solomon Boateng
The team at Fairtrade America sat down with Solomon Boateng, who works as an IMS Manager – Risk & Certification for Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union (KKFU) in Asokwa Kumasi, Ghana. Solomon is also the coordinator for the Way to Go! project on behalf of Kuapa Kokoo. Solomon talked with us about his experiences as a cocoa farmer, getting involved with Fairtrade, and the future of cocoa farming in West Africa.
Tell us about yourself and your story with Fairtrade.
I work on staff at Kuapa Kokoo and at the same time, I am also a farmer. Kuapa was established in 1993, and I think we have been in Fairtrade since 1997 or so. So, we are one of the oldest cocoa cooperatives to be a part of Fairtrade from the beginning. Every single bean we produce is Fairtrade certified. We have increased from just 2,000 farmers to over 100,000 farmers. About 33% of our members are women. At the national level, our cooperative board has more women than men.
How did you get involved in cocoa to begin with?
Both of my parents are cocoa farmers. Most of the things I learned about cocoa farming came from my parents. All my school fees were paid from cocoa revenue. Fortunately, when I finished university, I got the opportunity to work with Kuapa Kokoo. So, when I joined, I decided I wanted to go into small cocoa farming. I started my own cocoa farm about five years ago. I got the cocoa land from my father and rehabilitated the land. Kuapa Kokoo doesn’t do any other business apart from producing Fairtrade cocoa, and the Fairtrade principals become like your initial initiation method that you need to fulfill if you want to become a member. I’ve also learned a lot more about farming since becoming staff at Kuapa Kokoo and visiting other farmers.
Tell us about your work within Kuapa Kokoo and the Living Income Differential.
I’m the head of certification and sustainability for Kuapa Kokoo. So, all the certification matters land on my desk, whether that is Fairtrade or other certification schemes. The living income differential is the high incentive to farmers because it comes in the form of cash to the farmer, which is so fantastic. We hope that all our commercial partners will commit to the living income movements. It’s not mandatory at this moment. Some of them have indicated their interest, and some have even started paying.
Fairtrade puts the farmer at the center of everything they do.Solomon Boateng
How has Fairtrade impacted your community and KKFU?
It has made a huge difference. If nothing else, about 100,000 farmers are getting that additional income from the Fairtrade Premium. And we’re producing this cocoa sustainably. If Kuapa Kokoo decides that we are not going to do that, I would have to look for another job, because that is what I want to do here.
We are doing a lot of interventions in the area of child labor. That’s another big thing. You can’t say that there’s no child labor anywhere – we know the risk is very high. So, it is better that we accept the challenge in order to find a solution. The good thing is that all the child labor interventions we’re implementing are not just for our farmer. It’s not supply chain based – it’s community based. So, whether you’re a member of Kuapa Kokoo or not, you’re benefiting. Kuapa Kokoo members know, after doing their training, that they’re not supposed to engage their children in certain activities. So, it’s not surprising that in most cases, you’ll find child labor among conventional farmers. Sometimes members will complain, “why are you using our premium to finance activities that will benefit conventional farmers?” But we try to explain to them that child labor is not just an individual affair. It’s for the whole group. It’s for the whole country.
We take on a lot of sustainable projects as a cooperative, like organic farming. We are currently running two organic programs, and in the next few years, we’ll be able to produce our first organic cocoa here in Ghana.
Tell us about your work as the Livelihood Officer of the Asunafo North Union? What does your day-to-day look like? What kind of challenges do you face at work?
As a livelihood officer I lead all training related to income generating activities. I also monitor farms to make sure that farmers are doing what they have been trained to do. I also look for opportunities for farmers in terms of marketing and improving their branding or packaging.
Most of our farming communities are very far from the cities. So, you give them their training at the community level, but sometimes they need to expand their market segment to larger areas, and then funding that becomes a bit of an issue.
What challenges are farmers facing today?
One challenge our farmers face is, in terms of capacity, we can produce between 80-100,000 tons of Fairtrade certified beans. Unfortunately, we are only able to mobilize between 50,000-60,000 tons every year. We need enough money to buy cocoa from the farmers – and if we don’t have the capital, we can’t buy all of the cocoa farmers produce. So, we lose some of our certified beans to the conventional market. That’s a huge challenge the co-op and individual farmers are facing. When beans are sold in the conventional market, a farmer gets no pPremium for them. Farmers aren’t receiving full benefits from all the cocoa they have produced in a season.
Land availability is also an issue. In Ghana the average farmer age is high. Younger people are not interested in farming because of the limited availability of land. The land system is so cumbersome that it is not easy to get access to cocoa land. What is going to happen in the future? It means that in the future we don’t even have chocolate.
Why are you such a proponent of Fairtrade?
Fairtrade puts the farmer at the center of everything they do. Some other certification programs require farmers to go and negotiate with a commercial partner who can bully them. But how many other certifications pay farmers $240 per tonne of cocoa? It’s huge. So, if you’re not going to believe in Fairtrade, I don’t know what you’re going to believe in.
We want American people to see us as business partners. Let’s do business as the name Fairtrade suggests.Solomon Boateng
What do you think needs to be done to make sure farmers stay in cocoa farming in the years to come?
We need to look at the cocoa pricing system. The cocoa pricing system is a demotivating factor. As I speak to you now, 1 bag of cocoa is sold at 660 Ghanaian cedi. If you convert that to USD, that would be very little. But that is how much a cocoa farmer is getting here. Some farmers have diverted into rice. If I’m able to produce my own rice, I sell rice at my price. Sometimes when we negotiate with a buyer it’s not a preferred price, but I have a say because I negotiate directly with the buyer. For cocoa, the price is predetermined.
Another big challenge is the markets. The market doesn’t look good. In terms of the impact on cocoa cooperatives, ours is going down, which is not encouraging. In the past, if you were producing Fairtrade certified cocoa, even if you only sold 50%, you could recover your cost. But that is not the case anymore.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge the next generation of farmers face?
Climate change. I told Fairtrade that we should look at having climate funding. If you can set up a fund for cocoa agroforestry to mitigate against climate change, that would be fantastic. The way things are going, if we don’t take action to mitigate against climate change, it is going to affect us very much because we are not only losing production, but it also increases production cost. Farmers don’t know when they should spray their farm. They don’t know when it is going to rain. It’s unpredictable now. You don’t know when pests are going to come – so you just spray more, and that costs more.
Most of our young plants are dying because of the weather. When the rains come in March and April we plant the young trees, but then, there’s a drought – three or four weeks with no rain, so all of the young plants die. The mortality rates for young trees are very high. Even in other parts of Ghana, where the temperature is so high, they have done an analysis that suggests that cocoa has become unsuitable for the climate. They are now growing coffee instead.
What do you think American companies need to do better to help support you and your community? How about Americans who love eating what you grow?
We want American people to see us as business partners. Let’s do business as the name Fairtrade suggests. We want businesses to think: can we pay the right price for the things we are getting from these producers? Can we also assure them long term business contracts? We want companies in America to commit to living income initiatives. These are the things we are asking. We don’t want loans or grants like our government would give us. We want business.