From cocoa to concrete: How we’re supporting our Ghanaian farmers
"Akwaaba" is how you say ‘Hello’ in Twi, one of the languages spoken by our Ghanaian cocoa bean cooperatives. A cooperative is a group of farmers that have decided to team up in a specific area, and in Ghana we work with two:
- the Assin Fosu Cooperative, in Central Ghana, and
- the Asankrangwa Cooperative, in South-West Ghana.
Both are Rainforest Alliance Certified™ which means they must farm in a way that protects natural resources (like land and water), and they must provide a safe place to work, where human rights are respected and workers are paid fairly. All 116 of our products crafted from Ghanaian cocoa are Rainforest Alliance Certified™ and this shown by their seal on pack. If you haven’t seen it yet – keep an eye out for the frog, as it is rolled out across our Ghanian cocoa range.
Our on-going partnership with the Rainforest Alliance and their certified cooperatives, is an important step in our Good Honest Chocolate journey. Giving us and our Chocolate Lovers confidence that in a country with a complex supply chain like Ghana, there are check-ins and audits to make sure standards are being met.
On the ground in Ghana
Of course, we Whittakers like to be on the ground too! We first met our Ghanaian farmers and their communities towards the end of 2019. Claire McKay, Whittaker’s former Food Safety, Quality and Compliance Manager, spent time with Assin Fosu and Asankrangwa to understand their values and approach to producing cocoa. She also picked up a few tips to peel cassava (a root vegetable) at high speed, using a small, sharp machete!
Building personal relationships with our suppliers, whether on-shore or overseas is something we’ve always done. From collaborating with New Zealander’s producers through our Artisan Collection, to our Whittaker’s Cocoa Improvement Programme in Samoa.
We were scheduled to visit Ghana again this year, but as Matt Whittaker, Whittaker’s co-Chief Operating Officer explains, 2020 had other plans. “We like to visit our cocoa cooperatives regularly, but COVID-19 brought international travel to a standstill. However because we’d already built strong relationships, we were able to keep in touch, and offer support or help where needed – even if we couldn’t be there in person”.
“We asked our cooperatives if there was anything we could do, on top of our investment through Rainforest Alliance, that would have a positive impact on their communities,” says Matt. “Assin Fosu and Asankrangwa both came back and said more washrooms at their local schools would make a world of difference.”
Washrooms to keep students safe and healthy
Whittaker’s funded the design and build of two washrooms, including a plumbing system to reduce the risk of wastewater contamination. Dirty water can contain a number of diseases, bacteria or chemicals so it was important to have this in mind when finalising the design.
Water for these washrooms comes from boreholes 120 metres deep, which is pumped into overhead tanks. In the photo below, you can see the storage tank is off the ground and on a platform, keeping tap water used for washing hands, separate and clean.
The work was completed in three months, and delivered:
- A 73 square metre washroom for Gold Coast Camp Primary and Junior High School, in the Assin Fosu cooperative.
- A 92 square metre washroom for Kofi Gyan Primary and Junior High school, in the Asankrangwa cooperative. This slightly larger project had some extra labour support from their local community.
Our latest creation, using concrete – not cocoa, is now ready for their new school term and will benefit around 600 students.
Personal Protective Equipment support during COVID 19
As COVID-19 spread around the world, so did the acronym PPE (or Personal Protective Equipment).
PPE refers to things you can wear or use to help reduce the spread of a virus, for example:
- Face masks
It’s something that is in high demand in most countries, but sometimes much harder to get in places like Ghana. So in the early stages of the COVID 19 response, we arranged for some to be delivered to our farmers and their communities.
We donated 2,000 face masks by airfreight, and 2,200 bottles of sanitiser – which we were able to source locally in Ghana, helping to lower our carbon footprint.
Projects and support like this are part of Whittaker’s sustainability-focused, Good Honest Chocolate commitment. One of our next steps, is to achieve full traceability of cocoa by 2025. This would enable us to trace each cocoa bean that we buy all the way back to the individual cocoa farm it came from, giving us greater confidence that it was produced ethically and sustainably.
“We’re making good progress on delivering to that goal,” says Holly Whittaker, Whittaker’s co-Chief Operating Officer. “We already have full traceability of the small amount of speciality beans we source from Samoa and Nicaragua through our direct relationships there. And Ghana is well underway, thanks to new supply arrangements alongside our partnership with Rainforest Alliance.”