- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

A group of cocoa farmers from the Republic of Ghana is scheduled to open its first American chocolate office in the District tomorrow, part of a cooperative designed to improve the lives of the growers.

The Kuapa Kokoo co-op was formed in 1993 as the farmers, frustrated over not getting a fair price for their cocoa, joined together. Many of the farmers had grown cocoa in the West African country all their lives but could never afford to taste the chocolate they made, according to the co-op.

Kuapa Kokoo established Divine Chocolate to sell cocoa at fair-trade prices — meaning the growers are given a fair market price for their goods, workers are paid a living wage and children or forced labor isn’t used — and distributed it from a London warehouse.

Divine Chocolate grew in popularity and became available in all major British supermarkets, including Asda, Wal-Mart’s British company, said Sophi Tranchell, managing director of Divine Chocolate UK.

Now, Divine Chocolate is trying to replicate that success in the United States, where chocolate is a $13 billion industry.

“The whole idea is that cocoa farmers toil and work very hard to grow cocoa but don’t make a fair profit,” Mrs. Tranchell said. “We’re trying to address that imbalance.”

Last year, the British arm recorded revenue of about $14.8 million.

Farmers will own 33 percent of the U.S. company, meaning they stand to make 33 percent of the profit. The co-op has about 125,000 members, who represent 10 percent of Ghana’s cocoa output.

Divine Chocolate has an office in Dupont Circle and a warehouse in Baltimore.

In the District, the chocolate is sold in Olsson’s Books under a recent deal, as well as Biagio Fine Chocolate in Adams Morgan and Chocolate Chocolate downtown. A 1.5-ounce bar of Divine Chocolate, which comes in milk, dark, white, mint and hazelnut varieties, is about $1.50 to $2.

Divine Chocolate is working on putting the product in national retailers, said Erin Gorman, chief executive officer of Divine Chocolate USA.

Fair-trade products have become more common in mainstream grocery and retail shops since 1999, when fair-trade coffee was introduced.

Today, chocolate, coffee, tea and bananas, among other goods, are available with a fair-trade seal of approval from the Fairtrade Labeling Organization International, a consortium of fair-trade groups.

The co-op sells the cocoa for the same price as the world market price, currently $2,000 per ton, plus a $150 premium, which the group says is invested back into the community.

“It goes to the farmers and is controlled by the cocoa farmers trust,” said Comfort Kumeah, a farmer in the Kuapa Kokoo co-op. “The money is used to improve the lives of the farmers, especially in building schools in the community and [developing infrastructure for] good drinking water.”

Before the co-op, the cocoa price would wildly fluctuate, and farmers wouldn’t be able to get the world market price because they had to sell it through the Ghana government.

Besides the farmers, Divine Chocolate is owned by Serrv International, a nonprofit group that sells products from developing countries; Oikocredit, a Dutch firm that also lends funds to development projects similar to Divine; and Lutheran World Relief, a Baltimore group that helps developing countries grow food and recover from disasters.

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