Pleasant developments in Togo

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Fair Trade Insights
cocoa harvest 2018

The cocoa harvest of a village in Togo. It will take quite a while before this becomes exportable cocoa beans. The farming families have to open the fruit, remove the flesh and beans, ferment for five to six days, leave to dry in the sun for one to two weeks and then sort three times.

For gebana Togo a successful year is slowly coming to an end. During this year, gebana Togo worked with more female farmers than ever before and acquired some new exciting customers. A new EU regulation might have had something to do with the latter.

“Cocoa is gaining importance in Togo”, Michael Stamm tells us during an update call in November.

Michael is part of our Development Team, lives with his family in Togo and works closely with our subsidiary company gebana Togo.

According to Michael, the cocoa market is on the move. People are talking about sustainability, about transparency. Customers are more aware about what is going on in the market and they want traceability, he says.

For gebana Togo, for us, this is great news. Because that is what we do best. Every day, we try to work in more sustainable ways, to be more transparent and truthful than the day before.

Good weather until the harvest

In 2019, several things happened that help us accomplish this goal. First, the weather was kind to the farmers. They had a very good harvest season with only a little downside: late rains.

If it starts raining late during harvest season, it takes longer to dry the cocoa beans as farmers let them dry in the sun. Without sunshine you get moist beans and that is not good. But Michael remains optimistic that everything will turn out fine.

Another pleasant development started in 2014 already. Back then, the EU commission put out the regulation (EU) No 488/2014 which meant to reduce the dietary exposure to cadmium. What has cadmium exposure to do with cocoa or chocolate, you might ask.

Cocoa, and therefore chocolate, tends to be contaminated by cadmium. This is the result of cadmium uptake from contaminated soil by the cocoa tree. Due to geochemical properties, cocoa from Latin America is more contaminated with cadmium than cocoa from West Africa.

EU regulation drives new customers to West Africa

Now, that last part is important for gebana Togo because the regulation was not in force until January 1st, 2019. Since then, producers in Latin America who were not able to get the cadmium contamination under control have been having a hard time to find customers. Buyers who bought from Latin America in the past are now coming to West Africa.

In fact, there are so many customers with demand for cocoa, gebana Togo can be picky, as Michael puts it. “We can choose now to work only with those customers who are really aligned with our vision, with our rules”, he says.

Our rules imply that those customers must agree to pre-financing shipments with at least 60 percent and to signing a long-term agreement.

Big new customer from Italy

Out of the group of new customers looking for cocoa from West Africa, gebana Togo picked already a few, Michael says. One is the German company GEPA. It is the biggest European importer of fairly traded food and crafted products from the South.

Another one is Equal Exchange, an US based company that distributes organic coffee, tea, sugar, bananas, avocados, cocoa and chocolate bars produced by farmer cooperatives in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

“Both GEPA and Equal Exchange agreed to our terms”, Michael says. The two companies buy about 170 tons of organic cocoa and will do so in the coming years. And the story does not end here.

On the phone, Michael sounds excited now. There is a third new customer. One who does not care about certifications. Why would gebana sell to such a company? “Our values and their values are really aligned”, Michael says.

The company is called Altromercato and it is Italy’s biggest alternative trading network. Initially founded out of a cooperative, Altromercato evolved into a consortium of world shops. It includes more than 118 associations and cooperatives throughout Italy and has relations to 155 producers in over 45 countries. Altromercato's goal is a transparent and traceable supply chain that protects producers, the environment and the quality of products.

No wonder Michael is happy to sell to this customer. Their values align with ours indeed and we both act for a more transparent supply chain, for traceability guaranteed up to farm level and for higher premiums paid to the farmers.

We could stop here and enjoy all the good news. But there is one more thing Michael is eager to share.

New cooperative brings more women into agriculture

In West Africa, especially in Togo, soil for farming is traditionally given to men. From father to son. For ages this remained unchanged. Naturally, there are not many female farmers around. The two cooperatives gebana Togo worked with in the last few years, Scoops procab and Scoops ikpa, have maximum 3 percent female members, Michael estimates.

This year the situation has started to change! A woman from Agou, originally from Switzerland, founded a new cooperative called Scoops Kekeli. Compared to the other cooperatives, this one is still very small with only 100 farmers who can deliver about 67 tons of cocoa per year. But 30 of these farmers are women! And their goal is to increase that number.

For Michael, this is a good start. “I’m convinced, the women in Togo can manage cash much better than men. Because men tend to take the money to bars and buy alcohol instead of using it in their families’ interests”, he says.

We ourselves also buy cocoa from gebana Togo and have Felchlin process it into the finest milk chocolate and dark chocolate.