We all expect to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – but unfortunately, many people around the world still don’t have access to this basic human right. This year’s Fairtrade Fortnight (running 2-18 May 2014) aims to encourage more of us to ‘change the world, one purchase at a time’ by looking out for ethically sourced Fairtrade Certified items such as coffee, chocolate, tea, flowers, sugar and cotton. We spoke to Esther Mintah Ephraim, a 28-year old cocoa farmer from western Ghana who works on her family’s Fairtrade cooperative farm, to find out about the big impact our tiny choices can have on farmers’ lives.
What is an average day like on your farm?
I rise early in the morning, get ready and eat breakfast. After that, I walk to our farm which is 3km away. I check the cocoa pods for ripeness, weed and do other activities for a few hours around the farm. I then go home to prepare lunch. After lunch I rest, then I go to the cocoa shell [office] to perform my duties as a recorder for Kuapa Kokoo – the cooperative I have been a member of for 8 years. I receive cocoa from farmers, which involves checking the quality, weighing their cocoa and paying them. I close the cocoa shell at 5pm and go home and prepare dinner with my family.
How many members of your family work on the farm?
My parents are Mr Emmanuel Mintah and Mrs Rose Nyarkoh – they are sixty and fifty respectively. I also have five siblings: three brothers and two sisters. My two youngest siblings are still at school and my other siblings work on the farm with me. During busy times such as harvest, we may receive a helping hand from 10-20 other farmers in our community. This is called ‘nnoboa’ in my local dialect, which means ‘collective spirit’.
What are the challenges of cocoa farming?
Our farm is 38 acres and I have to walk 3 kms every day to get there. Farming cocoa is hard work but at really busy times such as harvest, we bring extra people in to help. Harvesting season begins from September and runs through until May and planting begins in April and runs through to December. [During harvest we] break the pods, remove the seed from the placenta, ferment the seed bring them to the house for drying and send them to the cocoa shell to weigh. We harvest about 40-50 bags of cocoa per year.
How has being part of the Fairtrade system impacted your life?
We receive so many benefits as a family and community from Fairtrade – a fair price, cutlasses (essential for opening the cocoa pods), access to healthcare (through the provision of a mobile health clinic), access to potable water year-round (through the provision of a hand dug well), and training in farming practices as well as additional skills training (soap making, batik printing to enable us to earn income during non-harvest times). Kuapa Kokoo also gives a voice to women and allows them to participate in the decision making process, as well as to vote and hold positions within the organisation. Through the Fairtrade Premium, we have also received training in environmentally sustainable farming practices e.g. we space our trees and grow shading trees, and we have been able to increase the quality of our cocoa.
How has your local community benefitted?
We joined Fairtrade because we saw the benefits that others were getting from it, and it has enabled us to have a better standard of living than other farmers. To me, my family and my community, Fairtrade means the principles of democracy, fairness and empowerment of women. We are able to produce a higher quality of cocoa bean due to the training. We also benefit from the economic and social developments funded through the Fairtrade Premium (paid on top of the minimum price) such as access to clean water, healthcare and education. By buying Fairtrade products, you can help farmers in other countries improve their lives. Fairtrade helps people like me and my family live better and achieve our goals.