Monday, 17 October 2011

Behind Magnum Ghana ice cream

Cocoa pods harvest/Fjona Hill
Apparently last week was National Chocolate Week, so I am a bit late with this post, but hey!

I went to Ghana a few weeks ago to look at Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa farms where Magnum sources the cocoa beans for its new Magnum Ghana ice cream
-->We were an all-woman team: a filmmaker, a photographer, a representative from Magnum and myself. Our brief was to make a film, write an article and shoot pictures describing the cocoa cycle from “beans to bite” and looking at the impact of the certification process on the farmers and their families, the environment and the quality of the cocoa beans.  A fascinating assignment for a chocolate-lover like me!   

The knowledgeable Rainforest Alliance’s representative Christian Mensah facilitated our three-day stay at Gold Coast and Agave camps, two of several farming communities in the Assin Fosu district of Ghana’s central region, producing cocoa beans for Magnum ice cream.  

Road leading to Gold Coast camp in Assin Fosu/Fjona Hill
The farming villages are nested in dense, lush vegetation, off a red-dirt road, some 4 hours north-west of Accra, the capital.

When we arrived, we were greeted with drums and dancing women as it is often custom in Africa. The chiefs and elders from all the neighbouring farming communities made us the honour of welcoming us into their communities.  The head chief usually speaks publicly only through an intermediary - his linguist in traditional robes and golden staff - but he made an exception as we were foreigners.  He said the Rainforest Alliance certification process has transformed the lives of villagers here.  In fact, everyone we spoke with – men, women and children - said that.  I wondered whether people had been briefed to be so positive. Apparently no – their enthusiasm was genuine.

The chiefs of neighbouring villages came to greet us/Fjona Hill
Farming communities in the region have grown cocoa beans for generations. Ghana is the second largest cocoa producer in the world after Ivory Coast and cocoa is Ghana’s largest cash crop.  In 2011, Unilever’s Magnum ice cream joined forces with global conservation NGO Rainforest Alliance to bring sustainable agriculture practices to cocoa farmers in the region, promote nature conservation and increase the quality of life of farming communities. 

After just one year, 450 farmers in the Assin Fosu region have already achieved Rainforest Alliance (RA) Certification - a rigorous process that covers social, economic and environmental factors, including soil management and biodiversity protection.  It also means better conditions and higher income for workers.  Magnum’s goal is to source the entirety of its global cocoa supply from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms by 2015.

One of the most important things farmers said they have learned through the programme is how to identify and deal with pests and diseases, which attack cocoa pods and trees. If untreated, these fungus and bugs can spread to the whole tree and even contaminate the entire cocoa farm.  In the past, they all have lost harvests and trees to these pests. The training also covers preservation of wildlife and the eco-system around their farms, health and safety issues and the importance of sending their children to school, among other topics.
Bi-monthly training session during which farmers learn best farming practices/Fjona Hill

In addition, the programme has enhanced the status of women, says Fatima Ali, the chief of a neighbouring village.  “As a woman, I feel empowered by this programme.   I’ve applied the skills I’ve learned through the training and my farm’s yield has increased significantly. I am now training other farmers in the community. Traditionally, farming decisions were taken by men, but now I am training them.”

Farmer Rabiatu Abubakar says her family has “benefited enormously” from the programme.  “Our production has increased and we have now more money. This has strengthened my relationship with my husband. We are now able to send our children to school and feed them well. We are all happier.”  

Find out more about the cocoa process and RA certification programme in Assin Fosu by reading my guest post on RA’s Frog Blog here.

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