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Buying ethically empowers lives

As part of the 2015 Fairtrade campaign for consumers to purchase Fairtrade chocolate, Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand chose to build their campaign around Mary Appiah, a 61-year-old cocoa farmer from Ghana.

Ann Sathasivam and Mary Appiah from Ghana at Fairtrade ConferenceMolly Harriss Olson, CEO of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, introduced the audience to the concept of Fairtrade at a function held at Melbourne’s RMIT University on Wednesday, 25 March. She then introduced the ‘star of the show’, Mary, who was clad in a blue beanie and bare-armed. Mary proceeded to share powerful insights into her life, both as a woman, a farmer and as a Fairtrade advocate.

Agricultural production in Ghana is characterised by small farms, and most of the farms are smaller than five hectares in size. The majority of Ghanian farmers (77%)1 are subsistence farmers. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, female-led farms, especially those of medium to large size, are more likely to be market-orientated than those farms of similar size that are owned by males.

Despite Ghanaian women’s involvement in the agricultural sector, gender inequality hampers women’s’ access to finance to purchase land. In rural areas only 29% of the female population are literate, as compared to 52% of males. Tradition upholds a male ‘right’ to determine who gets to purchase land. ‘In practice male chiefs and heads of family are common decision-makers in regards to land tenure. Even among matrilineal communities, it is male descendants from matriliny who make these decisions, which often result in lower access to land use for women.’2

The recurring theme of Mary’s presentation was empowerment. Being a part of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative (a Fairtrade cooperative) had led to:

  • Empowerment to learn from Fairtrade trainers how to protect the environment through sustainable farming methods

Empowerment of the community through access to education. Fairtrade Premium payments have built a school, teacher’s accommodation and provided student resources

  • Empowerment of gender through the cooperative ensuring that women had a voice in the decision-making process
  • Empowerment to develop leadership skills. Mary has undertaken leadership roles (District President and District Treasurer) as well as undertaking the role of ‘recorder’ (which entails purchasing coca beans from other farmers on behalf of the cooperative)

To counterbalance this theme of empowerment, Mary was blunt in articulating the challenges facing her industry: an ageing population of farmers (the average age of the Ghanaian cocoa farmer is 50 years); climate change; and the lure of alternate more profitable crops (such as rubber).

1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2012 “Gender Inequalities in Rural Employment in Ghana. An Overview”  www.foa.or/docrep/016/ap090e/ap090e00.pdf accessed 26 March2015

2. Op cit p 7


These mean that in the face of rising chocolate consumption world- wide, supply may be in peril.

Mary took questions from the secondary school audience. They were curious about her farm and marital status. Mary’s response was that her farm is a considerable walk from her village. She has to walk seven miles to work on her farm and there are numerous hazards along the way, not least of which are snakes and scorpions. She has been bitten by a snake on her journey to work. Her farm is larger than average size, at 7.5 acres.

Mary can harvest up to 20 bags of beans, each weighing 62.5 kilograms. Mary joined the cooperative in 2008, and if she engages in organic farming practices, she receives a higher premium for her produce.

The students then moved to another space to view a board game (see photo [designer to indicate direction] that is used by Fairtrade trainers to teach farmers the process and steps required to ensure that their produce complies with Fairtrade standards.

The students were put into groups on tables and encouraged to play the game.  This proved quite challenging as the students were not from a rural background, and had only a few clues as to what the pictures may mean. Thankfully, there was a Fairtrade helper on hand to provide guidance and valuable insights. It did provide, though, a snapshot on how to educate a rural population where literacy rates were roughly 50% for males and approximately 29% for females.

It was such an honour and a privilege to meet such a remarkable woman, who finds time in her busy life to cook for her family, read books and attend choir practice at her church.

* Ann Sathasivam is the community organising coordinator for the Freedom Partnership, one of the sponsors of this Stop the Traffik /Fairtrade initiative.
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