Ngoleagorbu Cocoa Farmers’ Union (NGOCFU), of Kenema, Sierra Leone gained its export license on 20 July 2020 and on 22 August 2020 successfully exported 20 metric tonnes of Forest-Friendly, Fairtrade-certified cocoa to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, through UK-based importer Ético, The Ethical Trading Company Limited. The cocoa is for Divine Chocolate, a UK-based 100% Fairtrade chocolate company co-owned by cocoa farmers and chocolate manufacturer Weinrich.
This is the first time that a farmer-led organisation from Sierra Leone has directly exported Forest-Friendly cocoa beans to the Fairtrade market. It represents a huge achievement for the 1,743 farmers (1,353 men, 390 women) in NGOCFU – who are already planning on how to build on this success for the 2021 season – and is highly significant within the current context of greater ownership by marginalised producers and the demand for de-colonising trade. In addition to Fairtrade certification, NGOCFU has plans for organic certification, and has pioneered a Forest-Friendly approach to cocoa farming on the edge of the Gola Rainforest through its work with IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Gola Rainforest Conservation (GRC-LG) and Divine Chocolate. Ngoleagorbu means ‘We who live at the forest edge’, and the Forest-Friendly approach means working together to farm sustainably and protect the rainforest, in order to support the sustainable livelihoods of forest-frontier farmers and their organisation. NGOCFU was formed in 2016, and officially registered as a third tier cooperative union, representing its three farmer associations, in February 2019. Cocoa is fermented at village-level, then following stringent quality checks, it is weighed and accepted by the union and transported to Kenema to NGOCFU’s warehouse.
We protect the Gola Rainforest National Park and produce Forest-Friendly high quality cocoa beans. This year, we have been able to make two important success stories which I as chairman, the executive board, and all the farmers are very happy about - we have been able to obtain an export licence for ourselves, and we have exported our first container of cocoa direct to an external buyer. We have also been able to get a Fairtrade certificate so the cocoa we have just exported is Fairtrade and Forest-Friendly cocoa. This means we get paid directly for our cocoa, plus a premium to help develop our poor communities.We are very happy for those successes and we want to thank every partner that has supported us to get to this point. We are also requesting that they continue to support us to maintain our independence for us to be very strong as farmers and business people in a sustainable manner.
We are so excited about this product, it has everything: amazing quality cocoa, the farmers and their families reaping the benefit of exporting directly through their own cooperative and of course the amazing feeling that we are all contributing to the protection of the Gola Rainforest in a sustainable, creative and responsible way. We are honoured to be part of this incredible supply chain that all involved can be so proud of.
Divine began working with the farmers living in the buffer zone of the Gola Rainforest in 2018. We saw it was a great opportunity to align Fairtrade and environmental concerns, and take a positive approach to the issue of deforestation.‘Through our work, we have supported the farmers to form a cooperative, gain Fairtrade certification, build on the 'Forest-Friendly' concept so other cocoa farmers around the world can learn from their example, and more recently gain an export licence to export themselves.‘Given the historical and current context in Sierra Leone, this is a huge achievement and something to be celebrated. As a company, we have always supported farmers moving up the supply chain, which is why we are co-owned by cocoa farmers. We are now excited to see Ngoleagorbu directly exporting, and leading the way on Forest-Friendly cocoa.
Quality cocoa from Sierra Leone
NGOCFU farmers use no artificial fertilisers or pesticides, and five years’ worth of quality training shows in the high standard of the cocoa beans produced. The cocoa variety is Forastero (Amelonado and Upper Amazon) and it has a profile flavour of spice, cinnamon and fudge. A bean to bar craft maker found ‘herbal and spiced flavors [with] notes of black tea, cinnamon, and roasted walnuts’. The cocoa from NGOCFU, Sierra Leone represents an enticing origin. Whilst in the past Sierra Leonean cocoa has had a poor reputation, this is now changing, and the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) has been impressed with the strides Sierra Leone’s cocoa sector has been making, especially in improving the quality of its cocoa beans.
Since 2015, the farmers have worked closely in a multi-stakeholder collaboration with international and national partners to organise as a cooperative, improve the quality of the cocoa and develop access to markets. Partners in the Forest-Friendly Cocoa programme include Divine Chocolate, the RSPB, GRC-LG, and Jula Consults. Since its inception, the programme has received support from Comic Relief, Rainforest Alliance, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative, and more recently the Lorna Young Foundation through their Farmers’ Voice Radio programme.
IDH is very pleased with this major step for the farmers’ cooperative, part of the Cocoa Origins Program (COP). This enables sustainable smallholder cocoa businesses, owned and controlled by farmers living on the edges of the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone, to export their cocoa directly and independently. An important step in their empowerment and in building sustainable trade relationships.‘The COP supports creating stable, long-term trading relationships between producers in origin and chocolate companies serving the Dutch market. This provides Dutch chocolate enthusiasts with a bar that protects the natural resources and biodiversity of the Gola National Rainforest Park, and strengthens the livelihoods of cocoa producing families.
When this project first started with support from Comic Relief, Rainforest Alliance and RSPB, everyone said Sierra Leone farmers could not manage their own affairs.‘With support from a very strong partnership of funders along with the phenomenal hard work and commitment of the farmer leaders and their members, they have reached this stage. They are also proving against all odds that Sierra Leonean farmers can provide premium quality and environmentally friendly cocoa. Congratulations NGOCFU, proud to be working with you.
Notes to editors:
Ético, The Ethical Trading Company Ltd is a UK-based importer serving smallholder farmer cooperatives in Africa, Asia and Latin America with buyers in Europe, Japan and North America. Founded in 2004, Ético trades cocoa, coffee, honey, nuts and sesame through a shared ownership model that delivers quality assurance, traceability and meaningful collaboration. Ético is 100% owned by UK-registered charity Social Business Network and farmer cooperatives, with all profits reinvested back into the business or distributed to stakeholders via the charity or cooperatives.
Divine Chocolate is a unique, global 100% Fairtrade chocolate company, and the only chocolate company to be co-owned by cocoa farmers. Divine was established in 1998 by Kuapa Kokoo, a co-operative of cocoa farmers in Ghana that voted to set up a chocolate company (then ‘The Day Chocolate Company’), and has been a pioneering voice in the Fairtrade sector ever since. Divine brings people together using the amazing power of chocolate to delight and engage, creating dignified trading relations that empower both producers and chocolate lovers, and is award-winning for its great tasting chocolate and equitable business model. In June 2020, Ludwig Weinrich GmbH & Co. KG (Weinrich) acquired the majority of the shares of Divine, however Kuapa Kokoo still own 20% and continue to have board representation. This means that the Divine brand and the unique business model with farmers at the heart will continue to deliver seriously good chocolate.
Divine’s sister charity Trading Visions and the Fairtrade Foundation recently produced a short film telling the story of the ‘Guardians of the Rainforest’, the cocoa farmers of Ngoleagorbu who are working together to protect the Gola Rainforest.
 This forest is one of the largest remnants of the Upper Guinean Tropical Rainforest, and the largest remnant in Sierra Leone. It is an internationally recognised global biodiversity hotspot, which is home to endangered species such as the Pygmy Hippo and the critically endangered Western Chimpanzee.