Ngoleagorbu Cocoa Farmers’ Union (NGOCFU), of Kenema, Sierra Leone gained its export licence last month and successfully exported 20 metric tonnes of Fairtrade-certified cocoa to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, through UK-based importer Ético, The Ethical Trading Company Limited.
The cocoa is destined for UK-based Divine Chocolate Limited, a 100% Fairtrade chocolate company co-owned by cocoa farmers and chocolate manufacturer Ludwig Weinrich GmbH & Co. KG.
In the current context of greater ownership by marginalised producers, it is 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.
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.
Nick Hoskyns, managing director of Ético, said: “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.”
Foday Brima, chair of NGOCFU, said: ‘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."
Being Fairtrade-certified means NGOCFU gets paid directly for its cocoa, plus a premium to help develop 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,” said Brima.
Felicity Butler, producer partnership programmes manager of Divine Chocolate Limited, said: "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. It is Divine’s founding purpose to help farmers gain a share of the wealth they are helping to create, putting them higher up the value chain."
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 Limited, the RSPB, GRC-LG, and Jula Consults.