At the beginning, there was an idea: At the end, there were tons of chocolate bars. The way in between was quite long. We mark the year 2016 and Hendrik has finally succeeded in having the first batch of fairafric chocolate produced in Ghana after a Crowdfunding campaign. But soon he realizes: Many things are still to be optimized, starting with the beans. So he sets as his next goal to utilize organic cocoa beans. But before he could concretize this plan, fate intervenes: Via many obscure channels Hendrik hears of Yayra and arranges a meeting they would realize at the end of 2016. Admittedly, this meeting wasn’t totally away from any civilization, but it was deep inside a shady cocoa plantation, far behind the Ghanaian capital Accra. Among thoroughly cared cocoa trees that mingled under a thick, green roof of leaves that barely even let a sunray get through to the ground, the two met for the very first time. The meeting point hadn’t been chosen randomly though: It was one of Yayra’s organic cocoa plantations. Up to that point, Hendrik didn’t even know for sure if there existed organic cocoa cultivation in West Africa. The rest is history and soon it was clear that the two get along very well with each other and pursue the same idea: organic chocolate that is produced in its country of origin Ghana and that ensures the farmers as well as the producers fair salaries and liveable conditions.
To Switzerland and back
But who is Yayra? Born in Ghana, he went to Switzerland in 1990 with an exchange program. He went on to study Law there and became a lawyer because he wanted to work for the court of justice in Den Haag in order to be able to prosecute African dictators this way. Until then, he had been working for the Swiss asylum court, where he represented numerous Ghanaian economic migrants and conducted origin analyses. Soon Yayra noticed that the majority of those refugees came from a cocoa farming background, but simply weren’t able to live off of this job. How could it be, he then began to wonder, that the misery of working people gets so big they voluntarily leave their home? The desire to help these people, his compatriots, soon became Yayra’s new goal. By coincidence he met the former Ghanaian trade minister during that time.
The minister saw Yayra’s potential and had the power to make Yayra’s ideas become reality: organic agriculture for cocoa beans in Ghana. Fair and sustainable cocoa cultivation had been completely unknown until then and it brought along two big challenges: The first one was the disease susceptibility of the cocoa plants. Although the cocoa tree grows pretty well in West Africa, the use of pesticides and fungicides is practically inevitable in conventional farming due to this susceptibility of the trees to diseases, mold and fungi. The other problem is simply of an economic persuasion: Due to the capping of prices on the cocoa market they needed special authorization that made it possible to get better prices for organic beans, thus being able to pay the farmers a better price. Yayra was at least able to solve this problem with the help of the minister; they received special authorization to pay better prices and with that also higher salaries. With this and with the help of Swiss subventions they managed to switch from conventionally cultivated cocoa plantations to organic plantations. This changeover usually takes about two years, as that’s the minimum time needed to get all the contaminants out of the ground and the plants and to plant new crops. The Swiss chocolate producer Felchlin also believes in Yayra and his project and contributed to it with valuable support in the form of know-how for the farmers. For instance, instruction manuals on organic cultivation in cartoon style were made because many of the cocoa producers are analphabets and cannot read written explanations. On top of that, Felchlin signed underwriting guarantees for the produced beans, also for those that were produced during the transitional phase from normal to organic farming.
Eight years later it becomes apparent now what Yayra has achieved with the help of his supporters: He started with 1600 certified members – now it’s already over 5000 producers that produce fair and organic cocoa for him and his idea and get paid better than their colleagues that still cultivate conventionally. Since they receive better payment and thereby their life quality increases, this wonderful project keeps on getting more popular with farmers that are still on conventional cocoa cultivation.
Yayra & fairafric – what a match!
Fairafric is also convinced of this project and Yayra’s work, and the partnership sealed in 2016 keeps on developing: Together with Yayra’s Yayra Glover Cooperative we worked out a business plan, continued acquiring cheap capital, advertised for organic cultivation with COCOBOD and still do important educational work on what kinds of positive effects organic cultivation has on humans and nature. Additionally, we are constantly coming up with new ideas for “our” farmers: For example, we planted coconut palm seedlings together with the farmers, so they can have another source of income apart from the cocoa cultivation.
So, all’s well that ends well? Not quite yet: Unfortunately, we can’t buy the organic cocoa beans directly from the farmers, as all the cocoa beans produced in Ghana need to be sold to the Ghanaian government first due to regulation of the Ghanaian cocoa market, and we then obtain them from there. This means more expenditure and work for us and on top, we also need to overcome a lot of bureaucratic obstacles. But we gladly put up with all this because good things usually don’t just show up out of nowhere – and especially not good chocolate!
The organic beans commercial capital: A small excursus at the end for all readers who want to know every single detail
You really want to know every tiny little detail on where the money for the organic beans comes from? Then follow us on a small excursion to the world of finances: Yayra obtains “his” organic beans with the help of so-called purchasing clerks (PCs), who are shoppers that buy the goods from organic communities, directly from the producer. The PCs receive money from Yayra in order to be able to buy the beans from the farmers in cash. As soon as the PCs have enough beans, they call Yayra, who then comes to get the goods. During harvest time, Yayra drives through the communities with his truck every day (this is, through the remotest bushland) and gets the beans from the PCs. After that, the beans are analyzed (regarding whether they were dried and fermented correctly, whether there are foreign bodies like stones etc. in the harvest), categorized by size (this happens by machine) and afterwards wrapped up again according to weight / size. After the completion of this process, the government is notified so they can buy the bags (you may remember – everything passes the government in Ghana). Before the government’s experts buy the bags of beans though, they examine every single bag meticulously without an exception and categorize them according to different quality criteria – for this, about 1,5 kg cocoa beans are taken from every bag. That makes an enormous amount!
Yayra’s organic beans then go to a special storehouse (an organic storehouse where only organic cocoa beans can be stored) in Accra. In all of Ghana, there are only three of these organic storehouses so far! When the beans finally arrive at the storehouse after various days, there is another quality check done by the storehouse directors before the beans are accepted. It is only now that Yayra receives the money from the cocoa department that he had lent the PCs before so they could buy the beans in cash. But it can take a long time until he gets the money from the government – often various weeks, even up to two months. This period of time needs to be reconciled of course, as cocoa beans are very expensive and in sum, Yayra has to lend a lot of money – that’s the so-called commercial capital. For this capital, Yayra uses savings on the one hand and an overdraft facility on the other – we are talking about some hundred thousand dollars converted! This credit only has one downside: interest! To be exact, 35% interest! And that’s even though it’s such a safe business, as the state actually guarantees Yayra the margin. So how can there be such a high interest rate? The high interest rate is composed in part of the high Ghanaian prime rate and of the high inflation and presents an enormous financial burden.
But Hendrik and Yayra had an idea: foreign currency! If Yayra could manage to get the credit in euros or dollars, the horrendous interest wouldn’t exist. The chances for this were good, as Yayra also receives the organic bonus in dollars. And he could use these safe dollar incomes to pay back the dollar interest. Parting from this idea, Hendrik and Yayra created an ingenious business plan including profitability planning and started looking for donors in Europe. And the end of all that is probably foreseeable, as you are holding our finest organic chocolate in your hands: They found a creditor – and our small chocolate business was made a little easier again. What sweet news!