Kouame Fasseri answers your questions
Dear Kouame, Please can I have something for my cocoa addiction?
I’m glad you like our cocoa!
Can you describe what living in the Ivory Coast is like?
We are lucky to live in an African country, which is rich in potential. We have a diversity of crops, including cocoa, coffee and cashew nuts. We also grow basil! We think we will be the locomotive of West Africa! We love football, and have some great players – everyone likes to play football here.
Is it easy to grow cocoa?
No, it’s not easy – it takes a lot of time and hard work.
How long does it take for a plant to grow?
It takes three years for a cocoa plant to grow to its full maturity.
Do cocoa plants live a long time?
Cocoa plants can live to be 25 – 30 years old!
How many cocoa beans do you grow each year?
I grow about a tonne of cocoa each year. In each cocoa pod, there are about 40 cocoa beans.
Are you earning more because of Fairtrade?
Yes, with Fairtrade I get a good price. I also receive part of the Fairtrade premium in cash, which is really useful for me to pay school fees and buy food.
What are the conditions like where you work?
I work outside in my farm – I am my own boss!
Do you have to work long hours?
It is quite hard work. We start work at nine o’clock in the morning and work until midday. Then we have lunch. We then work again from two o’clock in the afternoon until five o’clock. At busy times we work seven days per week, but in quieter times we have Sunday off.
Is Fairtrade better for farmers or is it more work than normal food?
Fairtrade is better for us because we get more money and because we get the projects funded by the Fairtrade premium – including health care and education. Before Fairtrade, we had no health centre. Many people were dying of hernias, which is a disease of the intestine. Because they did not have enough money to pay for healthcare, farmers were pretending they were not ill and so leaving it too late for treatment. The co-operative launched an investigation to discover the cause of these deaths – once they realised what was happening, they quickly recommended we use the Fairtrade premium to build the health clinic. All the members agreed this was a good idea and within five months we had built the centre. Within nine months of opening, at least 40 people had had an operation to treat a hernia and they all survived. In the last two years, about 200 people have had this operation, so we think many lives have been saved by this.
Have you got a family?
Yes – I have four children. Two girls and two boys. They are aged 17, 13, 11 and 7.
How long does it take you to make a chocolate bar?
I’m not sure – I think it takes a month for the cocoa to get from the farm to Nestle’s factory in York. I will ask Nestle to tell us how long it takes to make the chocolate bar!
How long have you been growing cocoa?
Are your children now able to go to school, did Fairtrade make a difference with this?
Yes, my children all go to school. Because of Fairtrade I can afford school fees every year.
Where in the Ivory Coast do you live?
I live near Daloa in the west of the Ivory Coast, quite a long way from Abidjan, our biggest city.
How many people work with you on your co operative?
We have 6,000 members of the co-operative.
Who puts the Fairtrade logo on your cocoa beans?
We have a central warehouse in Gonate, which is owned by the co-operative. When the beans arrive here, they are weighted and put in bags with the FAIRTRADE Mark on.
Do you like being a cocoa farmer?
Yes, of course!
Do you grow anything else and if you do are they also Fairtrade?
I grow a bit of coffee, but this is not Fairtrade.
Is it hot or cold in the Ivory Coast?
It is mainly hot. It is coldest in December and January, but not as cold as England!
How old are you?
I am 42 years old.
Are the cocoa beans you grow lovely to eat?
Yes, the children eat them. It is hard to describe the taste – it is not sweet, like you might imagine.
What do you enjoy doing the most in your job?
I love being my own boss and working on my farm.
Do you work with any other people?
I farm the cocoa mainly by myself, but sometimes with friends and neighbours. But there are also other people involved, like the drivers who come to collect the cocoa beans, and the people at the co-operative who manage the co-op, and the people at the warehouse who put the beans into sacks.
Where do you store your beans?
The beans are stored at a central warehouse in Gonate, which is not too far from me. I will see if I can get a photo for you!
Have you ever tasted a Kit Kat?
Yes, I had my first one a couple of years ago – I liked it!
What is it like being a cocoa bean farmer?
It’s hard work, but I like it!
How do you grow the beans?
We would usually plant the cocoa plants in April. The plants take three years to grow to their full size, and during this time we need to look after the cocoa plants well, making sure we get rid of any weeds and look after the plants. Once the plants are grown, we can get cocoa pods off them. We cut these pods off with a knife and then the beans are inside. We ferment the beans on the farm, then take them to the village to be weighed and dried.
Does the weather affect the harvest?
Yes, it is very important for us to have enough rain. This year was a dry year and so the harvest was not very good. We really need the rain in the period from April to July.
Why is Fairtrade important to you?
Because of all the benefits it brings! It has brought a better life to me and my family.
Does all your cocoa get sold through Fairtrade?
If there was one unique selling point to buying Fairtrade (something I could tell friends about), what would that be?
When you buy Fairtrade, it is small farmers like me who benefit – the premium comes directly to us, and means we can pay for education and healthcare for our children, and make better quality cocoa.
Do you think that Western countries are doing enough to help suppliers such as yourself gain a fair price for their produce? Is there still more to be done?
It’s amazing for us to see people in the UK supporting Fairtrade. There is still a lot to be done, and we wish there was more Fairtrade.
How has being involved with Fairtrade changed your life? Do you see a future in cocoa farming for your children and future generations?
Fairtrade has brought me so many benefits. Yes, I think there is a future in cocoa farming for my children.
What do you think is the best way to educate Western shoppers on the importance of buying Fairtrade produce?
I think everyone can talk about Fairtrade. We want everyone to know that when they buy a Kit Kat, they are buying from Kavokiva! We hope that in the next 2/3 years, at least 50% of people in England will have heard of Kavokiva and know that we supply Kit Kat. We are in the UK to tell people directly about Fairtrade and about our farms. This is why I am answering your questions now, and so pleased to be in communication with you all.
How many cocoa trees do you have on the farm?
I have about 2,640 cocoa trees on the farm.
How did you become the face of Nestle's Fairtrade Kit Kat?
There was a team from Nestle visiting my village, finding out about us cocoa growers and Fairtrade. I was lucky! They started talking to me and asked me if they could take some photos, and of course I agreed! I am very happy to be on the pack of Nestle’s Kit Kat! And I am extremely happy to be visiting the UK as their guest – this is an amazing opportunity and experience for me.
How has being involved with Fairtrade improved education in your community?
Before Fairtrade, many children were working in the fields. Since we have been Fairtrade, the co-operative has been raising awareness of why children should go to school. We have also used Fairtrade money to build new schools, nearer to where the children live – before children were walking 6-8km to get to school every day. It is now compulsory for all children to go to school – all my children go to school. We also have access now to low interest loans to pay for school fees. We also have had an educational programme for adults, for them to learn literacy.
Your co-operative produces high quality cocoa beans. What is it that makes your cocoa beans high quality compared to other places?
We have had a lot of training on how to grow good cocoa, and to make sure we are using the right products. The co-op has a training programme for the farmers; there is a teaching farm where we go to learn about how to grow good, high quality cocoa.
What are the benefits for the growers of cutting out the middle men?
The middle men will buy the cocoa but will not give as good a price as they will be keeping some of the money for themselves. Our co-op sells the cocoa directly to Nestle, which is good for us. The middle men have no relationship with the growers – they just come, buy the cocoa, and leave – they don’t care what happens.
We are all keen to support Fairtrade producers like Kavokiva but I often have a problem persuading people to buy Fairtrade certified Kit Kat because of the poor reputation of Nestle, especially in relation to baby milk. What should I tell them?
Nestle has been a very good partner to us, and helped us through Fairtrade. By buying Kit Kat, you are supporting us at Kavokiva, and we thank you for it, and everyone else who supports Fairtrade in the UK.
How are you? Hope all is well with you and your family! Please do not forget to bring a very warm coat, jumper, sock & I should say all the warm clothing that you can find. Will you be visiting London?
Thank you for your comment! I am very happy to be here in England. I have been in London, but am going to York for most of the week. It is cold in England, but I have a coat and warm clothes. I will have a lot to tell my family!
How has Fairtrade made a difference to you and your own family?
I have four children and all my children go to school. Fairtrade has also paid for a health insurance programme for all members, as well as building a new clinic and paying for an ambulance, medical equipment and medical staff. Before Fairtrade, I could not pay for medication for my family. My wife has been ill on many occasions, and because of Fairtrade and the health insurance I am able to pay for her medication and treatment. I can pay for the health and education of my family and so I am proud.
What advice would you give to a young person wanting to make a career in agriculture?
I’d like to encourage any young person in agriculture. It’s hard work, but it’s good work, too.
Do you think it would be a good idea to process the cocoa into chocolate in Ivory Coast, instead of exporting the cocoa and having the production of the chocolate done in other countries? This would create more jobs in Ivory Coast. At the moment Fairtrade means the cocoa itself is farmed in a certain way, but doesn't tell consumers anything about how it is processed, or even how the workers in the factories are treated. Do you know where your cocoa is processed, and how?
We would love for the chocolate to be made in the Ivory Coast – maybe one day this will happen. Our chocolate is currently made in England. This week while we are in the UK, our partners at Nestle are taking us to see how chocolate is made, and also to see the top secret Kit Kat factory!
How does Kavokiva make a difference for the children in your community?
As well as all the education and healthcare benefits, Fairtrade means that cocoa farming is a better option for young people once they are adults.
Do you get to test your products before shipping them?
There are quality checks at several points throughout the supply chain to make sure the cocoa beans are good enough to make good chocolate. But we don’t get to taste the chocolate first, because the beans are not made into chocolate until they get to England.
What obstacles are faced in becoming a Fairtrade farmer and how are they overcome?
We had to make changes to the way we worked as a co-operative, and also to some things on our farms (like the pesticides we use). Also we registered all the children and made sure they go to school. We work together as a co-op, with the support of people at Fairtrade, to make sure we can meet the Fairtrade standards and maintain the Fairtrade certification.
What did you have to pay to become a Fairtrade producer and what changes did you have to make to be accepted as a Fairtrade supplier?
The co-operative of Kavokiva had to pay 3 million CFA [Central African Franc] (cerca. £3800) to get certified. I am just one of 6,000 members of the co-op. To be Fairtrade certified, we had to make quite a few changes: we are organised democractically (all members vote on how we spend the Fairtrade premium); there are environmental changes we made – we no longer use certain insecticides – and we did a lot of work to make sure all the children of the members now go to school.
How has the Fairtrade Premium helped your village life over the past year?
This year we had some big problems in the Ivory Coast, as we had a crisis after the elections, and there was a lot of unrest. There was a ban on all trade, and so we lost a lot of money, and there was a lot of damage done to the farms, as well as things stolen and people being killed or displaced. So our village has had a hard year. It is good now that we have peace again, and that now we are selling cocoa again (the harvest started in September) and Fairtrade allows us to invest in the social projects, make sure our families have health care and education, and get a good price for our cocoa.
What do you enjoy most about working as a Fairtrade cocoa farmer? Has working with Fairtrade improved your working conditions and hours?
I still work the same hours, as it’s my farm. The best thing is being proud to be a Fairtrade cocoa farmer, because I can support my family through my work!
Do you have any other Fairtrade competitors in your area and where is their cocoa sent?
There are other co-operatives also. I’m not sure where they sell their cocoa to.
Did you feel disappointed (before Fairtrade) about what you earned for the amount of hard work you did?
Life was very hard before Fairtrade.
Have you always been a Fairtrade cocoa farmer? If yes, for how long now and if not: how did you become a Fairtrade producer and what made you decide to change to Fairtrade status?
We have been Fairtrade since 2004. I have been farming cocoa for twenty years at least. Our co-operative became Fairtrade because we saw the information about Fairtrade and saw that it could bring benefits to the small producers like us. Kavokiva (our co-operative) wants to improve the living conditions of all the growers. We think we were the first certified Fairtrade farm in the Ivory Coast – many others have followed since, so they can also benefit from Fairtrade.
How has your business changed since the introduction of Fairtrade?
Yes, the co-operative is much more professional well, we have had a lot of training. We understand the global market much better and how cocoa is consumed in other countries. We have more income and are growing our business.
What was your business like before Fairtrade?
The co-operative existed but it wasn’t professional like it is now. We didn’t know what would happen with prices each year. In 1993, the price for cocoa fell really low and that was bad. With the minimum price, we know that won’t happen again.
Does Fairtrade chocolate production actually change the way you pick, process or prepare the cocoa?
We have had training since Fairtrade so now we know more about how to grow more, better cocoa. There are also some chemicals which are banned by Fairtrade, so we no longer use those, which is better for the environment and the quality of the cocoa.
What was your life like before you had Fairtrade on your farm?
I used to worry about being unable to provide healthcare and education for my children. I never could be sure about my future income
Does Fairtrade really make a difference? If yes, how and to whom has this made a difference in your farm and in your local community?
Yes, Fairtrade makes a difference. We have all the social projects: the health insurance, new schools, hospital, ambulance, technical training... so many things because of Fairtrade. And also in our relationship with Nestle, we have new cocoa plants!It has made a difference to everyone in the community because the benefits have been shared with everyone. We have all benefited from the new schools – for small children, bigger children, and also adult education programmes. We have benefited from all the health care improvements. We have much better access to clean water, as well, which we did not have before – this caused illness, as you can imagine.
Do you know of any forced labour or child slavery that goes on in other farms, how frequent do you think is the occurrence of child slavery in Ivory Coast cocoa farming, in your experience?
Since we became Fairtrade, all the children of the members of the co-operative have to go to school – they do not work in the fields. I only know about the people where I live – we are all very happy for our children to go to school and get a good education. The co-operative has worked to raise the awareness about the rights of the child and the importance of children going to school. Now all the growers know that it is compulsory for all children to go to school and not to work in the fields.
What would you say to someone who was not sure if Fairtrade really makes a difference?
It has made a big difference to me, and to my community. I would love to show you all – we have made a video, so there you will be able to see yourself. We have also been able to use Fairtrade money to build new wells, to make sure we have clean drinking water for everyone. Before there was not enough drinking water, and people would walk a long way to get water.
I am very interested to know about the social premium benefits Kavokiva provides to its members, their families, and people in the area. Please could you tell me more about the investments that have been made, for example in education, health care and improvements to cocoa farms? Since Nestle has been involved in some rather unsound practices in the past (which have meant that I tend not to buy any Nestle products), it is encouraging that they are embracing better systems. I am curious to know how much better it is for cocoa farmers to be members of Kavokiva?
Nestle has also invested in providing new cocoa trees for us, as many of our trees were old, and they are expensive to replace. Being a member of Kavokiva is very important for us. It allows us small farmers to have a voice, and to influence things at the top level. As a co-operative, we decide democractically how to run ourselves and how to invest our Fairtrade premium money. Being a co-operative makes us more organised and means we have access to training and information we wouldn’t have as individual farmers. The co-operative also organises new schemes for the farmers – the health insurance was the first big programme, but recently the co-op has also organised a big microfinance programme which encourages all growers to have their own bank accounts so they can save more money, not carry lots of cash around, and plan for the future; it also provides low interest loans for school fees.
If you could say something to the school children that I visit about Fairtrade, and how it has affected your farm, workers and community, what would you say?
I would say: thank you for your support, and please continue to support Fairtrade. Fairtrade has really helped me, my family, and everyone in my village and other villages in our region. I would love for other farmers to also have the opportunity to benefit from Fairtrade.
For years I have only bought Fairtrade chocolate, do you think it is OK to buy non Fairtrade chocolate, as people on non Fairtrade farms still need the work?
I don’t know! I think it is better to buy the best, Fairtrade chocolate!
How many of the farms in your area are now Fairtrade?
All the growers in our co-operative (6,000) are Fairtrade. There are also other co-operatives near us that are Fairtrade.
What do you think helps Fairtrade farms to succeed and grow in numbers?
Fairtrade works for us the growers because it brings us so many benefits and helps our lives and the lives of our families. So we all want to be part of Fairtrade. But we also need partners like Nestle to buy Fairtrade, and for everyone in the UK to support Fairtrade.
Do you have any stories about individuals or families whose lives have been improved since the introduction of Fairtrade in your community and farm?
We have been talking a lot with our friends at the Fairtrade Foundation about all the stories! There are so many. My neighbour’s wife called the ambulance in the middle of the night last week, because she was very ill – before Fairtrade, there was no ambulance, no health centre, and she would have had to wait until morning and then make a long journey (at least 20km) to the nearest hospital. As well as my family, there are the families of all the Kavokiva members. Since we’ve had the health centre, we have many few people who die every year – before it was 60-70 people every year who died – many from hernias which were left untreated – now only 2/3 die each year. Women giving birth also benefit a lot from having healthcare now.
I have heard that many cocoa farm workers and farmers never get to see the chocolate that they produce the cocoa for, is this true? Do you or any of your workers actually get to eat any chocolate?
It’s true that chocolate is a luxury. We never buy chocolate, though it is sold in shops in the big towns. The first time I had chocolate was when Nestle and Fairtrade came to visit me in the Ivory Coast and they brought over some Kit Kats – I like it! Eating chocolate is not really part of our culture.
Sometimes I hear bad things about the Nestle company, how have you found them as a company, and do they give you the support and regular help that you may need? What do you think they need to do to improve their reputation?
Since we have been Fairtrade, we have had many commercial partners. The last two years with Nestle, they have been our best partner and given us a lot of support, for example by providing the extra trees. No partner has been better in terms of social projects, environmental work, communications and marketing. Our co-operative is always talking with Nestle to find ways to do things even better. We have a shared objective with Nestle of making life better for the small growers. Things are not always perfect, but it’s a good relationship.
What are best attributes of a good cocoa farmer; also as an employer?
I think it is important to work hard and be very careful with the cocoa plants and look after them well.
What good practices do you incorporate in your farm to ensure high standards of health, happiness and satisfaction and high production from all your employees?
We are only small farmers so we just work on our own farms.
Do you have facilities in your farm or nearby for visitors from the UK to visit your farm as a paying guest?
No, we don’t have tourists where we are. [The Foreign Office advises against travel to Ivory Coast]
What are your short term and long term aspirations?
My hope for the future is to expand my farm, and so be able to grow more cocoa. As a co-operative, we hope to improve every year so we can sell more cocoa, and become more professional. We would also like other growers to benefit from Fairtrade in the future.
In what way have you profited from Fairtrade?
I’ve benefited from better healthcare, education for my children, access to training on pesticides and cocoa growing, new cocoa plants, better knowledge of the market, and more influence. I’ve also benefited from this trip to the UK! I would never have been able to travel or fly in an aeroplane – this is a unique experience for me.
Do you feel Nestle's Fairtrade certification for Kit Kat is a token gesture since the vast majority of their confectionary products are not Fairtrade certified?
Our co-operative is working with Nestle to supply them with more and more cocoa – for us, our partnership with Nestle is very important, and allows us to work towards our vision. So for us, this is a really big thing. We would love for more chocolate to be Fairtrade!
I've read that the price of chocolate will escalate over the next decade because there will not be enough to satisfy increasing demand from China and India. Can cocoa production be increased to supply these new markets? Will this increased demand be good or bad for cocoa farmers in general, and for fairtrade cocoa farmers in particular?
Yes, it is our wish to grow more and more cocoa to supply this to the world. We just want to make sure that the growers who produce the cocoa have access to healthcare, education and a good life, as we are supplying the cocoa to make delicious chocolate for the world!
With education, health and farmer’s welfare being improved, are there any other areas/causes that you would like to see improved?
Finance is really important to us. It is important for us farmers to have access to prefinance to make sure we can invest in next year’s harvest. We don’t have access to credit, so this is an area we need to focus on improving.
We hope to share videos & photos of the visit shortly, so please come back soon.