The what? Ann-u-al Gen-e-ral Mee-ting. It’s a mouthful but we’ll walk you through it. At the end of each cocoa season, in July and August, our partner cooperatives in Ghana and the Ivory Coast organize Annual General Meetings (AGMs). This is where all the farmers come together to vote on how to use the Tony’s premium (i.e., that extra premium we pay on top of the Fair Trade premium). This is also where new board members are elected and the annual reports are approved, since everyone is all together anyway. These are big happenings for the farmers and cooperatives: farmers come from far and wide (a two-hour journey for some), with every manner of transportation, including the cooperatives’ trucks, used to get members to the meeting on time. We naturally make sure that our own delegation is in attendance: it’s a great opportunity to get to know the farmers better and see that our premium will be put to good use.
The Tony’s premium: how does it work exactly?
To earn an income above the poverty line, farmers must not only produce enough cocoa beans, they must also receive better prices per kilo of beans (that’s the cocoa price for the farmer). That’s why this year we started paying all the cooperatives a Tony’s premium of 25% extra on top of the farm gate price (the price the farmer would normally receive). That includes the normal Fair Trade premium. Many farmers produce only 30% of what they actually could, so even with these better prices, at the volumes currently produced, they remain poor. That is why it is so essential that we also invest in training for the farmers, fertilizer and stronger cooperatives to help the farms grow their crops more efficiently and work together. This will boost their production and give them more income.
Investing Tony’s premium
Toward that end, the decision was made at the last member meetings to invest a large share of the Tony’s premium in projects devoted to training farmers and helping them collectively buy fertilizer. Many farmers need support in adopting better farming practices and it is nearly impossible for individual farmers to procure good, reliable agricultural products in the Ivory Coast. By joining together and purchasing as a collective, the farmers are assured of good quality at the best possible prices: two birds with one stone. Another share of the premium revenue goes to local community projects (e.g., maintaining and building new schools) and toward the cooperatives’ operational costs (e.g., transporting the beans, wages and renting warehouse space).
Of course, we also hear all about the latest developments when we’re there. For instance, our partner cooperative ABOCFA increased the number of tons of cocoa beans produced and instituted a Young Farmer Award to encourage more young farmers to enter the business. What’s more, ABOCFA increased membership in the cooperative to 661 farmers. Great things are happening!
One of the high points for us of these meetings is when we are allowed to take the podium: the general enthusiasm and warm welcome from the farmers makes us very proud indeed! Before this, many of them might have never met the buyers of their cocoa. It brings home to us that, unfortunately, what we are doing (buying directly, establishing long-term relationships, offering higher prices) remains the exception. And we can see for ourselves how much more work needs to be done, but also that we’re on the right path toward making our chocolate truly 100% slave free.