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New Koforidua - the fair trade town that cocoa built (with a little help from Nana Bruce)

Bruce Crowther MBE invented the concept of fair trade towns and was instrumental in Garstang, a small Lancashire market town between Preston and Lancaster, taking its place as the World's First Fair Trade Town. Some years later he took the same initiative along with the Chief of New Koforidua - a small town on the main road between Kumasi and Accra which became Africa's First Fair Trade Town.


New Koforidua is easy to get to, but also easy to miss. It's about a 45 minute drive out of Kumasi. If you hit Konongo you've gone too far. Not enough people know it was the first Fair Trade Town in Africa - not even everyone in New Koforidua knows that, and still fewer in Ghana as a whole.


As Samuel and I arrived in New Koforidua the community was preparing for the one year anniversary celebration of the life of their former District Chief Executive, Mr Stephen Yaw Sarpong. We greeted his widow in her house and were fed excellent chicken with jollof rice while the ladies scuttled around us preparing for the commemoration. In Ghana funerals are a huge deal - people will travel for a funeral in the way people in the UK might travel for a wedding, and the food, clothes and community celebrations are the same. There is a dress code - red and black or red and brown for the funeral itself, white and blue or white and black for the one year anniversary. Ghanaians are really stylish people, and the sight and sound of dozens of Ghanaians dressed in the same colour scheme, singing and dancing and commemorating someone's life is truly breathtaking.


Worried that we might be getting under their feet we sought permission from the widow to leave and headed over to Patrick's house. Patrick is a retired teacher, who along with the previous Chief has visited Garstang as part of the twinning agreement. Gathered on Patrick's verandah on plastic chairs was a group of mainly men, chewing the fat. One was a chap who lives in Liverpool and had travelled to New Koforidua for the one year anniversary commemoration. Talk moved to the co-operative house and how it has been neglected in recent years. The house is used for people who visit the town for funerals but there hadn't been a visitor from the fair trade community since 2019. Covid has played a part but it's clear the house has potential that is not currently being reached.


Nana Bruce had a vision for New Koforidua - he wanted it to be a place where the cultivators and consumers of chocolate would come together in harmony, for supporters of fair trade to be able to meet, greet and eat with the growers of the cocoa whose benefits they were promoting around the world. All the cocoa farmers in New Koforidua are part of Kuapa Kokoo - the Fairtrade cocoa co-operative with over 80,000 members, famous in fair trade circles as part owners of Divine chocolate (although the 51% share they had in 2019 has been reduced to 20% by the new owners). It is a town built on Fairtrade cocoa. And it's growing. It's a stunningly beautiful place, with chickens, goats and guinea fowl pottering around, stalls selling freshly harvested fruit and veg on the roadside. Below is the view from the porch of Frederick Gamor Wilson - who showed me round his cocoa farm and sold me some beans to bring back to Bruce for his FIG Tree chocolate making workshops. Look how lovely Frederick's view is:



The Co-operative House at New Koforidua was built with the support (both financial and practical) of fair trade campaigners and supporters around the world and it was always intended to be a place of rest within the heart of a cocoa growing community for people from around the world to come, stay and learn. The house has three bedrooms, a large central communal area, kitchen and bathroom and a small library. Finished in 2011 the house features a quote from Irish comedian Dave Allen: "May Your God Be With You". New Koforidua, like Ghana as a whole, has a large Muslim community as well as Catholics and Presbyterians (both of whom have schools in the town). My impression of Ghana (confirmed by my companions Samuel and Judith) is that everyone rubs along happily despite their differing religious beliefs, and I certainly felt welcome everywhere I went. Never more so than when I was formally welcomed to the town by Chief Nana Yaw Sarpong and the elders. Technically I was not supposed to approach the Chief directly, but at his insistence I was delighted to present the Chief with his own copy of Bruce's book "Not In My Lifetime" in which the town, the chief and the community house feature prominently.



Everywhere I went in New Koforidua the people's faces lit up when I mentioned that I had been sent by Nana Bruce. He was made an honorary chief in 2004 and given the name Nana Kwadwo Osafo I. Kwadwo means "Monday born". Most Ghanaians have their birthday name as one of their names. Apart from those born on Thursdays, male birthday names start with a K and female ones start with A (mine is Abena because I was born on a Tuesday. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng was born on a Sunday)


It was not easy for me to book a visit to New Koforidua. Despite being good friends with Bruce, who introduced me over WhatsApp to the main players in the town, my room was only confirmed as I travelled North to Kumasi a day before my arrival. Several years ago as a member of York Fair Trade Forum I had tried to work out how we could make a group visit there, and gave up.


This time Samuel and I spent time with the family of local teacher and longstanding supporter of the link with Garstang, Patrick - his children are now in their 30s - and we started to talk about how we could make it easier for fair trade campaigners and supporters to visit New Koforidua, how we could realise Nana Bruce's vision, how we could put the town on the map and benefit the community with the opportunities that come through selling goods and services to tourist visitors.


By the time I had my official reception with the Chief and the elders of New Koforidua I had half a plan. Samuel and I have pledged to the Chief, the sub chiefs and the people of New Koforidua that the label "Africa's first fair trade town" will mean something concrete for them. We will make sure that any fair trade supporter wherever they live in the world with the means to visit the Community House has an opportunity do so, simply and easily, whether independently or as part of our special itinerary that takes them on a journey from Ghana's darkest past, its role as part of the British Imperial project and its future as the cocoa capital of the world - where the beans will come home and the money from the beans stays within the cocoa growing communities. The Chief and elders are in full support. After all, we are all part of the same community - the fair trade community. And our gods are coming with us.



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