Equal SHAER: An empowering chocolate festival

On February 11th the WUR Science Shop hosted, in close collaboration with Africa In Motion, an online festival to finalize the project “Beyond Fair Trade: Transnational entrepreneurship and the African Diaspora”, focused on creating fairer Africa – Europe relationships in the cocoa value chain. Besides dissemination of results and looking back at our accomplishments, our main goal was to inspire participants (and any other interested party) to look to the future, to gather energy and motivation to continue with the mission of our commissioner. We were doubting whether we could accomplish this through an online event… And so we did!

We want to move from slavery-free to poverty-free chocolate. That's what the Equal SHAER Festival is all about.
Max Koffi

In 2019, the non-profit organization Africa In Motion (AIM) set to take a closer look at the cocoa supply chain in Ghana and challenged the mainstream view of what is “fair trade”, aiming to explore new fairer ways of operating that would result in more value remaining in Ghana. In order to shed some light to this new vision, they partnered up with the WUR Science Shop: an exciting project was born, captained by AIM’s director Max Koffi and Margriet Goris as project leader.

This AIM-WUR joint research started off with an ACT project, and further research involving WUR and Ghanaian researchers resulted in a policy brief on the role of Ghanaian returnees in improving the cocoa value chain. Thanks to the project’s momentum, impact that had not been foreseen was reached: Linda Klunder, ACT participant and WUR alumni founded Kumasi Drinks, a company that sells cocoa juice produced from “waste” in the conventional cocoa value chain. Besides, SHAER was born: SHAER stands for Stimulating Healthy African European Relationship and is a network that stems from the connections, understandings and experiences collected throughout this research. As its name indicates, its main goal is to promote strong, equal, and sustainable connections between the continents, in the cocoa value chain and beyond.

This fruitful research project was only missing its final event. One of our main worries during the Covid pandemic has been how to tackle the end of a project. Generally, in Science Shop final events we gather all project participants in a party of some sorts, where results are discussed, all collaborators meet and engage with each other, discuss the topic, share a drink, and envision the impact of the research. For almost one year now we have been asking ourselves if it was even possible to reach the same kind of energy in a socially distanced world, working out ways in which we could make it happen. We could only try our best, and our expectations were exceeded!

This festival included two Ghanaian singers, various speakers, a poem, and an interactive session featuring different breakout rooms and facilitators. Besides presenting the results, there was room for a wider exploration of the topic of African – European relations. We got to listen to students, researchers (Dutch and Ghanaian), entrepreneurs, activists – all invested in the topic and willing to contribute further. By the end of the festival, there was a vibrant energy: participants were hopeful, inspired by the mutual interest in the topic. This festival was, if anything, enriched by its online component: we were able to connect to Ghana in ways that would not have been possible would we have hosted a conventional, offline event.

There is no doubt that this is not the end of this project: we were able to channel inspiration and empowerment into this final event. And we are hoping we can continue channeling these into every final event, no matter how challenging it might be.

The stream of the non-interactive part of the event is available here for those interested.