Saõ Tomé’s Story

Take a tropical island paradise, a flourishing cocoa producer and a group of people determined to improve the lives of others and you get Cafédirect’s empowering story of its involvement with the people of Saõ Tomé & Principe.

What an amazing place! Saõ Tomé & Principe are a set of two stunning islands just off the west coast of Africa. Saõ Tomé & Principe looks every part a tropical paradise. It’s covered in lush rainforests, amazingly fertile soil and hundreds of beautiful and rare species of bird and animals. Saõ Tomé (the larger of the two islands) measures just 30miles long by 20miles across making it the second smallest country in Africa. It is however, also one of the poorest countries in the world and listed as one of the least developed countries by the UN (

Saõ Tomé has had a tough history. Despite becoming the leading producer of Cocoa back in the 1800s, gaining the nickname “Chocolate Island”, Saõ Tomé was governed by slave and forced labour. These days, farmers now own their own land, but the heritage of exploitation still continues. Middlemen are now the ones taking advantage, buying wet Cocoa (unprocessed pulp) at as little as 7p a tonne and selling to the world market at a far higher price.  This has brought great frustration to the Cocoa farmers of Saõ Tomé, they know that they are exploited but don’t have the skills or expertise to escape.

Cafédirect saw the situation of the farmers as something they really wanted to help change. So when they started looking for a cocoa producer for their new luxury instant hot chocolate, Saõ Tomé was the obvious choice. Cafédirect works with the local producers personally, rather than just buying off the Fairtrade global market. They have helped them gain a fair price for their crop, as well as improve the living standards of producers and the communities in which they live. This means that farmers like José Esperansa, who were trapped selling to middlemen are now empowered to not just think about surviving from day to day but plan for the future.

All of this has taken a lot of work from both Cafédirect and the producers. Not all the farmers wanted to sign up as they felt it was a big risk to change from what they knew and would mean a lot more work. But for those that did sign up Cafédirect have worked to help the farmers learn how to ferment and dry the cocoa. This alone has helped the farmers to gain 5 times as much income as they did before! They have also got farmers working together so that they collectively have enough cocoa to export. They even have two tractors to help move the cocoa from each farm to a new drying and processing plant set up by Cafédirect. All this means that cocoa producers in Saõ Tomé now not only have trade links with Cafédirect but also have access to the world market as a certified Fairtrade producer. Farmers don’t just have to rely on Cafédirect for their trade but are now able to gain access to the world market themselves.

The links with Cafédirect aren’t just good news for the 750 farmers signed up, but also the communities in which they live. Cafédirect is committed to re-investing 50% of its profits into projects like Saõ Tomé and the communities they are part of. Life still has its challenges but both the cocoa producers of Saõ Tomé and Cafédirect look to the future optimistic that they will continue to not just sustain themselves but also grow in the world market. That’s where you come in! By buying their amazingly yummy instant hot chocolate you get the satisfaction of knowing you are not just supporting Fairtrade but also helping a whole country farm its way out of poverty.

Photos kindly supplied by Cafédirect.

Fairtrade products have amazing stories. Find your story in our Fairtrade section here. Find out more about Fairtrade Fortnight.

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