Cocoa Wars: Can farmers reclaim their power through cooperatives?

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Cocoa War: Farmers vs multinationals

By Estelle Maussion

Posted on Friday, 13 January 2023 09:51
Preparing bags of cocoa beans in the village of Kahin, on the edge of the Scio classified forest in Duékoué, Côte d’Ivoire, 9 February 2018. ©  REUTERS/Luc Gnago

In Côte d'Ivoire, several cocoa growers’ organisations are leading the way by betting on certification and direct relationships with chocolate manufacturers to improve their income. A revolution in the making.

This is part 3 of a 5-part series

“Certification is one of the ways to get exporters to pay us a fair price, which helps improve the farmers’ living conditions,” says Jacques Kouakou, president of the Fiédifoué producers’ cooperative in Daloa, West-Central Côte d’Ivoire.

A pioneer in the field with Fairtrade certification dating back to the early 2000s, the cooperative has inspired several of its colleagues. They include the Méagui Farmers’ Cooperative (ECAM) and the Union of Kimbé Cooperatives (ECOOKIM), both located in the Nawa region (south-west), the heart of the country’s cocoa production.

Real power

Fiédifoué works directly with Cargill, without an intermediary. It negotiates sales contracts over several marketing years. This system strengthens the cooperative and avoids the loss of certification premiums. Its 1,500 farmer members produce more than 3,000 tonnes of certified cocoa beans and all receive between 60 and 69 CFA francs (between 9 and 10 euro cents) per kilogramme in premiums.

This money is reinvested in the community to build schools and rural clinics or to rehabilitate village roads. This is why, according to Kouakou, the cooperatives have real power within the cocoa economy’s value chain. And he believes they will have even more in the future.

It is true that, like the cocoa growers, they remain the weak link in the chain, representing a market share of no more than 5%. But in the cocoa war pitting Africa’s global production leaders – Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – against the giants from main consumer countries, more than ever the producers have an opportunity to carve out space for themselves. They are the driving force behind a sustainability process in which all players in the sector are investing, and which signals a way toward improving farmers’ living conditions.

European standard

The movement, which has been underway for several years, should accelerate under the impetus of a new European standard (due to come into force in 2023 at the earliest) which prohibits the entry into the EU of agricultural products that fail to meet certain standards (e.g. products that lead to deforestation or that involve child labour).

…more than ever the producers have an opportunity to carve out space for themselves.

In this context, Côte d’Ivoire, which exports more than 60% of its bean crop to Europe, is at the forefront. But the chocolate multinationals, which are under pressure from consumers increasingly concerned about the traceability of their bars, are also mobilising, strengthening their partnerships with producers’ agricultural organisations.

  • Putting together a network of well-identified cooperatives;
  • Learning the best cultivation techniques;
  • Focusing on environmental protection and bean quality… all are linked to the payment of premiums.

These programmes have become an obligation for multinationals and chocolate manufacturers. Similarly, exporters need them in order to label their beans through traceability. As a result, over the years, the strongest cooperatives, including Fiédifoué, have managed to impose their presence on these players.

Like Fiédifoué, ECAM, chaired by Assata Doumbia, a cocoa enthusiast who has won several national and international prizes, is also a model. With its 2,400 farmers, this cooperative, whose entire production line is Fairtrade certified, has come a long way since its creation in 2004, claiming a turnover of 5.5bn CFA francs (nearly €8.4m).

From its stronghold in Méagui, in the heart of the Nawa region, ECAM works with two exporters: Ocean, which supplies Ferrero and the Dutch chocolate maker Tony’s Chocolonely, and ECOM, which supplies Mondelez.

While the latter is the cooperative’s historical client, PCA Doumbia is particularly satisfied with its relationship with Tony’s: a five-year purchase contract, premiums paid directly by the chocolate maker to the cooperative, regular visits and transparent processes.

Fair trade

Having used certification as a lever for growth, ECAM also intends to invest in improving its yields, aiming to increase from the current 547kg per hectare to 800kg or even one tonne per hectare.

The cooperative is also aiming for more than 80% of beans sold under the fair trade label – which corresponds to a premium of 200 CFA francs per kilo – compared to 30% today. Some 50 members have started to grow organic cocoa, forerunners of the agroecological transition called for by many stakeholders.

Similarly, the ECOOKIM cooperative, led by Mamadou Bamba, is a benchmark for sustainability. It brings together more than 30,000 producers working some 96,000 hectares. With its numerous certifications, the cooperative receives premiums, a good part of which is paid back to the farmers, the rest being invested at the group level to modernise its facilities, train its members and improve local infrastructure.

  • The seriousness of the growers’ organisations,
  • Trusted long-term relationships with buyers,
  • Elimination of intermediaries

These have been the main keys to the ‘cooperatives’ success. Although these good practices have yet to benefit the majority of Ivorian cocoa farmers, the Conseil Café Cacao, (CCC), the sector’s regulator is lobbying to extend them to the country’s one million producers.

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