Written by Liliane Tokoré, Cooperative advisor Ivory Coast
ECAKOOG is a cocoa cooperative in Ivory Coast that has been able to develop itself step by step through its professionalism and its in-house skills, but even more through its capacity to implement capacity-building initiatives from partners like Agriterra.
ECAKOOG was established in 2012 by some cocoa producers with the aim of negotiating a good price for their cocoa production. When it was set up, it had 521 members, including 6 women. Today, the cooperative has 8233 members (including 759 women) and has extended its activities to several areas of Ivory Coast, resulting in the creation of 5 branches. Besides producing cocoa, ECAKOOG has developed itself into an exporter.
The collaboration between Agriterra and ECAKOOG started in 2018. The first action plan with ECAKOOG aimed to support the cooperative in becoming an exporter. To achieve this, Agriterra proposed to ECAKOOG to embark on the path of specialty cocoa production that could allow it to access the international market (Fine Flavor). This proposal was well-received by the cooperative's board of directors.
According to Mr Traore Ousmane, Chairman of ECAKOOG, “Our ambition was to become an exporter. Agriterra helped us to achieve this by enabling us with its expertise in setting up certain sustainability projects, making suggestions for the organisation of the cooperative and helping us get in touch with partners”.
The cooperative has participated in training courses on fine flavour production and organic inputs production, which were delivered by Agriterra’s Agripool experts Mrs Zoi Papalexandratou and Mr Ruben Borge. According to Mrs Gnapié Fidèle, General Secretary of ECAKOOG: “Thanks to training and coaching, we have set up production processes for speciality cocoa and built a centralised fermentation center to process fresh cocoa beans and obtain fine flavour cocoa beans in our fine flavour production project. The cooperative is now producing organic inputs for its members”.
After receiving training in input production, ECAKOOG started to experiment more and more with input production. At present, around 600 producer members use these organic products, and the cooperative’s objective is to supply these inputs to at least 2000 members. This will help increase production.
In addition, the implementation of these projects has partly inspired the drafting and implementation of an internal sustainability programme called ‘Koognanan Cacao’ which include 5 pillars: fine flavour, production of organic cocoa and organic inputs, agroforestry, banking for members, empowerment of women and tackle child labour. This programme was validated by the Coffee-Cocoa Council during the 2022-2023 campaign. This makes ECAKOOG one of the few cooperatives to have its own sustainability programme approved by the Cocoa Council.
ECAKOOG has set up a marketing and communication committee which is involved in market research and communication about the company's activities. And recently, as part of the TAF project with Agriterra and ABC fund, the cooperative was visited by consultant Jeroen Kruft, with whom ECAKOOG received practical training in marketing. Miss Gnapié Fidèle said: “I've taken part in several marketing courses, but this one is all the more interesting because it's so practical. Now I know that there are sites where we can meet potential buyers. I've also learnt some tricks that can help us capture the attention of potential partners in the cooperative.’’
In addition, the cooperative, on the recommendation of the consultant, has decided to hire new staff specialising in communication, who will be able to manage its website and social networks, thereby strengthening its marketing and communication committee. Agriterra has supported ECAKOOG to participate in two exchanges: the Paris Chocolate Fair (2019) and Chocoa in Amsterdam (2020). To promote the cooperative's activities at these fairs, chocolate bars were produced by Ms Zoi Papalexandratou using the cooperative's fine flavour cocoa samples. This action has helped ECAKOOG to become more aware of the different flavours it produces and to work harder to improve them, resulting in its participation in the cocoa select project.
Finally, AGRITERRA has facilitated contacts with financial institutions (RABO Bank, ABC Fund) to seek funding for sourcing. Discussions are well underway. To release the financing, ECAKOOG must obtain and present export contracts. Agriterra has put ECAKOOG in contact with Larive Consortium, where the cooperative was able to meet LONO (a Dutch Ivorian start-up specialised in the production of bio-inputs from waste materials) and benefit from a project to produce organic inputs with them. This project will involve setting up a small compost production unit of 15 tonnes/month.
Agriterra and the cooperative are also working on lobbying and advocacy issues. As an exporter, ECAKOOG has decided to get involved in solving the social problems of its communities. To achieve this, the cooperative used the FACT approach, developed by Agriterra. As a result, ECAKOOG is in the process of drafting smart proposals to be sent to the decision-makers it will have identified following the stakeholder mapping. These actions will make it possible to improve the standard of living of its members and communities and will encourage greater commitment from members.
In terms of prospects for the coming year, ECAKOOG will be focusing on finding export markets for its products but will also be moving toward processing and producing fine flavour chocolate. The role of Agriterra will initially be to help ECAKOOG set up a production process and a chocolate production unit, and then to support them in setting up chocolate promotion and production activities.