Digitizing Côte d’Ivoire’s Cocoa Farmers

June 12, 2023

By Devon Maylie

Every morning Kouassi Adjhoua Bertine, a 41-year-old mother of five, travels six kilometers by foot to her cocoa fields in Lakota, Côte d’Ivoire.

“My work is cocoa,” Bertine said while breaking cocoa pods with her neighbors on her allotted two hectares of land.

The income generated from cocoa is critical for Bertine, her family and her community. She uses it to pay her children’s school fees and to support her parents.

“If we get a good year and we’ve had some rain, I can harvest up to three-tons a year,” she said.

Kouassi Adjhoua Bertine, a 41-year-old mother of five, is a smallscale cocoa farmer in Lakota, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: Eric Biantuadi / IFC.

After spending the day in her field, Bertine carries the cocoa beans home on her head to ferment and dry before traveling to the cooperative to sell her product. Traditionally, she would get cash from the cooperatives, exposing her to risks and theft on her trip home from the cooperative located five kilometers away from her house. Now, she gets paid directly for her cocoa through her phone.

Cocoa is one of Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest exports and almost half of all jobs are in the sector. Much of it is farmed by small-scale farmers, living in remote areas. The sector is also largely cash-based for farmers and their cooperatives.

While harvesting cocoa is hard work, a new program is trying to make sure getting paid isn’t a challenge for small scale farmers like Bertine. The program is helping funds to flow digitally between farmers, cooperatives and cocoa companies. To do this, mobile network operator MTN Cote d’Ivoire, mobile money company Wave, pan-African fintech specializing in payment solutions InTouch, and international cocoa and chocolate producing company Cargill teamed up with the support of IFC to help digitize the cocoa value chain in Côte d’Ivoire.

The program, which is supported by the Private Sector Window of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), aims to reduce cash management risks in the cocoa value chain by digitizing payments between cocoa cooperatives and farmers through digital solutions such as mobile money wallets.

The project has enrolled over 110 Cargill cooperatives and connected close to 30,000 farmers through partnerships with MTN, Wave, and InTouch. IFC is also providing technical assistance to help set-up a digital payment platform between Cargill and banks that will allow cooperatives to fully automate payments.

Empowering Smallholder Farmers

Smallholder farmers in Africa manage as much as 80 percent of farmland and yet they are largely excluded from financial services. An estimated 1 percent of bank lending in Africa is allocated to the agriculture sector.  Farmers lack access to savings, insurance, and payments services. Access to digital banking is a critical first step to bridge the finance gap for the agriculture sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how critical it is to ensure value chains are digitally linked.

“You can send money, you can save and earn interest, you can borrow money, you can pay bills and school fees and you can pay online too. You can send money throughout the sub-region, to Burkina, Mali, Niger and Senegal, and it’s very easy,” said Etienne Ardon, MTN’s former Director of Mobile Money for Côte d’Ivoire and now currently working on fintech development for the telecom.

Additionally, the collaboration with Wave and InTouch are giving farmers choice on what service provider they want to use, providing farmers and cooperatives more flexibility while enhancing access to payment digitization. The digital payments not only smooth the way for farmers and cooperatives, they also provide more transparency. And cocoa processors and exporters like Cargill are vital in the value chain digitization process.

“Chocolate consumers want reassurance about where the cocoa comes from, whether it impacted the environment, whether farmers lived in decent conditions, whether child labor was involved. So, at Cargill, we have developed technological tools to put this digitization and traceability in place,” said Lionel Soulard, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate's managing director for West Africa.

Cocoa pods waiting to be harvested in Lakota, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: Eric Biantuadi / IFC.

Digital Supply Chains and Coops with mini-MBAs

For cocoa cooperative Entreprise Cooperative Agricole Koognanan De Grogouya (ECAKOOG), the new digital product not only helps its farmers but also its own operations. ECAKOOG previously had two robberies due to the amount of cash that flows through its operations, especially during the busiest harvest months.

“Now we don’t always have to have cash on us to pay the producers,” said Yapi Bénédicte Fidelle, a cocoa farmer and Secretary General of ECAKOOG.

The digital banking and mobile money access also mean one less trip for Bertine.

“It means that you can access the money that they pay you easily. Whereas if it’s in the bank, you have to travel there to withdraw it, and you won’t do that every day…So it’s better now. It’s good,” she said.

Published June 2023