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By his own admission, Kouassi Yao Hervey’s cocoa cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire used to be in total disarray: The division of labor was unclear, the cooperative’s finances were opaque at best, and “everyone stepped on each other’s toes,” he recalls.

That all started to change in 2016, when Hervey enrolled in the Cargill Coop Academy, an educational program for cocoa cooperative managers that attendees describe as a cross between a mini-MBA and an organizational boot camp.

What followed—a transformation he likens to a “rebirth”—has allowed his cooperative’s bean production to grow by more than 130 percent in just two years. “The Coop Academy compelled us to build a structure, which not only changed our lives, but also the lives of the farmers,” says Hervey, who is chairman of his cooperative’s Board of Directors.

Cooperatives that received training have become more profitable and sustainable, benefiting dozens of rural communities.

The Academy, which is supported by IFC in partnership with leading cocoa company Cargill, has reached an estimated 52,000 farmers across Côte d’Ivoire since it was launched in 2013, training more than 850 cooperative leaders. A pilot launched in 2016 as part of the program is also allowing farmers to receive cocoa premium payments digitally—a process that has removed cash from the process and, in doing so, provided safety to thousands of cooperative staff and members.

These programs—the first of their kind—are now being scaled up with support from the Private Sector Window of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) in partnership with the governments of Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The Academy will reach an estimated 140 cooperatives and 140,000 farmers. The digital payment component has already benefited 10,000 farmers and is expected to reach a total of 60,000 in the next few years.

“In just a few years, the cooperatives we’ve trained have become more profitable and more sustainable, which has helped farmers, changed lives, and created positive impacts on dozens of rural communities,” says Lionel Soulard, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate's managing director for West Africa. “We’re creating a virtuous cycle: cooperatives have become more professional and so farmers have put more trust in them. As a result, the cooperatives play an increasingly important role in the community.”

The Cargill Coop Academy has reached about 52,000 farmers since its launch in 2013, training more than 850 cooperative leaders.

According to Soulard, the expansion, called Coop Academy 2.0, will allow cooperative leaders the opportunity to grow their skillset and receive training in digital finance, sustainability, and navigating commercial credit systems, while also increasing traceability and security. The programs are also tailored to train and coach women leaders in the cocoa sector and bring participants to “the next level of professionalism and traceability,” he says.

“Visible and Measurable” Improvements

The next phase of the project ramps up IFC’s efforts to focus on professionalization, gender, and digital payments at a larger scale. Women—who have traditionally been excluded from access to training, inputs, and education within the cocoa sector—will receive entrepreneurship training and women's group leaders will receive additional training and coaching on group management and group-level entrepreneurship. They will learn ways to generate income, both individually and as formal groups, and increase their collaboration with the local cocoa cooperatives.

According to Soulard, the success of the cooperatives has been significant: The ScopeInsight Basic assessment tool, co-developed by IFC and SCOPEInsight, an independent agricultural ratings agency, to measure professionalism in cooperatives, found that nearly three-quarters improved their professionalism, with an average score increase of about 20 percent. Also, many cooperatives have become autonomous, and four are now direct exporters, because professionalizing them has given them tools to drive their own economic growth and sustainability. In a country where the agricultural sector accounts for around 20 percent of GDP and nearly 50 percent of the workforce, most of whom are small farmers, the potential is enormous.

“The changes made were visible and measurable immediately,” says Kouassi Kra, a cocoa farmer and cooperative leader who graduated from Cargill Academy in 2017. Kra remembers watching new trucks whiz by his small farm, marveling at their speed and efficiency, and dreaming of opportunities that seemed beyond reach. Because of his participation in the program, Kra’s cooperative became eligible to acquire new trucks through a three-year leasing deal, structured through a facility supported by GAFSP in which lending risks are jointly shared by Cargill, IFC, and the Société Ivoirienne de Banque (SIB), one of the country’s largest banks.

The program, called Doni Doni (“step by step” in the Dioula language) provides affordable interest rates and has helped ease the logistical nightmare that had plagued many smallholder farmers as they struggled to get their cocoa beans to market. Close to 90 cooperatives have leased 268 new vehicles, which has meant fewer breakdowns and lower fuel costs.

“Of course, our cooperative existed before Coop Academy, but now, a beautiful internal and external revolution has taken place,” Kra says. “Today, we are destined for development and success.”

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Published in September 2019