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Cargill Coop Academy helps upskill West African cocoa farmers

On the occasion of the 2018 International Day of Cooperatives, read on to learn more about how Cargill works to help farmer organizations thrive.

July 09, 2018

In Cote d’Ivoire, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate sources 99 percent of its cocoa from farmer cooperatives – over 100 of them, to be precise. As the saying goes, there’s strength in numbers. When smallholder farmers gather together in a cooperative, they are able to pool their know-how, experience and resources, in order to gain greater access to markets and finance and improve their livelihoods.

At their best, professionally-run cooperatives can deliver a high-level service rooted in transparency and sustainability, which makes sourcing from them more efficient. It’s also an effective way for us to deliver on the Cargill Cocoa Promise; our commitment to improving the lives of cocoa farmers and their communities.

In West Africa, many farmer cooperatives lack advanced business skills and technology, which hampers their ability for long-term profit and growth. That’s why Cargill created the Coop Academy, a mini-MBA program designed to professionalize the running and management of West African farmer cooperatives.

Created in 2013, in partnership with IFC advisory services and TechnoServe, the program has so far trained nearly 600 leaders from 140 cooperatives in Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon. And a new recently conducted review of Coop Academy, which was commissioned by IFC which also conducted the research with SCOPEinsight, a business intelligence organization, shows that 75 percent of the participating cooperatives have improved their professionalism, which means that they have improved their financial and organizational management. Furthermore, a total of 54 cooperative leaders and 35 staff members of the program partners and stakeholders demonstrated a robust understanding of the curriculum.

So far, working with business intelligence organization SCOPEinsight, we have assessed 78 of the participating cooperatives as part of the program. Only 6 percent of these could be considered professional before their exposure to the Coop Academy; that number has climbed to 36 percent subsequently, and overall, 75% of the cooperatives improved their professionalism. The review has also shown that the more professional the cooperatives are, the more they have access to growth opportunities. The most professionalized organizations were, on average, 20 to 30 percent more likely to receive larger loans from financial institutions.

However, the overall level of financial management and performance of farmer cooperatives remains low. Cooperatives’ finances are often poorly managed and documented. This means they are seen as a higher risk by banks. Even if they do gain access the finance, the cost of credit is often higher than average as a result which can severely hamper cooperatives’ ability to scale up or invest in their business operations. The next step is for Cargill to work with partners to improve cooperative management systems through improved technological solutions.

Investing in the Cargill Coop Academy is key to achieving the Cargill Cocoa Promise 2030 Goals, which align with the UN SDGs. By championing professional farming practices in partnership with relevant experts and industry leaders, we can accelerate the shift towards a more sustainable cocoa sector overall.