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Making a difference in cocoa: A new crop of leaders graduates from the Coop Academy

With their diplomas in hand, recent graduates from Cargill’s on-the-job development program for cocoa cooperative managers are set to transform their businesses, bring sustainable products to world markets and help their communities prosper.

December 12, 2022

For Kouamé Kouamé Tani, the decision to join the Cargill Coop Academy was an easy one. As the son of a cocoa farmer, he had learned the trade from a young age. But after he got a degree in accounting and became a director at a cocoa cooperative, he couldn’t help but notice that the neighboring cooperatives were somehow more successful.

The difference? They participated in the Coop Academy.

The next step was immediately clear to Kouame. “They had reached a stage of development and influence that I could only dream of, so I wanted our cooperative to participate to begin developing more rapidly.”

“Cargill helped us flourish”

Today, Kouamé’s operation is growing at a healthy pace, and it’s just one of many. Launched in 2013, the Coop Academy has so far graduated 700 leaders from 70 cooperatives, with another 700 expected to receive diplomas by the end of 2023. 71% percent of these graduates’ cooperatives under the Cargill Cocoa Promise are now rated as professional, up from 18% before their participation in the Coop Academy.

“We have benefited from all the training and support programs since we started,” said Camille Abou Oi Abou, who leads the Camaye cocoa cooperative. “Cargill helped us to stand out, to flourish and always remain at a high level.”

To celebrate the program’s continued success, Cargill and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) recently held a graduation ceremony for the first class of coop leaders to complete the renewed Coop Academy.

“Continuing to sustainably strengthen the cocoa industry is crucial for growth and job creation in Cȏte d’Ivoire as the sector recovers from the Covid-19 shock and faces new compounding challenges,” said Charlotte Ndaw, IFC’s Acting Country Manager for Cȏte d’Ivoire. “The IFC, GAFSP, and Cargill partnership has a significant impact to equip farmers with the professional skills and financial support to strengthen their activity and shape a brighter and more sustainable future for Cȏte d’Ivoire’s most important economic sector.”

The program isn’t just limited to the everyday job of running a cocoa business. Significant attention also goes to gender equity and community development.

The Coop Academy has helped women set up income-generating activities of their own, which elevates their roles and helps communities strengthen their overall economic viability. More than 2,200 women have taken part in the community development program – and 95% saw their incomes increase.

When you put it all together, the business side falls into place, the community comes together and things get done, said Kouame Kouame Tani. “We had to be methodical and not rush people. But when everyone knows what they are supposed to do, things run smoothly and communication becomes easy.”

Resilient communities

Over almost a decade now, the Coop Academy has been a boost for thousands of farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere in West Africa, significantly increasing their ability to get their cocoa to world markets.

“These cooperative leaders are now equipped to build more profitable and sustainable businesses,” said Lionel Soulard, managing director for Cargill’s cocoa and chocolate business in West Africa, speaking at the Coop Academy’s graduation ceremony. Ivorian government dignitaries and representatives from Cargill, IFC and other partner organizations were in attendance to honor the alumni for their hard work.

The IFC-Cargill program also 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. Thus far, the project has enrolled over 120 Cargill cooperatives and connected close to 25,000 farmers.

In the end, it adds up to thriving cooperatives, stable local economies and resilient communities, Lionel Soulard said. “Together, we’re creating a more professional cocoa industry,  delivering to these cooperative leaders direct benefits to their 130,000 farmers that will ripple through rural economies.”

This initiative, carried out with the support of the Cȏte d’Ivoire government and other technical partners, showcases how Cargill partners with key stakeholders drive sector transformation and economic growth, building sustainable, local agri-food businesses in origin countries. Other evidence of this commitment includes the company’s recently completed US$100 million expansion of its cocoa processing facilities in Yopougon, which created 100 full-time local jobs, and its pledge to invest US$13 million this year in expanded and new programming aimed at creating stronger, more resilient cocoa-farming communities in Cȏte d’Ivoire.

More about the Coop Academy program