Five primary co-operatives came together on 26 August 2004 to form the Entreprise Coopérative Kimbre, known as ECOOKIM.
ECOOKIM is a union of seven primary co-operatives located in rural communities across four regions of Côte d’Ivoire. Its members produce cocoa and coffee for export which is sold exclusively to ECOOKIM.
Under pressure from the World Bank and IMF, Côte d’Ivoire began dismantling state control and liberalizing its cocoa and coffee sectors in 1999. The government put in place policies and legislation to organise and promote development of the co-operative movement to strengthen the position of small-scale producers in the international market. Despite these incentives, the co-operative movement failed to be reinvigorated, generally remaining ineffective and operating in a fragmented and uncoordinated manner. Many co-operatives were failing to actively purchase and market their members’ crops or provide technical support and other services.
A group of co-operative managers, themselves the sons of smallholders, were convinced that the future of cocoa and coffee lay in farmers working together to improve their incomes and living conditions, rather than individually. They decided to take on the challenge of creating an effective co-operative union based on true co-operative principles and working with farmers, including their own parents, who were enthusiastic about being part of an effective organisation that aimed to ensure farmers received a greater share of the profits from their crops.
ECOOKIM’s member co-operatives are located in regions that attract high numbers of immigrants from neighbouring countries including Mali, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria looking for economic opportunities. The regions typically have high unemployment and poor healthcare, with environmental problems such as deforestation, soil degradation and water pollution. The unstable political situation in Côte d’Ivoire causes intermittent political unrest – most recently, the post-election civil war of 2011 disrupted cocoa exports and pushed world cocoa prices to record levels.
This part of Côte d’Ivoire has a humid, tropical climate with an average temperature of 26°C throughout the year. Annual rainfall is between 1,200 and 1,800 mm, distributed throughout the year but highest between June and July and lowest between December and March. The regions’ extensive vegetation and forest cover is under pressure from human activities such as agriculture and logging. The rich soil is ideal for growing a wide range of food crops including plantain, cassava, yam, rice, maize and groundnuts (peanuts). The cultivation of rubber and palm oil is increasing, but cocoa and coffee are the major cash crops, accounting for more than half of all cultivated land. Animal husbandry is a secondary economic activity for many farmers.
Farming families have 15 members on average with 10 working on the farm and four in other employment such as rearing livestock, handicrafts and small businesses. Cocoa is vital to ECOOKIM members, providing 70 per cent of their incomes. But many of their cocoa trees are now old and diseased and need replacing. Coffee is also grown as a cash crop along with maize, rice yam and bananas for family consumption. Living conditions are extremely rudimentary: basic one-room buildings or small three-room houses at best with straw roofs, four to six people per room and without clean water or electricity. Farmers have no access to loans to invest in their farms or improve their living conditions.
Poor local infrastructure is an ongoing problem. Roads are poorly maintained and vulnerable to flooding in the rainy season; the nearest health centre is typically 10km to 15km away and the nearest hospital 15km to 30km; children travel 10km to 30km to attend primary school and 40km to 70km if they are fortunate enough to go to secondary school.
The cocoa year runs from October to September with the main harvest between October and March, a mid-crop from April to June and a smaller crop from July to September. After harvest, the cocoa beans are piled in heaps to ferment then laid out in the sun to dry for a week or more. They are then packed in sacks and taken to the co-op warehouse for storage. The beans are finally delivered to ECOOKIM where they are checked for quality, payment vouchers issued and the beans processed and packed ready for export. Deductions are made from farmers’ payments for general operating costs, storage, processing, packing, transport, taxes, shipping and other export costs.
ECOOKIM members have a production capacity of around 7,000 tonnes a year but this varies according to weather conditions, fertiliser applications and incidence of pests and disease. Supply can also be disrupted by external factors such as the post-election conflict that contributed to a reduced crop of 2500 tonnes in 2010/11. Of the 7,020 tonnes produced in 2012/13, 3,154 tonnes were sold to Fairtrade buyers and 3,866 tonnes to the conventional market.
Primary co-operatives employ a few permanent office staff, supplemented by temporary staff at busy times. Farms generally rely on family labour but employ a few seasonal farm workers at harvest time.
The general strategy of the union is to build the capacity of its members and coordinate their commercial activities. Strategies to achieve this include:
- Co-ordination and support for the marketing, processing and export of coffee, cocoa and other crops produced by members
- Providing relevant professional services cooperatives need by members to carry out their businesses
- The supply of farm inputs and machinery to members
- Advocacy on behalf of member cooperatives with administrative authorities and other development agencies
- Acquire funding and technical assistance necessary for the economic and social development of members.
Specific services include:
- Providing loans to cooperatives
- Providing farm equipment such as machetes and sacks
- Providing training in agricultural techniques for quality control in harvesting, shelling, fermenting, drying, packing and storage
- Training in business management and the philosophy of the cooperative movement
- Analysis of cocoa quality with technical support from partners Zamacom.
ECOOKIM also provides social support to members such as:
- Construction of a school at Dibobly
- Assisting members with healthcare costs
- Providing hospital transport for seriously ill patients
- Assistance with funeral costs and arrangements.
The General Assembly (GA) is the union’s highest decision making body and is made up of all co-operative members. An eleven-member Board of Directors is elected every three years and is responsible for implementing decisions made by the GA. The board appoints a management team to oversee the day-to-day running of ECOOKIM. Each primary co-operative is similarly managed by a Board of Directors responsible for implementing decisions made by their respective GA.
The cocoa production of the seven co-operatives was Fairtrade certified in September 2010. The cooperatives have 3,620 members whose average farm is 6.3 ha. They grow cocoa on a total of 22,800 ha and are spread across four regions of Côte d’Ivoire:
- CAPEDIG, SOUTRA co-operatives in Moyen Cavally region
- CAKIB in Bas-Sassandra
- ECOJAD, CAVA, CPR-CANAAN in Haut-Sassaandra
- KAPATCHIVA in Marahoué
The key benefits and provisions of Fairtrade standards are:
An additional Fairtrade Premium of $200/tonne for investment in community, business and environmental projects.
- An additional Fairtrade Premium of $200/tonne for investment in community, business and environmental projects
- An extra $300/tonne for Fairtrade Certified organic cocoa beans
- Pre-finance (credit) of up to 60 per cent of the purchase price on request
- Promotion of long-term trading partnerships and equitable business relationships in the trading process
- Environmental standards that promote sound agricultural practices and environmental stewardship focusing on minimised and safe use of agrochemicals, proper and safe management of waste, maintenance of soil fertility and water resources, no use of genetically modified organisms
- Forced labour and child labour are prohibited.
The volatility of cocoa prices on world markets makes it hard for farmers to predict their income, plan production and make long-term investment decisions. Fairtrade ensures cocoa producers receive a sustainable price and additional premium to invest in business and community projects.
ECOOKIM made its first Fairtrade sales in 2011, selling 375 tonnes from the 2010/11 crop to the Fairtrade market, This increased to 3,154 tonnes in 2012/13. The Fairtrade Premium from these sales is distributed to the primary co-ops where the General Assembly of members decide how it will be used.
Recent projects include:
- Construction of two central warehouses to serve KAPATCHIVA, KAPATCHIVA and SOUTRA cooperatives, each with staff offices and facilities to store and pack cocoa beans ready for export.
- Purchase of a truck by CAPEDIG cooperative for the collection and delivery of coffee beans.
- Provision of organic fertilisers to increase the sustainability of cocoa production.
- Disease control, provision of pesticides, spraying equipment and personal protective equipment,
- Training programmes to improve productivity and quality.
- Payments above the minimum wage for cooperative employees.
- Programmes to raise awareness of child labour issues.
Despite government initiatives, cooperatives still have many organisational and financial difficulties. The establishment of the ECOOKIM union is a framework for the development of marginalized producers through the production and marketing of cocoa and coffee. The Fairtrade market represents real hope for the business and organisational development of member co-operatives and the economic development of their communities.