Back from the Jungle

Outside the Michelin guide lay the hidden treasures!

Augustine is back after two weeks in the Jungle. As he said: The first time in 20 years that I spent 2 weeks without internet.

The expert eye. Augustine in his element.

And what an incredible, immersive learning experience it has been. Not only were some things validated, some things disproven and some thing surprising, but the village and the farmers have adopted the COOKO idea wholeheartedly.

Farmers quickly started to talk about how their wives could work a rota scheme in the fermentation centre to ensure that the work was distributed equitably. The farmers are very willing to take up and do some of the tasks themselves, that we thought we’d have to do and manage. This is African innovation at it’s best.

So what happened?

The trusty Hilux in its element.

Augustine and a local farm trainer headed off to a town near Konye. As you can see on the satellite image, there really is nothing near there. This is the heart of Cacao country. We are prototyping at the end of the season, yet we were able to ferment over 300Kg of beans.

Source Fermented Cacao beta testing

Our first priority though was not to test our hypothesis, it was to listen and learn from the farmers. This is what we heard:

  1. Cashflow!
    Quite often, farmers at this level only gt paid at the end of the season. We specifically heard from some farmers who had not been paid in 8 months. This creates huge cashflow problems for the farmers. Limiting investments and driving behaviours that work against everybody’s best interest.

    One farmer explained that if a child gets sick and they need to buy medicine, they might harvest some cacao and dry it immediately for two days on a fire (instead of the fermentation process that delivers better quality). This is then sold at scrap value to a middleman, simply to get some cash.

    With COOKO we’ll be taking the beans “wet.” This means a farmer can get a weekly or even daily income. Some co-ops i South America use a similar approach but there is a world of difference when the farmer does not own a pick-up to bring the beans to a central station.
  2. Mobile money
    Cash creates real headaches for everybody involved. OLAM, a big sourcing company, currently has buyers driving around with large sums of cash to pay farmers directly.

    This makes farmers the target for theft and armed robbery. We consistently heard from farmers that they will prefer mobile payments. Even when we are trading out of mobile data coverage, they will use their phones to purchase goods in towns, where cell service is provided.
  3. Whole family thinking
    On the surface it would appear that the average small farm has 3 people working the trees. The farmer has one helper for every 1 to 1.5 ha. As the average small farm is 3 ha they’ll say it is one farmer plus two helpers.

    When you look deeper though you’ll see that the whole family is involved. Currently the beans are sitting on the plot for an average of 10 days. In some cases the beans have to be moved indoors at night for security. Left on the field there is a risk they will be stolen and the farmer will loose everything.

    This is where you’ll see the children and wives moving bags of beans back and forth, not registered as “labour.” During the peak season in October you’ll also see empty schools.

    By taking the beans wet, on day one we’ll eliminate the need for all of this implicit labor.
The bag format gained immediate fame.

The technical tests have also delivered stunning results. Not only the bags, but also the boxes were easy to use and worked really well for first-mile fermentation. On a limited budget we bought aquarium thermometers to monitor the fermentation temperature. An aquarium thermometer will tell you what the highest and lowest temperatures were during the past 24Hrs.

Swimming with thermometers

Why reinvent when you can reapply!

Next week we’ll be giving a bit more feedback on the tests we are running with larger scale farms. The need to improve quality and supply chain transparency is particularly intense for these farms who are shifting upwards of 10 tonnes a season.

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