As the avid followers of COOKO will have noticed, things have been quiet on the media front. This has primarily been due to the pace at which things are progressing. Since our last posting we can share a few highlights with you…
The taste of hard work
It is quite funny when you set off on a dream, one hardly thinks of the taste! Here is Augustine tasting chocolate made from COOKO beans for the first time.
From our conversations with farmers and the co-creating work done last year, we knew that we had the potential to impact their livelihoods. What was not exactly certain was the impact we’d have on the cocoa beans.
As cocoa is a foodstuff, taste and safety play the most important roles when designing interventions in the post harvesting and processing phases. No matter how good the traceability technology, it is useless if it degrades the quality of the cocoa.
This is one of the reasons we started by looking at the physical and chemical impact of our approach on the bean quality, before defining the final scope on the IoT sensors.
Playing with pioneers
When you embark on the adventure to redefine an industry, it helps if you have the support of pioneers and forward thinkers. Since starting fieldwork in 1998, Dr. Silke Elwers, has been on a mission to transform the cocoa industry for good. Working on every aspect of the cocoa value chain, she has built fermentation centres, shaped reforestation projects and most recently driven quality and sustainability from inside the confectioner Lubeca.
Fortunately Lubeca has given Silke the scope to be innovative and explore new approaches to sustainability in the cocoa value chain. Silke’s pioneering spirit was quick to notice that what we were doing was novel and important. Being a scientist, she wanted to test the beans in-house in order to see the data speak. Silke was quick to analyse and report on the impacts our process is having on cocoa quality.
Based on the analysis we were quickly able to verify the potential and parameters of the approach. Looking at the extended fermentation process, we as a team now have a better understanding of the acidity and flavour factors our traceability solution impacts.
Innovation meets tradition
They say it takes a village to raise a child and it certainly takes a team effort to change an industry. After getting initial positive results (and excellent tasting chocolate) from Lubeca’s testing facility, we approached the fine chocolatier Rausch for further advice and assistance.
Rausch is one of the most respected chocolatiers in Europe. The family owned company is now being led by the fifth generation Rausch. To say they have chocolate running through their veins is an understatement.
When Augustine and I started planning for our field research last April, we studied the fieldwork of Rausch with awe. Their custom made field laboratory in Costa Rica set the high water mark in terms of cocoa field engagement. We could only dream of such things.
Little did we think that one year later we’d be sending a mad scientist Brazilian to exactly that facility to conduct research that could change the industry for ever.
Dr. Christina Rohsius is not only the head of quality and research at Rausch, she is one of the most respected scientists in the field. Having conducted thousands of studies on cocoa fermentation and developed multiple programs across South America to train farmers and improve farming practice, there is little that Christina does not know about cocoa.
Intrigued by our initial results, Dr. Rohsius wanted to take a closer look, under the controlled conditions of the Rausch test farm. We are currently waiting for the flavour tests that will be conducted in the next two months, but all process data indicates that we are onto something.
Costa Rica is famous for its lifestyle and wonderful climate. Unfortunately Luiz didn’t get to experience much of the country as he headed straight to the Tres Equis farm for testing. The 600 kg of beans was quickly split into different batches as we established a baseline control and 3 experimental flows.
Besides running the tests, Luiz was able to observe the contrasts between African and South American farming practice first hand.
It is amazing to see how this simple innovation not only does away with the dangerous machete hacking but significantly improves the speed at which pods are broken. This again proves that you don’t need a lot of money or complicated solutions to change behaviour.
Farmers are curios, creative but above all, business people who understand how productivity affects their incomes. There is little room for complexity and fluff. Working with farmers and finding innovation at source is our DNA.
And to close it off we are ready to inject a little IoT technology into the mix. Our friends at PI Labs jumped in to support the development of our IoT sets. It fills us with great pride to see a “Source Fermented®” PCB.
Now that we have substantial evidence that our process is compatible with food standards, and may even enhance the cocoa flavours in some cases, it is time to prove the case on 1st Mile traceability.
Helping us debug and refine the circuit design, PI Labs made their workshop available for the hack/build that will now go to the field. It has been a year since the inception of the idea, but now we have all key points in place to change the cocoa industry for good.
Our key aim right now is to pilot in real life conditions in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Brazil or a dedicated part of a partner’s supply chain.
Growing with your customers is the most sustainable way to grow a business. Watch this space as we take the next step in bringing COOKO into the lives of farmers.
Feel free to reach out to us if you’d like to know more or take part in one of our pilot studies.