In November 2021 we formed a consortium with C-Lever.org and the Wageningen University. This collaboration was called into life to answer a call for proposals issued by IDH and ONCC (The National Cocoa and Coffee Board of Cameroon).
Over the past years, IDH has been facilitating a process with ONCC to accelerate the national agenda towards deforestation free cocoa. This is a comprehensive program including multiple work-streams and partners to fundamentally establish a sustainable, long term future for the industry in Cameroon.
After presenting COOKO to ONCC in September 2021, interest was piqued by our innovative approach of bringing traceability to the point of harvest. ONCC was interested in finding out what this approach and way of thinking about traceability would mean for a national system.
The Transparent Collective Voice Consortium (T-CV.C) was born and awarded the project on the 22nd of December. So while most people were celebrating Christmas, we were writing an inception report for presentation to the government.
On the 28th of December we shared our detailed project approach, which, if you know COOKO, started with the farmers. Our team of international experts started arriving in Cameroon from the 15th of January and immediately started engaging with the farming communities around Ntui.
We were very fortunate to secure the support of Design Thinking veteran Alex Grots (co-founder of IDEO Munich and pro-glove plus long standing partner in Impact week). Verina Ingram and Augustine immediately helped familiarise Alex with the local processes and farming practice in preparation for our co-creation workshops.
The primary workshops with farmers were divided into two sections. On the first two days we used post-its, storytelling and large whiteboards to draw out insights and narratives around traceability. Most important was an understanding of how farmers culturally translate the concept of traceability and a relevant way to themselves: “when I buy medicine for my kids I want to know where it comes from.”
The farmers were then given a week to create a drama theatre production in which they would enact their vision for traceability from the farm. For the second round we invited representatives from ONCC, IDH and the ministry of commerce to join the audience.
The farmers exceeded our expectations! Dressed to the nines, we were entertained by a humorous and extremely insightful play of cocoa farming, processing and selling. The small details were particularly enlightening:
– the role of women in pod-breaking and first mile traceability
– the social role of non-licensed buyers
– the fluid changing of roles for individuals from farmer, to labourer to trader
– the motivations and dynamics between farmers and coops.
As they say, if a photo says a thousand words, a prototype explains a thousand photos. By letting the farmers drive the narrative we were given a rich world of insight to the constraints, frustrations and opportunities contained in the first mile dynamics.
Co-creation along the value chain may start with the farmers but we quickly followed up with interviews and workshops with certifications authorities like Rainforest Alliance, traders like Olam, NGO’s and other players in the value chain.
Like the five blind men describing an elephant, the different points of access and motivations painted vastly different pictures about the challenges and reality of traceability in the cocoa value chain. Our task was to piece together the different scraps of information and understand the motivations behind the current state of affairs.
Our core thesis from the beginning was that we could only achieve aligned action through aligned incentives.
Every player along the value chain is simply trying their best, based on what they know and where they see opportunity. Often that perspective obscures the meaning and importance of an overarching goal like traceability.
This is where the work that Karl H Richter did on sustainability financing at the UN and the current work they are doing on calculating scope 3 emissions in the value chain comes in. Essentially all economic activity contribute to a carbon ledger. If we look at it that way, the farmers and first mile activities become the most productive in terms of carbon capture and sequestration.
This got us thinking about inverting the current paradigm on incentives. By building incentives around the sustainability and social impact work of farmers, we can see the value chain as actualisers of the value being created. In essence, the farmer needs the buyer to bring their CO2 savings to market. To explain this we coined the phrase: Impact Value Adjustment.
The value of a commodity is adjusted according to the environmental, social or governance impact it has on the system.
This requires financial traceability first and foremost.
Patrick Stoop and the C-lever.org team provided exceptional context based on the work they had done on traceability systems across West Africa, and the database of traceability solutions they are building for GIZ. The importance of establishing financial traceability is also being highlighted in the experiences of the Ivory Coast, who have done more work than most to map out farm polygons. The geographic information by itself is simply not enough.
Once the cornerstones were laid we went through a series of presentations. Our interim report in February expanded the concept of traceability to include farm creation. We also addressed the real world issue of risk adjusted monitoring based on due diligence requirements.
With the core concepts adopted it was all hands on deck for the final presentation, held in the fabulous Mount Febe hotel in Yaounde, at the start of April. The pragmatic approach, incorporating elements of the World Bank’s iD4D program, ensured that we honour and include the contributions of all value chain actors. A collaboration that fosters data sharing and interoperability standards.
A system defined as the way in which people collaborate, rather than the code running through silicone chips.
We were then again, very honoured to present and share this approach during the EU/Cameroon Cocoa Talks on 7 and 8 June in Douala. A focus on the bits that connect and amplify the voices of all actors, requiring a clear focus to align and achieve implementation by 2025.
For COOKO this has been a fantastic opportunity to show how we can break out of the “faster horses” paradigm when it comes to traceability. How an identification and alignment of incentives can help reshape the institutions and habits of an entire industry. We are staying close to the discussion to ensure that our focus on delivering traceability that works for farmers finds a place and scales for real impact.
Please feel free to reach out if you’d like any more details or would like to participate in our next field pilots.