Esoko and the Chocolate Factory

By October 2, 2014 No Comments

prestatThe UK’s premiere chocolatier, Prestat, is committed to trading fairly. So what does that mean in practice? They’re currently funding a partnership between Cocoa Abrabopa and Esoko in Ghana, sending SMS messages to 1,000 cocoa farmers with market prices, weather forecasts and agricultural advice. Here, Prestat’s co-owner shares his thoughts on the intervention and the industry after a recent visit.

"Prestat Bill" with Ben Gyan Kesse from Cocoa Abrabopa and Doris from CSIR.

“Prestat Bill” with Ben Gyan Kesse from Cocoa Abrabopa and Doris from CSIR.

I’m Bill Keeling and I am the co-owner of Prestat which is a 112 year old chocolate company. Prestat is based in London and its founding family created the chocolate truffle. A lot has changed in the chocolate world in the last century but an awful lot has not. Cocoa continues to be grown mostly by smallholder subsistence farmers in West Africa and I visited Ghana to see if changes in supply chain management and information technology – as pioneered by Esoko – can result in improved farmer incomes.

I see the challenge as transforming subsistence farms into sustainable businesses. If successful, we can take pleasure not only in chocolate as a food but in the way it connects people from rainforest cocoa farmers to consumers in London, New York and Tokyo.

What I found is that a profound change in supply chain management is occurring. There is an increasing demand for food to be traceable from source and a new traceable standard for cocoa has been created that not only tracks cocoa from the farm to the processor but also requires the implementation of good agricultural practice and labour standards.

I visited farms which are part of the Cocoa Abrabopa cooperative which groups together 7,000 cocoa farmers who have adopted the UTZ traceable standard. Abrabopa field officers train the farmers in the standard and the cooperative arranges credit for inputs such as fertilizer, fungicide and pesticide.

I found that improved agricultural practices have typically raised yield for the farmers from 130 kg per acre to over 520kg per acre. This improves the security of supply for the chocolate industry and is a large step to fulfilling a moral obligation for the supply chain to operate in a fair and beneficial manner.

Improved agricultural practices raised yields by 4 times. Here, Bill inspecting the yields.

Improved practices have raised yields fourfold. Above: Bill inspects the yields.

The change in supply chain management is mirrored by advances in information technology in which Esoko plays a central role. For farmers, this means they can use mobile phones as the means to receive information on market prices, weather information and agricultural advice. Prestat funds a partnership between Cocoa Abrabopa and Esoko in which over 1,000 farmers are sent SMS texts providing exactly this information in a way that complements the traceable standard and supports the farmers’ training in it.

There are challenges: the SMS texts are in English; literacy is poor and many farmers do not speak English. The challenges, however, are not insurmountable: Cocoa Abrabopa groups farmers and the ‘group secretary’ needs to speak and write English; Esoko has a call centre for farmers staffed by agricultural experts speaking Ghana’s 12 main languages. I witnessed how receiving the SMS texts and having access to the Esoko call centre gives the farmers a sense of belonging and enhances their purpose and pride.

The move into certification makes the farmers leaders in their industry and, from what I saw, the partnership between Abrabopa and Esoko has huge potential. Cocoa Abrabopa officers only visit a farmer group every 4-6 weeks. Esoko’s SMS messages arrive three times a week and the call centre is available Monday-Friday. Farmers’ concerns can be passed directly back by Esoko to the Abrabopa field teams. What Esoko provides, therefore, is an integrated extension to Cocoa Abrabopa’s technical support.

I concluded my week-long field trip deeply impressed and full of optimism. The incomes of the participating farmers are already rising and the services of Esoko further increases the likelihood that they will indeed transform their farms into sustainable businesses.


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