ECOOKIM has been operating under principles of democracy and professionalism.


Country: Côte d'Ivoire

Founded: 2004

Fairtrade certified in: 2011

Main products: Cocoa , Coffee , Nuts and oils (Cashew Nuts)

Number of members: 12,000 members


The sweet taste of democracy in the Côte d'Ivoire

Its farmers operate in a country that experienced tremendous chaos and unrest during elections four years ago. So it may be no coincidence that a strong, democratic structure and a clear sense of direction have been central to the growth and popularity of the Côte d'Ivoire’s ECOOKIM cocoa farmers’ cooperative.

Over the past year, ECOOKIM’s number of member cooperatives has shot up from eight to 23. It now represents 12,000 small-scale farmers and believes that its professionalism and the democracy it demonstrates in its decision-making have helped attract new members.

Talk of governance and voting can sound dry and bureaucratic, but the truth is far from this. By ensuring everyone has their say, the additional services that come from Fairtrade and investment of the Fairtrade Premium go to precisely where the farmers and communities say they are needed.

Aminata Bamba is ECOOKIM’S Head of Sustainability. Image © Kyle Freund
Aminata Bamba is ECOOKIM’S Head of Sustainability. Image © Kyle Freund

One key figure in making sure this process works well is Aminata Bamba, the cooperative’s Head of Sustainability. Bamba is a trained agro-engineer and in charge of training programmes on organization, child labour, Fairtrade Standards and gender issues.

She is a popular figure and recalls one occasion when farmers on motorcycles saw her approaching and drove alongside her, beeping their horns in welcome. “They wanted to show off their farms to me so I could see the improvements and how beautiful their crops had become,” she smiles.

The motorcycles themselves are a sign of the increased revenue which has come with Fairtrade. Farms can be up to 6km away from the farmers’ homes, and bicycles and motorbikes have been purchased to make the journey easier and faster allowing more time to work.

ECOOKIM was established as a cooperative in 2004 and its first Fairtrade sales were in 2011. Not all local farmers are members. Often they do not join for historical reasons, says Bamba, but a growing staff is proving to be highly effective and is winning the trust of more and more.

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Cooperative Kapatchiva, a member cooperative of Eccokim, has 567 members in five communities. Founded in 2003 with 100 members, Kapatchiva joined ECOOKIM in 2007. The cooperative warehouse and offices were built with the support of Fairtrade Premiums.
Image © Éric St-Pierre

Investing in business projects is popular among farmers and many of their votes for Premium spend go in this direction. Warehouses have been built for storing cocoa, training schemes have been established for farming techniques and improved fermentation practices have been taught. The organization is investing in inputs, fertilizers, new plants and plant nurseries. An agricultural technician has been hired to advise the farmers, and train leaders who support the other farmers in their community.

The Premium has also been used to ensure traceability. An automated system records the produce from each farm when it’s brought to the warehouse. This helps to identify the challenge of aging trees - these produce less cocoa - and shows where help is needed.

These changes have led to quality improvement, greater sales, increased income and more hope for the future. The improvements in crops have seen production increased from 250kg per hectare to up to 650kg.

“It’s so positive when someone approaches me and says, ‘I’ve boosted my yield and volume,” says Bamba. “Little by little we see a difference in the quality of life here. A woman said to me recently, ‘Now I have a bed.’ Before this she slept on a woven mat.”

Yet she stresses that the cooperative has the potential to sell 30,000MT of Fairtrade certified cocoa in the year which ends September 2015 but has contracts for just 8,500MT in place. Increased sales are wanted and needed.

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Ernest Kouadou Konan, is a cocoa farmer and producer liaison officer with the ECOJAD cooperative, a member of ECOOKIM in Côte d'Ivoire.
Image © Éric St-Pierre

The farmers have also voted for social improvements, such as schools, and have undergone training on child labour standards and gender issues.

“More and more, people of the community have begun to understand that they need to send their children to school,” explains Bamba. “We tell the members, ‘If you send your children to school, they can come back to the farm when they have finished their education and help you increase the revenue on your farm through better planning and business management.”

Bamba says that Fairtrade requirements have clear advantages beyond just price and premium.

“We set out a development plan at our General Assembly, which is made up from one delegate for every ten cooperative members. All the decisions are made together on how to use the Premium. Each cooperative decides how they want the Premium to be spent. All members have been part of the discussion..”

This, says Bamba, is the strength of the system. “Fairtrade is about transparency and the way we make decisions together.”

This story was was first added to our website on 24 March 2015.