Having looked at a coffee farming cooperatives in our last blog entry we thought it would be interesting to look at other types of cooperative the Rainforest Alliance works with. Here Edward Millard looks a the benefits of cooperatives for cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire.
Cooperative organizations feature strongly in the list of small holder groups that achieve Rainforest Alliance certification. By coming together in an organization, small holder farmers can aggregate their production and achieve a better price for their product. The cooperative gives them a better alternative to the local trader because it is a service organization managed by the farmers. Whereas traders usually aim to keep the farmers ignorant of market prices so that they can pay them the minimum, the purpose of a cooperative is to keep its members informed and pay the most that the market allows. An effective cooperative offers a range of other services to its members- not just buying and selling their production, but also providing credit at reasonable interest rates, making advance payments, providing inputs such as fertilizers and facilitating training and technical assistance. An agency providing technical assistance cannot visit hundreds of farmers individually; the cooperative provides the organizing unit for helping farmers improve their skills and practices.
A vital service that cooperatives provide for certification is establishing a traceability system. Each farmer member whose farm is certified for compliance with the practices of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard receives a number and every time the farmer sells to the cooperative, the sale is recorded. The production from certified farms is stored separately from that of non-certified farms so that if it is sold on preferable terms, as it usually is, then the benefit may go back to the farmer. Companies buying the cocoa, for example, derive a great benefit from this traceability because they have the assurance that the farm practices in their supply chain are sustainable.
Rainforest Alliance has certified nearly 50 cocoa cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire. One of the first to achieve certification in 2007 is the Cooperative Agricole La Paix d’Issia (COPAPAIX), situated in one of the major production zones in the west-central region of the country. Formed in 2003, it brings together 700 farmers from the surrounding villages. Mr Désire Kouassi is President of the management Committee of COPAPAIX. He says:
“In my village certain people were not on speaking terms for a long time because of arguments. But since we started working together and learning together and realizing that we can benefit from the experience of others, people have started talking together again and fraternity and solidarity have been re-established, in a situation where the traditional elders had not been able to bring us together.”