Cocoa cooperative Yeyasso responds to major trends

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Gateway YEYASSO Tous Ensemble Pour Un Avenir Meilleur

The Yeyasso cooperative: all together for a better future. © Beyond Chocolate

Belgium contributed remarkably to the success of Yeyasso, a cocoa and coffee cooperative in the Ivory Coast. Today, it produces 6,000 tonnes of cocoa on more than 9,500 hectares. In addition, it is committed to organic and fair trade production, forest agriculture and the elimination of child labour. Yeyasso also wants to obtain carbon credits.
 

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SDG 1 no poverty - SDG 12 responsible consumption and production


When the cocoa and coffee cooperative was established in 2006, it had barely 350 members, including only about 10 women. Yet the founders firmly chose the name 'Yeyasso', which means 'village of hope'.

And that hope proved more than justified. Today, Yeyasso has more than 7,200 members, 15% of whom are women. Together, they produce 6,000 tonnes of cocoa on more than 9,500 hectares every year. On an additional 3,300 hectares, they harvest 2,500 tonnes of coffee. Moreover, they respond excellently to major trends such as agroforestry and organic and fair trade production.
 

Coaching


The big turnaround came in 2016. That was when the cooperative answered a call from Enabel – the Belgian development agency – to participate in a two-year coaching programme. Indeed, the Trade for Development Centre (TDC) – housed at Enabel – supports cocoa farmer cooperatives to raise their profile in national and international markets.

At the time, the Belgian chocolate company Galler was looking for certified (fair trade) suppliers that guaranteed decent working conditions and higher incomes for producers. TDC's coaching allowed Yeyasso to work far more professionally. This included a more thorough analysis of financial and commercial data and the creation of partnerships. As early as 2020, Yeyasso obtained the fair trade label.
 

Forest agriculture


This was how the ball got rolling. They then also gained support from the Business Partnership Facility, an initiative by the Belgian Development Cooperation that supports companies in developing countries contributing towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With the funds (200,000 euros), Yeyasso introduced agroforestry. Cocoa and coffee trees thrive better in the shade of other trees. With technical assistance from the University of Liège, Yeyasso set up four tree nurseries. Meanwhile, more than 80,000 trees have already been planted, making the cocoa and coffee trees flourish.
 

Rice and cassava


In addition, efforts were made to grow rice and cassava. Because to ensure a living income, it is not enough to pay a fair cocoa price. Cocoa farmers' families also need to become more resilient, and this can be done by growing additional crops. Rice and cassava cultivation came mainly at the request of the women, who are generally not involved in the profitable steps of cocoa cultivation. The diversification of crops ensures that families continue to have an income, even during financially difficult periods.

Finally, six women and two men were able to enhance their competencies at the Women's School of Leadership of Fairtrade Africa, after which they became ambassadors for the cooperative. In 2022, two of the women were elected to the Board of Directors.

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Chef Moussa Yeo at a cacao tree

Chef Moussa Yeo continues to do everything he can to deliver good quality and help all the members move forward. © Beyond Chocolate

Carbon credits


In 2022, Yeyasso obtained another 200,000 euros from the Business Partnership Facility in order to respond even better to the important trends in the cocoa market, both now and in the future. After all, certification and sustainability programmes are becoming the norm. Just consider the EU's due diligence legislation that is in the pipeline. Yeyasso is therefore committed to working fully organically, with fair trade, carbon neutrality and free of child labour and deforestation.

One plan is to measure how much carbon the trees planted take out of the atmosphere. As such, the cooperative aims to get carbon credits that can be used to increase farmers' incomes. In addition, Yeyasso plans to double organic fair trade cocoa production from 2026: from 120 to 240 tonnes per year. Finally, it seeks to end all forms of child labour in cocoa farming.
 

Beyond chocolate


Yet this is not the end of the story. Yeyasso was also selected as one of the pilot projects (2020-2025) for Beyond Chocolate, the initiative to make all Belgian chocolate sustainable by 2030. Thanks to the project, 165 farmers in the cooperative have so far received organic certification. In part because of good farming practices – pruning, weeding and pest management – their yields fell by only 1%.

The quality of cocoa beans also increased significantly thanks to adapted drying infrastructure and a fermentation centre. Normally, farmers ferment their own cocoa beans. But by fermenting all the beans together – and thus in larger quantities – you can achieve a higher temperature, which improves the flavour.

To diversify even more, the focus was on laying hens. Moreover, TDC continued the coaching programme in order to prepare farmers for the organic market: identification of potential buyers, preparation for organic fairs, etc.

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Employees load cocoa beans into bags

Yeyasso in action: high-quality cocoa beans are loaded into bags. © Dominique Derom/TDC/Enabel

Galler


For the Beyond Chocolate pilot project, chocolate factory Galler contributed two thirds of the funds – some 250,000 euros. Since 2021, Galler has been producing only fair trade chocolate. Every year, they buy 1,000 tonnes of cocoa beans from Yeyasso – one sixth of its production. Yeyasso also supplies cocoa beans to SACO, an Ivory Coast division of Barry Callebaut.

Other partners in the pilot project, in addition to Galler and TDC, were the cocoa consulting firm ZOTO and the Universities of Ghent and Gembloux.
 

Living income


Along with Yeyasso, TDC, Fairtrade Belgium and Galler also launched a pilot project to get a clear view of the income of Yeyasso farmers. Here, members were required to keep a kind of logbook with all their incomes and expenses, alongside information about the size of the farm and the composition of the family.

The study found that only 21% of the cooperative's members made a living income. In fact, 11% were still extremely poor. The size of the grounds plays a prominent role. After all, it is mainly the farmers with enough land who make a living income. Further efforts must also be made to diversify, increase productivity and so on.
 

Passion


Yeyasso's success story is clearly written with a lot of Belgian ink. The great results are due in part to the farmers' greater resilience. For example, diversification of labels and buyers is essential for facing the fluctuations in the cocoa market. And thanks to niche markets such as organic and fair trade, farmers get a higher price for their cocoa. The fair trade label, for example, results in a 13% higher price. The greater variety of crops also helps farmers achieve a living income.

Yet 79% of members still do not make a living income. The cooperative and its CEO Yeo Moussa remain committed to delivering good quality and helping all its members to move forward with solid added value. There is certainly no shortage of entrepreneurship and drive!