Traveling Back to the First Mile in Cote d’Ivoire

After two years of Covid isolation in Norway, it was amazing to feel the heat of Abidjan and African ground under our feet. We had almost forgotten how exciting it is to explore and experience new places.

Cote d’Ivoire was the first priority country to travel to as soon as covid restrictions would allow. Being the major cocoa-producing region, Cote d’Ivoire was a natural choice of travel. Our team spends hours every week on Zoom calls with colleagues, partners, and customers in the country. It’s our largest market, we have a long history with close customers in the region and have some new exciting projects underway there too.

“Seeing again in real life our partners, customers and solutions was very different, and better than attending a Zoom call.”

Anne Jorun Aas, CEO of Farmforce

World-Leading Traceability

In Cote d’Ivoire we have worked for a long time with Cargill, supporting their sourcing operations and collaboratively delivering innovative solutions to solve issues that arise. Having robust data they can trust is imperative to give the confidence to end consumers. Our work here means that we now have the world-leading traceability solution, enabling each bag of cocoa to be checked in real-time against a certification quote and also trace it back to farmer and field.

Earlier this year, in close collaboration with Fairtrade, we launched a pilot project to implement Farmforce to several co-operatives in the country. Our goal is to strengthen their professionalization by providing a more efficient, digital way to manage their members and operations. We were keen to see hands-on how the pilot was progressing, so we ventured deep into the heart of Ivorian cocoa-producing regions with Fairtrade Africa.

In one of the co-operatives we visited, Ecakoog, the Chairman Mr. Ousmane Traore told us that they work with lots of stakeholders. Once he was asked by one commercial partner how much volume they delivered the past year. It took around three months of looking through papers, records, and different systems to pull together a summary, whereas to have a solution like Farmforce, where you have this continuous recording of all cocoa deliveries and all information in one system.

Seeing Is Believing

Surrounded by heavy vegetation of papaya and cocoa branches, we hiked under a canopy of cocoa pods. All we could see were beautiful pods of yellow, orange, purple, and red. We were accompanied by the staff from the co-operative, who were really eager to share their knowledge. We also got some feedback on our solutions, which was also one of the main objectives of the trip.

There is something that is called “seeing is believing”. To see our solutions live in the field gave us insight into how it is actually beneficial for the users and the farmers. Actually watching in real life how traceability works in the field was very different from watching a demonstration on Zoom. It was inspiring to hear about the origins of the coop, how much they have grown and what ambitious plans they have for the future. We feel honored to be able to support them on their journey. 

Physical Meetings

Excitingly, we have a new customer who has joined the Farmforce family. During our stay in Cote d’Ivoire, we were very happy to finally meet the GCB team in person and hear about their exciting plans to expand in the region. We look forward to growing together and supporting them in their ambitious growth plans. 

One of the greatest values of our trip was having actual physical meetings. We met with one of our oldest local partners, Croissance Numerique. To be able to sit face to face with their team over a few days; having the time to discuss our future direction together and follow thoughts all the way through, was very important to us.

Hiring to Contribute to Our Development

Earlier this year, we hired a country manager in Cote d’Ivoire. We were eager to personally meet him. We have in the past spoken about how we build competency in the company. When we hire in Norway or Thailand, we have no problem finding the technical expertise, but normally it takes three to six months to train people on the agriculture background we need. Before our trip, we were thinking about maybe employing one person. When we went down to Cote d’Ivoire, we found a surplus of people with really strong technical backgrounds – who also have all the agricultural competence we need.

After almost 30 interviews, we hired five people. They have all the competencies that we need, and then more, because they have grown up in Cote d’Ivoire. They have this whole other level of understanding of how things function and how things operate in their country. We are very fortunate as an organization that we can recognize the limitations we have if we just sit remotely in Oslo or Bangkok. Fortunately, however, we are good at recognizing talent wherever it happens to be located in the world.

Hopeful and Inspired

Looking to the future, we have ambitious plans in Cote d’Ivoire. We left feeling hopeful, optimistic, and inspired by all the opportunities there are to make a difference in food’s first mile. We look forward to continuing to grow and learn together with our customers in the region and also pursuing new opportunities for Farmforce.