Ivory Coast’s Cocoa Fruit Lab set to create first female-owned micro factory in the country

An innovative initiative in Ivory Coast, the Cocoa Fruit Lab, is being devised to create the first women-owned micro-factory in the country to produce sustainable cocoa, chocolate and related juice products, reports Neill Barston.

The venture, which will be trialled with a group of 400 farmers from COVIMA cooperative in the country’s Marahoue region, is a multi-stakeholder scheme led by ETG’s sustainability foundation Beyond Beans.

It has been co-financed by the IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative as part of its Cocoa Origins programme, as well as women-empowerment focused chocolatier Rokbar, and cocoa juice company Kumasi. There has also been technical support from Technical juice specialist  Koa and process and quality support from  Döhler Holland.

As the project’s team added, it has already been working with the COVIMA cooperative for five years, implementing a variety of schemes to support women in the region, which it believes its latest venture will strengthen significantly.

In its first year of operation, the Cocoa Fruit Lab aims to produce ‘cocoa of excellence’ for 5,000 single origin Rokbar chocolate bars, 1,000 litres of cocoa juice, and 250 Mt of sustainable cocoa beans for European chocolate factories, all while supporting women in developing as local entrepreneurs.

Poverty backdrop

As the group behind the project notes, while Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producing country, most cocoa farmers are struggling to reach a living income- many reportedly still earning less than $1 a day, significantly below UN-accepted definitions of poverty conditions.

This in particularly concerns women, who often own smaller farmlands, have less access to training and financial inputs, and lack household decision making power compared to their male counterparts.

By increasing women’s participation in the sector as cocoa producers, juice collectors and chocolate makers, the Cocoa Fruit Lab promotes female entrepreneurship across the supply chain. But it also takes it one step further, creating opportunities for female farmers to improve the quality of their cocoa beans and to access higher-paying specialty markets.

The project also introduces an income-diversification aspect at the farmer level through the collection of cocoa juice. When chocolate is produced, the white pulp that surrounds the cocoa beans is usually lost as a waste product but collecting it and processing it into juice can create an additional income stream for minimal additional cost, raising farmer income by up to 30% per kilo of cocoa beans.


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