Lack of traceability is a major issue in the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire. The French NGO, Nitidae, believes that blockchain could provide a solution that would fight fraud and promote ethical production. With the support of CTA and blockchain specialists, Gaiachain, Nitidae carried out a project, from February 2019 to April 2020, with a cooperative in the Mé region of Côte d’Ivoire to develop and test a blockchain traceability application. Here is an initial assessment of the ‘Cocoblock’ experience.
The cocoa industry is at a crossroads in Côte d’Ivoire. Yields remain very low, and fraud relating to the quality of organic cocoa is common, fuelled by the lack of an effective traceability system. The sector needs to find solutions: blockchain technology seems particularly well suited to help meet these challenges.
Improved traceability for a more sustainable industry
As part of its project to promote the use of blockchain in agriculture, CTA launched a call for proposals in September 2018. Nitidae, along with three other winners, received nearly €60,000 in funding to launch its initiative ‘Cocoblock’.
In order to foster a more sustainable and efficient cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire, small producers must be encouraged to adopt practices that contribute to this goal. With the help of Gaiachain, an English company specialised in blockchain tools, Nitidae devised a traceability system using blockchain that would limit fraud, reduce transaction costs and increase production profit margins in a sustainable way. A pilot application was developed and tested with a cooperative in the Mé region, the Producteurs de cacao biologique de la Mé (PCBM).
Raising awareness of the advantages of blockchain
A total of 161 PCBM members were involved in the Cocoblock project within the pilot area – 306 ha of plots, grouped in the three villages of Diasson, Mébifon and Biéby. The project mapped the entire value chain, from harvest to port and integrated data on the various key stages into the blockchain. The farmers, who were trained on site and fully involved in the project, were able to test the technology under real conditions, involving the tracing of almost 500 kg of cocoa.
The project also focused on automatic mobile payments. However, due to the limited penetration of this payment method in the region and the short duration of the trial, this option could not be sufficiently tested.
In parallel, Nitidae and CTA carried out advocacy and awareness-raising actions through public consultations, interviews and workshops. Through its projects, CTA promotes the exchange and dissemination of knowledge, and sharing information on the opportunities and challenges of blockchain in the cocoa sector was an important objective. All four projects selected by CTA therefore kept up various collaborations and synergies following the establishment of a knowledge-sharing platform.
Recommendations and future outlook
The project provided valuable lessons on the possible uses of blockchain technology in the Ivorian cocoa sector. Despite the short duration of the project, Cocoblock has demonstrated that blockchain technology can contribute to better traceability of production at a micro level. While there is still a long way to go, the project intends to capitalise on the results it obtained. Nitidae and CTA are therefore making a number of recommendations to make the project sustainable in the medium to long-term and to facilitate the adoption of blockchain more widely in Côte d’Ivoire:
- Involve and maximise awareness of stakeholders along the entire agricultural value chain, and continue to promote digital solutions.
- Take part in national funding programmes, including for outgrowers, in order to increase the number of trials
- Develop a functional payment register module based on blockchain in the beta version of the traceability application.
- Develop an alpha mobile payment module integrated into the system.
- Support the transition to a digital ecosystem within the cooperative to record purchase/sale transactions.
This project has confirmed the potential of blockchain for the traceability of organic cocoa. It also confirmed a suspicion that small producers will need a greater level of digital maturity to adopt the practices related to this technology. However, we know that we cannot go too fast and should take one step at a time. The digitalisation of the information system, and of the practices of agricultural organisations, is essential for the cooperative to fully adopt blockchain. Targeting organisations located at a higher level of the value chain (wholesalers, large agri-food structures, financial organisations, etc.) will also be important to test how the technology will work in and benefit the whole value chain.