In 2020, Colruyt Group, Puratos, Rikolto, Access Agriculture, and Fairtrade Belgium kicked of an ambitious living income pilot project in San Pedro, Côte d’Ivoire. The project, funded under the Beyond Chocolate partnership, worked on six different parameters to close the living income gap, including the payment of the Living Income Reference Price (LIRP). The coalition of partners started at small scale with one specific chocolate tablet from the Colruyt private label range ‘Boni’ and a small group of 102 farmers.
Today, partners published the impact report of the project, sharing main conclusions and learnings. For this occasion, Beyond Chocolate talked to project lead Karen Janssens (Expert Sustainable Sourcing at Colruyt Group) who shared her views on the project’s successes, challenges and take-aways.
The pilot project recently came to an end after three years of intensive work. Looking back at these three years of implementation, what are you the proudest of?
I am proud of how we managed to build a strong project team and truly worked together as partners. Of course, it takes quite some time and effort to make sure everyone is aligned. That’s not to be underestimated. However, in the end we were all committed to the same goal and each of us brought our own strengths to the table to reach that goal. I appreciated the openness and trust amongst partners. We didn’t shy away from critical self-reflection or from challenging each other, which is according to me crucial in pilot projects.
By working together as trader, retailer, NGO and certifier, we also managed to set up a strong price model, another element I am very proud of. Farmers in the project receive the Living Income Reference Price (LIRP) through a combination of the Fairtrade minimum price, the Puratos Cocoa Trace premium and a flexible Colruyt premium. An external study by Impact Institute also confirms that this business model is sustainable for all actors in the supply chain. Again, it took time and effort to set this model up, but in the end it’s a big part of what makes the project so strong. We are one of the few LIRP models in the market today. And this success at small scale lay the foundation for the upscaling strategy at our level (and who knows planted a seed with other partners or colleagues as well?)
Thirdly, the collaboration between partners has enabled us to collect a strong dataset and consequently draw interesting conclusions. Thanks to the data available from Puratos, the good relationship of the local Rikolto staff with farmers, and the use of the Fairtrade field books, we managed to collect data in a systemic way. Impact institute has then analyzed this data, resulting in an impact report full of relevant learnings.
On the other side of the spectrum, what would you do differently if you could start again today?
In hindsight the project implements a large variety of different interventions, not all of them perfectly aligned and therefore not always efficient. If I would start again today, maybe I would do less but with more focus. I would also try to build more on what already exists. For example, not implement a separate productivity intervention but build on what Puratos already does on productivity within cocoa Trace. That’s the beauty of pilot projects like these, they help you learn and adjust your interventions in the future.
Today, project partners published the external evaluation of the project by Impact Institute. If you had to summarize this report in a few sentences, what would be the main conclusion?
The report confirms the importance of interventions on price. As such, it reveals that the LIRP model that I mentioned above caused a 38% increase in farmer revenue. Imagine, if you suddenly got a 38% salary increase, that’s a huge change! Provoked by a relatively simple intervention (paying more for a higher quality cocoa)e. However, the report also shows that price alone won’t close the gap. A holistic approach, working on different drivers at the same time is needed. While price is within the sphere of control of partners, other drivers such as land size or diversification are more difficult to influence as a company. Every actor in the chocolate sector needs to look where they can play a role and take up responsibility.
Project partners visiting cocoa community Daregba in December 2022
What will you take away from the project in your future work?
The impact study conclusions support me to further push for higher prices for cocoa farmers. In the end, it’s the most straightforward and easy action we can take as actors further away from the field. And we can say with certainty higher prices have an immediate and high influence on farmer income.
The project has also shown me the importance of open discussions with other actors in the value chain but also with other departments within my company. During the project, I’ve grown a lot closer to our procurement department. We better understand each other’s perspective and limitations and are more committed to working together for our joint goals. Same goes for our supplier.
What would be your message to other Beyond Chocolate partners?
First of all, I would say: take an interest in what is happening on the field and connect with the people that are at the origin of the chocolate you make. I believe that this will automatically help you understand the challenges and take action.
And to end, my advice to all Beyond Chocolate partners is: start taking steps! Yes, the challenges in the sector are complex and we could spend years developing the perfect theoretic model, but at some point we need to start taking action. You can be confident that the road will unfold itself as you start walking upon it. If we wait until 2029 to start working on our 2030 targets, we won’t get there. Let’s start today. We started small with only 102 farmers and only one bar. This created a comfortable environment and helped to build trust internally. Today, thanks to this first small step, Colruyt Group has committed to paying the LIRP for all Boni chocolate tablets.
Let’s start moving together step by step towards our 2030 goals!