Theobroma: direct supplies to the chocolate industry since 1922

Theobroma International (part of ECOM Group) has been a leading independent trader and market maker in cocoa products and cocoa beans since 1922. The company is a long-standing buyer of cocoa in Cameroon and was the first to certify Cameroonian cocoa farmers in 2012. The company applied for funds from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Benin to expand certification and to improve on its sustainable supply of cocoa. IDH received a request to fund the project after the Ministry saw, and was impressed by, similar CPQP operations in Ghana.

Over the two years of the project, farmers gained better knowledge on growing cocoa—leading to increased yields and improved quality. Theobroma has strengthened its standing as a buyer in Cameroon due to its intensive project management, which has created farmer loyalty towards the company. Higher volumes have been delivered to Theobroma as a result. This led to payment of premiums of around EUR 700,000 in January 2017.

The project is continuing through Theobroma’s local operation, Agroproduce Management Services (AMS). The Cameroonian government is investing in the cocoa sector and Theobroma will continue to encourage collaboration between the government and AMS—at the same time continuing to invest in sustainable cocoa in the country. 

Farmer Development Centers and youth farm management teams: supplying the productivity package in Cameroon

In collaboration with their local operation Agroproduce Management Systems (AMS), Theobroma aimed to establish two community-owned Farmer Development Centers (FDC) to supply productivity package inputs including training, improved planting material for rehabilitation of cocoa farms, protective clothing, and other agro inputs. The FDCs would also provide a local place for farmers to weigh and quality check their cocoa.

Each FDC has a demonstration plot and provides post-harvest facilities for fermentation and sun drying. The FDCs are built in collaboration with the local farmers and run by a manager employed by Theobroma.

Youth farm management teams were also introduced. Solidaridad, Syngenta, and AMS trained groups of young Cameroonians on farm management—pruning, shade management, integrated pest management, and planting—with the aim of creating employment for young adults to deliver high-quality services to farmers.

Syngenta provided training on the proper use of agro-inputs to reduce the cost of chemicals and maximize their impact on cocoa farms. A micro-finance scheme was set up to supply farmers with credit for chemical inputs. Over 86,000 sachets (financed by AMS from Syngenta) were supplied to farmers on credit in 2015 and repayment rates have been high (98 %). Additional inputs are available at the FDCs on a cash and carry basis, managed by Theobroma and AMS.

Sales have been generated from nursery plants and the services provided to farmers through the farm management teams, but both need to increase significantly. Furthermore, there is storage space in the FDCs that can be rented out to buyers and companies like Theobroma and Syngenta (e.g. for cocoa or chemicals). The micro-credit scheme will continue to finance loans for agro-inputs. Syngenta will provide training to (new) youth teams and to farmers on Good Agricultural Practices and correct agro-input usage.

One of the key lessons learned during the project is that innovation takes time to implement, particularly the cultivation of trust and loyalty from farmers and communities. Theobroma’s plan was for both the FDCs and the youth teams to generate income and become self-sustaining. This will take longer to achieve than the two years of the project duration, because of the trust building that needs to take place. It was, at first, a challenge to secure land on which to build the FDCs: farmers were initially sceptical on how the centers would operate, and reluctant to let other people work on their farms. However, once the benefits were seen farmers embraced the initiative and have since requested other centers to be set up.