COOKO: 1st Mile traceability

Who is COOKO?

COOKO is a new agricultural services provider co-founded by Ferdi van Heerden and Dr. Augustine Ntemi. With a strong history in social enterprise and with a focus on addressing the root causes of economic exclusion, we are compelled to address the social and environmental damage caused by the current cocoa industry system.

Combining design thinking with data-analytics, our aim is to drive evidence based value improvements from the ground up. This is why we have spent the last couple of months prototyping our approach in Konye and Ntui (Cameroon).

First “field office” in Konye.

Our solution:
SOURCE Fermented Cacao

Bringing controlled anaerobic fermentation as close as possible to the tree, we believe that we can solve substantial quality issues AND provide true first mile traceability.

Looking at the gaps in the current processes we have identified how this can be used to incentivise 1st mile traceability in a way that is rewarding for the farmers, produces a better bean for the confectioners and peace of mind for consumers. A true win win win:

  1. By buying the beans wet, we avoid a number of quality issues that occur during the current “forest fermentation” process. The flavours are enhanced and the contamination and deterioration of wild fermentation are avoided.
  2. By locking the beans into patent pending fermentation containers on day one, we ensure a locked “chain of custody” based on an embedded technology. The process generates the data, not external evaluators or proxies.
  3. The farmers clearly prefer mobile payments. This is why we are building an alliance with MTN MoMo to ensure that the farmers can get their money on the day of harvest. This is a massive improvement in their cashflow management.
  4. The above mentioned process explodes the current “book and claim” system of traceability. By providing “pay, book and claim” we ensure transparency straight to the farmer without adding layers of complexity. The system writes the data.
The proof is in the quality. Our process improvements balance the needs of farmers without compromising bean colour and flavour.

It is no coincidence that the root meaning of the word “COOKO” in Bantu is source! We believe in fixing problems at their source. This has been the inspiration for working so closely with farmers to understand their context and needs.

Here are some of the things we learnt:

  1. The idea works.
    Based on the research materials and availible best practices we were pretty sure that the idea of micro-fermentation at source would work. There were very few variables that we were adding to years of established traditions.

    (bootstrapping our temperature controls)

    We knew from studies in Latin America that the temperature increase in batches between 25Kg and 50Kg was the best. In larger batches the bacteria takes longer to spread evenly through the mass.

    In smaller batches there isn’t enough critical mass to preserve the heat generated from anaerobic fermentation. With our 50Kg tests we were consistently hitting temperatures of 46 and 47 ºC. Not only that, there was an even and consistent colouration of the beans.

    (post fermentation evaluation)

    Now that we have established the first step, we can proceed with farmer adoption and scaling.

    (dialogue and sharing of experience)
  2. The idea is loved
    The farmers above brought their cocoa, fermented according to traditional practices, to compare quality. They were convinced of the COOKO benefit!

    After participating in the prototyping session a local community have decided that they want to start working with us as soon as possible. Being farmer centric in our approach, it has always been our aim to create a fairer and more profitable world for these valuable members of our community. The warmth and openness with which they have treated us has been humbling.

    (names of villages taking part in September pilot)

    120 Farmers in one region, with an annual production of between 600 and 1000 tonnes now call us the “source fermented” guys. The immediate benefit in quality increases, cost savings and labour savings is very apparent to them. Now we have to deliver on their trust to create the facility to handle 5 tonnes a day.
  3. The idea is bigger than us
    One of the key elements about cooko that excites investors and industry experts, is the way it reorganises the value chain and creates new, value aligned intermediaries.

    This will only succeed if we are able to weave the network of support around the core service:
    – moving unbanked rural farmers onto mobile money platforms (as the farmers requested)
    – creating new micro-logistics suppliers to move goods and services upstream, and fermenting beans downstream
    – an open digital platform for transparent “pay, book and claim” traceability that can indicate labour conditions and environmental standards
    – most exciting for us will be the social franchise model for mini-fermentation centres where the local women can create a job rotation to share the formal jobs and incomes across the community

We are excited by the momentum and humbled by the challenge. Going from 600Kg in three weeks to 5 tonnes a day will be a big leap. This is why we are currently sourcing and building 7 centres in the Ntui region. They will be up and running with local support by September.

Now all we need are buyers who believe in the promise of SOURCE Fermented Cacao. We can sell the cocoa beans into the open market but the traceability data will be lost!

We’d like to appeal to European manufacturers to take a closer look and support this approach by sourcing and claiming the data of ethical practice.

If you are interested in working with us, please reach out via email to

About the company:

COOKO GmbH is a Berlin based start-up providing agricultural services.

Our purpose:
reducing child labour, improving farmer living standards and reducing environmental degradation.

We do this through:

Provision of technological, technical and marketing solutions and services to the cocoa agricultural sector. 

In addition the company will develop and certify a standard of cacao that meets “first mile” traceability criteria. 

About the founders:

Ferdi and Augustine met through the ReDI School of Digital Integration. In 2017 they worked on and presented a report on North African refugee migration to the German Chancellory. Based on this working relationship Ferdi and Augustine have continued to search and pursue ways of improving economic opportunities and social inclusion in Africa. As a South African and Cameroonian they have a deep seated personal investment and motivation to affect change for the next generation.

Ferdi van Heerden
Co-founder of the ReDI School of Digital Integration (a tech school for refugees and newcomers) that has been recognised by amongst others, António Guterres, Angela Merkel, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan . IDEO alumni with 30 years experience in marketing, innovation and technology.

Dr Augustine Ntemi
Data scientist with a PhD in Geo-chemistry. Holds a Masters degree in environmental science and management. Has been engaged with the Cameroonian Cocoa industry since 2013.


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