The cocoa industry is ripe for reinvention. From supply chains to farming techniques and tech, the old ways do not work anymore.
Enter COOKO, a bold new agri-tech start-up out of Berlin. COOKO has for the past 18 months been steadily working on the revolutionary recipe for a new cacao chain method, process and technology set to transform the industry, for good.
Building on his passion for using tech to unlock human potential, co-founder Ferdi van Heerden launched COOKO, his second impact venture, in 2021. Its vision is to build sustainable supply chains everywhere empowered by powerful traceability technology, one agri-sector at a time, starting with the cacao industry.
“We’re building the supply chain operating system of the future from the ground up, with farmers at the heart of the revolution and benefits that come from it,” said Ferdi.
“COOKO – the Bantu word for source or origin”
To date, COOKO has run four significant pilots of its technology and process in top cocoa producing nations, the Ivory Coast, Costa Rica and Cameroon, with support from industry partners, Pro-Planteurs, GIZ and West African government bodies. COOKO also led the design consortium which defined a new national traceability system for the Cameroon cocoa industry.
Leaders of the the industry revolution
To deliver this industry-wide transformation, COOKO has appointed highly regarded technology leader, Marzanne Fullerton, as global chief technology officer (CTO), and Besong-Ayim Mbitah Besong, as Manager of its Cameroon operations.
Marzanne is a senior executive with more than 20 years’ experience in software and innovation systems at the coalface of code and cybersecurity in top global tech firms and start-ups.
“Marzanne will lead our passionate team to unlock the transformative potential of COOKOs IoT-enabled traceability platform,” said Ferdi. “She will play a fundamental role in shaping and delivering our promise to change the industry for good.”
Marzanne steps into the CTO role after a hiatus from tech while she started a family, lured by exactly this promise. “I believe COOKO has the potential to make a difference to farmers and their families. Creating software that forms part of a life- and industry-changing type of ecosystem excites me,” Marzanne said.
“So much of the talk around sustainability, organic products and fair trade turns out to be little more than clever marketing. Potentially well-meaning, it unfortunately has not yet moved the needle for the farmers or the environment. COOKO is something different.”
Besong takes the helm in Cameroon. A chartered accountant by trade, Besong’s more than 12-year career has been moulded in the chocolate industry.
He worked his way up through the TELCAR COCOA LTD (Cargill) corporation during the first half of his career, and recently served in a finance function at Barry Callebaut Group, both in Cameroon.
“Besong’s industry insight and depth of understanding makes him the perfect lead for our Cameroon team, the world’s fourth largest cocoa producing nation, where the COOKO methodology was first tested,” added Ferdi “With such pinpoint insight, we are excited to accelerate COOKO to the next level with his support and leadership.”
Besong notes that today, cocoa farmers only benefit from approximately 6% of the cocoa supply chain, something he wants to change.
“This is surprisingly small given that they are the pillars on which the cocoa industry is built,” he said. “What COOKO is trying to do is to leverage technological innovations to create an operating system that puts farmers at the Centre.
“The COOKO methodology, amongst other objectives, will improve the quality of cocoa, thus permitting our cocoa to command higher prices. It will also help farmers to increase their yields without increasing their farm sizes through better farm and crop management practices – with a positive net impact on the environment.”
The clock is ticking for cacao
Like many other agricultural industries around the world, the cacao industry needs to be transformed. Farming, labour, sourcing and selling need to be re-imagined in a way that puts people and the environment at the heart, but also harnesses the power of technology.
COOKO is leading this movement with a quality process, technology and software that can revolutionise all other supply chain operations across the agri-industry.
Starting with the first mile of production – from cacao bean to bag – COOKO’s GPS-enabled, and specialised fermentation bags track the source of the bean, the farmers and co-ops involved, all while starting the beneficiation of the cacao bean at source, in the bag.
The result is threefold: better traceability data which can support fair trade, labour and sustainability goals; better quality beans and the knowledge of where they come from; and empowered farmers who have more data and can secure a fairer share of the market gains.
The internet-of-things enabled technology located inside the fermentation bags, backed by a supply chain operating system and software, incentivizes farmers to trace and track their beans to be more competitive. The tech also provides data to supply chain stakeholders to make better decisions, protect the environment and the future production potential.
Co-founded in 2021, by friends and collaborators with strong African roots, Dr. Augustine Mahbu Ntemi and Ferdi van Heerden, COOKO has assembled a diverse, world-class agri-tech focused team to deliver on the mission, further bolstered by the appointments of Marzanne and Besong.
COOKO is at seed stage and is actively seeking a cacao industry partner to take it to revenue. COOKO’s work is in the service of sustainable development goals 8, 11, 12, 13 and 17.