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Chocolate innovation: Sweet tooth hackers solve cocoa farmers’ challenges

Katie Nunner's picture

While chocolate is a sweet treat for consumers around the world, its producers face many challenges. Every year, more than five million family farmers in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Indonesia and Brazil produce about four and a half million tons of cocoa beans, according to the World Cocoa Foundation. Farm-level input providers, financial institutions, chocolate manufacturers, development organizations and more are coming together to create digital solutions to improve access to finance and boost agricultural productivity for a sustainable and climate smart cocoa supply chain. 

Last week, the World Cocoa Foundation’s partnership meeting brought together key stakeholders from small scale farmers to large multinationals including Cargill, Nestle, and Mars, under the theme “Accelerating Sustainability Through Technology and Innovation.”

To spark the industry into further innovation and collaboration, infoDev partnered with the WCF to sponsor the second annual Chocothon, a two-day hackathon where three teams came together to “hack” the cocoa supply chain and generate new creative solutions to the common challenges cocoa farmers and suppliers face. The Future Food Institute, the International Trade Center, and Valrhona, a premium chocolate manufacturer, were all heavily involved in the Chocothon as mentors and a number of us from infoDev joined in the excitement. Given their experience with cocoa supply chain partners, Valrhona’s co-sponsorship and engagement provided valuable insights to guide the ‘choco-hackers.’  
 

The Geo Cocoa, Kejetia, and Cocoa Run teams pose together with some of the Chocothon mentors.
Photo Credit: World Cocoa Foundation

The teams, made up of students, mapping experts and tech enthusiasts, each developed apps around a different challenge. The challenges this year included climate change and deforestation, diversification of farming activities in cocoa’s off-seasons, and real time communication to and from farmers to improve traceability, farm management, and efficiency.

On Wednesday, the three teams presented to the WCF’s 200 stakeholders as part of the foundation’s annual convening. As a next step, the foundation will provide mentorship, initial funding, and access to their network to help the winning team further develop their product.

The panel of expert judges look on during the final presentations. Photo Credit: World Cocoa Foundation

Anupa Pant, a Private Sector Specialist at the World Bank, joined a diverse panel of judges representing the Future Food Institute, the Ghana Cocoa Board, and chocolate producers Valrhona and Godiva. The panel selected the top prize winner based on the network practicability, economic reliability and urgency of the proposed solution. “It was very inspiring to witness these young hackers coming up with creative solutions to address real challenges which industry leaders struggle with every day—and in only 48 hours,” Pant shared afterwards.

The Chocothon teams each came up with exciting solutions: Cocoa Run, Geo Cocoa, and this year’s winner, Kejetia. Pamela Levy led the Kejetia team, with an app that seeks to empower farmers to move “Beyond Cocoa” through an online marketplace that enables them to sell alternative crops and other goods. Kejetia walked away with the $3,000 prize and the opportunity to engage with relevant partners.

Levy told us after the event, “I was blessed with a great team whose insights and mentorship helped fully develop the idea. There is definitely a lot of potential. We need to start small and I think there is a huge opportunity in the services and information space. I’m going to speak with the other teams and see how we can bring together our ideas.”

The World Cocoa Foundation believes programs like Chocothon are critical to leveraging digital technology and innovation to better serve their stakeholders at every level of the cocoa supply chain. Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation closed the event by stating, “We see huge opportunity to crowd-source new ideas and fresh approaches from citizens around the world to accelerate sustainability in the cocoa sector.  We are just scratching the surface – stay tuned as we harvest the benefits from more hackathons!”

infoDev has enabled start-ups developing sustainable agriculture solutions through digital and climate technology in several of the countries where we operate, including in Ghana, where Farmerline also supports cocoa farmers. Through the Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, infoDev aims to work more closely with partners like the World Cocoa Foundation to empower agri-preneurs, increase market linkages, and ultimately to improve the livelihoods of small scale farmers.

infoDev is a multi-donor program in the World Bank Group's Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice that supports entrepreneurs in developing economies. We oversee a global network of business incubators and innovation hubs for climate technology, agribusiness, and digital entrepreneurs. Our ambitious agenda is made possible thanks to generous support by bilateral donors and private sector partners.

Those of us from infoDev who got a chance to participate in the Chocothon as mentors had an incredible experience and we look forward to remaining engaged with Kejetia, the World Cocoa Foundation, and each of our partners involved in this event.