Published on The Trade Post

Digital certification makes cocoa traders in Côte d'Ivoire more competitive

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Philomène Laure Offounou, Phytosanitary inspector who takes samples of cocoa for testing
Philomène Laure Offounou, Phytosanitary inspector who takes samples of cocoa for testing. © World Bank/Marisa Zawacki

The cocoa bean’s long journey from the farms of Côte d’Ivoire to the chocolate factories of Europe is getting shorter – thanks to a new digital system for certifying that the beans are free of pests and disease.

The system automates the certification process, significantly cutting the time and cost of exporting a crop that provides an income for one-fifth of the West African country’s population of 28 million.

Around the world, exporters of agricultural goods must obtain a government-issued document called a phytosanitary certificate, which assures trading partners that consignments meet the expected quality standards . In 2017, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) developed its ePhyto Solution, which replaced paper certificates with electronic ones. It has been implemented by 123 countries, including the 27 members of the European Union.

ePhyto is part of Côte d’Ivoire’s plan to modernize its agricultural sector, cocoa in particular. The country supplies 40 percent of the world’s cocoa but receives just 5 percent to 7 percent of the profits. Most of the crop’s value is generated in processing and distribution outside of the country, and an estimated 55 percent of Ivorian cocoa producers and their families live below the poverty line. By speeding up information exchange and the tracing of shipments, ePhyto will enhance Côte d’Ivoire’s trade competitiveness and help Ivorian traders participate more fully in the global economy. 

Before the introduction of ePhyto in March 2023, paper certificates were passed along to various actors along the value chain until reaching the importing country authorities along the commodity’s chain of custody.

“We had to go to multiple locations and government offices to get the certificate. It was time-consuming and costly, as it resulted in a lot of shipping delays,” said Marc Kouakou, manager of export logistics solutions at Bolloré Africa Logistics, which handles cocoa exports at the Port of Abidjan.

Automating the process with support from the World Bank Group has cut the number of steps required for inspections by more than half, from 39 to 18. Certificates can be signed electronically, and a QR code verifies their authenticity, helping eliminate counterfeit documents and improving the confidence in Ivorian cocoa.

Electronic certificates are immediately available online, so authorities in the destination country can determine compliance and resolve any issues before a shipment arrives. The system makes it easier for the importing country to schedule inspections and tests, and it eliminates the cost of storing, filing, and mailing paper documents.

“ePhyto is a blessing,” Kouakou said. “The entire process is now online. I can check the status anywhere – at work, home or even in my car on my mobile phone, 24/7. It’s a big win and saves us time and money.” A 2022 study by the International Finance Corporation, a division of the World Bank Group, estimated that implementing ePhyto could reduce the time to obtain a phytosanitary certificate by as much as two days for some commodities.

The new system has lightened the load for phytosanitary inspectors like Philomène Laure Offounou, who works in Côte d’Ivoire’s Directorate of Plant Protection, Control and Quality (DPVCQ). Previously, she had to travel back to the office to input data after checking cocoa warehouses at the Port of Abidjan.

“Since there is only one road in/out of the port, it can get congested, and traffic can be at a standstill for hours. This would sometimes delay my data inputs,” she said. “Sometimes we produce 30 reports a day. Now with ePhyto, we have tablets and I can share data in real time from the port. This has made my job easier and more efficient.”

Côte d’Ivoire is the first country in francophone Africa to introduce ePhyto and could serve as a model for the region  (Burkina Faso has expressed an interest.) The system is being piloted with the cocoa and coffee sectors at the ports of Abidjan and in San Pedro in the south, where most of the country’s cocoa is grown and which serves as a gateway for neighboring landlocked countries.

The World Bank Group (WBG) supported the government in diagnosing and describing the export certification process, including bottlenecks that could be addressed through automation and the simplification of procedures. The WBG worked with DPVCQ and its stakeholders to diagnose and identify the best fit for how implementing an automated system which could facilitate trade while improving the effectiveness of the agency.

A detailed implementation plan identified gaps in infrastructure and resources and developed ways to address them. Implementing the system involved connecting Cote D’Ivoire’s existing national single window to the IPPC hub, change management, training, and stakeholder consultation and outreach. Data are now more easily available for analysis to help the government understand information on compliance and compile trade statistics.

“ePhyto is a real innovation,” said Aman Koko, director general of the plant protection agency. “Automating the certification process helps us to better understand the risks and compliance rates. The data will help us to continue to improve our services.”


Shane Sela

Senior Trade Facilitation Specialist

Maiko Miyake

Principal Operations Officer

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