Enterprise Cooperative Kimbre - otherwise known as ECOOKIM (pronounced Echo-kim) - is made up of 23 member cooperatives. As one of only four producers licensed to export cocoa under new regulations, they provide provides a livelihood for almost 12,000 cocoa farmers based in rural areas of the Ivory Coast.
ECOOKIM is one of the latest beneficiaries of the 'Access to Finance' project run by Shared Interest Foundation in partnership with Fairtrade Africa. During the training programme, ECOOKIM focused on improving the way they manage their financial accounts and learnt about the type of information social lenders seek in considering them for fair loans.
Shared Interest Foundation project leader Jo Hall said: "The training programme has been crucial in assisting organisations like ECOOKIM to improve the way they present their finances, as well as introducing the concept of social lending as an affordable alternative for financial support." Since then ECOOKIM has benefited from training.
ECOOKIM Managing Director, Bamba Mamadou says: "Shared Interest Foundation and Fairtrade Africa have given us training that has opened up so many new possibilities. Now we are able to organise our accounts in a professional way, which is far easier for everyone involved. It means we can better manage our finances, and set the strategic direction of the business.
"This progress is vital, not just for ECOOKIM, but also for the 23 member co-operatives of the Union we support.We are delighted to have also become a customer of Shared Interest Society. Our loan will benefit the 11,859 farmers who work with us in some of the most remote parts of the Ivory Coast.
It is hoped that their loan will help them grow their business, pay farmers upfront for the harvest, and look to the future with confidence.
"Some of the co-operatives we work with have never had access to this type of finance, so it is the start of a new chapter for all of us in some way."
Gaining Fairtrade certification in 2010, ECOOKIM has already improved the lives of people living in the local community as they use their Fairtrade premium to repair bridges, build boreholes, and support local schools. This impact can now only grow as the organisation becomes a customer of Shared Interest Society.
Jo continues: "ECOOKIM is now working with smaller co-operatives within Ivory Coast on an innovative collaboration where they act as a local buyer for their Fairtrade cocoa. This means that the smallholder farmers are able to access finance for the first time, which is a major development.
Shared Interest Foundation have trained 111 businesses in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and Ivory Coast. The businesses receive basic training in financial record keeping, how to prepare financial statements, and good budget management. They also receive support on social lending, including who and what are social lenders, and what do they require from loan applicants. This is the really specialised part of the training as it gives direction on where businesses can access fairer funding.
To date 28 businesses have applied to the Society through the project, 16 have been awarded a loan, 12 more are still in progress. This has resulted in almost £2 million of lending being awarded. The project has six months left to run and concludes in March 2015.
Thanks to funding from Comic Relief, the Access to Finance project aims to make fair finance more accessible for farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Head of Shared Interest Foundation, Chris Pay said: "With improved access to appropriate sources of finance, farming co-operatives can invest in their businesses, and provide more secure livelihoods for communities across East and West Africa. "Our partner Fairtrade Africa works on the ground to identify organisations working to Fairtrade standards but who need urgent support in improving their finances. These farmers will receive practical training and mentoring to understand the expectations of social lenders and other financial institutions, to learn how they can access finance without huge interest rates or unfair requirements."
Comic Relief Portfolio Manager Trade and Employment, Sian Herschel, said: "Comic Relief recognises how challenging it can be for farmers on very low incomes in Africa to not only obtain a fair price for their products but also to access the financial support they need to grow and strengthen their businesses. We're extremely pleased to be able to provide a grant to support this important work."
"Fairtrade producers are unique because they have predictable contracts, are certified according to international standards of accountability and democratic governance, and are therefore most suitable for impact investment," says James Mwai, Fairtrade Africa's acting Executive Director.
This collaboration is timely and will greatly enhance the competitiveness of our members.