In June 2009, COOGES, the Coopérative Générale de Sepingo, won the EMRC-Rabobank Project Incubator Award 2009 of US$15 000 at the AgriBusiness Forum 2009 held in Cape Town, South Africa. We caught up with partners Mathias Adou Kouakou & Fabien Yao Zogalou from COOGES, a small cashew nut
cooperative in Cote d’Ivoire, to find out a bit more about their experience.
EMRC: Tell us a bit about the history of COOGES-how and when did it begin and what was the vision?
COOGES: COOGES began officially operating
as a cooperative in 2002. Since 1975 it had been operating as a collective. The aim of the
cooperative is to gather, store, process (where possible) and market members'
products as raw or already processed materials. The overall objective is to increase
the value of the produce by assembling the producers together to decide on pricing
- thereby increasing the income of producers. In
2007 we installed a cashew nut processing unit to enable producers working
at the plant to be able to have an additional income by processing their own cashew nuts.
EMRC: What brought you to the AgriBusiness Forum 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa
C: We came to the AgriBusiness Forum 2009 with the objective of finding
new markets for our cashew nuts and meeting potential investors for the plant with
a view to increasing our productivity and growing our business.
EMRC:What did you hope to receive from this forum?
C: We received exactly what we hoped for and more. We had the opportunity to present our business to a hall full of delegates (including ministers, heads of banks, investors, consultants etc.), which in turn made the one-on-one discussions incredibly productive.
EMRC: What inspired you to enter the Project Incubator Award?
C: We decided to
enter the Project Incubator Award as it
was in line with one of our business needs – to gain industry exposure - and we
knew that even if we didn’t win, the increased awareness of our business would
make it worthwhile and reduce our need
to advertise ourselves through other channels. In addition we must mention that
we believed wholeheartedly in the potential of the role our project could play
in both the middle and long term in the fight against poverty in both rural and
EMRC: How did you feel when you won the prize?
C: It felt like we were dreaming, as if we’d gone to
heaven. When we found out we had won
the award, the joy was immense and indescribable. We came to realize that we
were not crazy for believing in our
project- it had been validated by
experts from the business community and therefore it should continue to exist and
EMRC: How did this victory help you as an organization? How was the prize invested or how is it going to be?
C: This victory
resolved any doubts we may have harboured due to the skepticism shown by
others. It has reenergised
the supporters of our venture and given us a boost to move forward
We had no working capital and so some of the prize-money was
put towards the purchase of raw nuts (raw material) so we can
operations at the plant Another part was
used to purchase machinery to increase the productivity and complete
stages of processing.
We haven’t yet ironed out all the bumps but we have addressed
our most critical needs.
It is a big project, there are still many things to do.
EMRC: What other developments have taken place in your business since attending the AgriBusiness Forum 2009?
C: The AgriBusiness 2009 brought us some much-needed business
exposure. We were able to attract the attention of several
from the cashew nut sector and others not. We have also become members of the
African Cashew Alliance (l’Alliance pour le Cajou Africain),
which helps reinforce product quality in the production process. We
partners of the Programme de Restructuration et de
Mise à Niveau (PRMN) and the Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest
Africaine (UEMOA) that helps with strengthening our supplies and
training at different levels .
with the Initiative for African Cashew (ICA) in partnership with GTZ in
training of producers to source raw materials of good quality.
We are also partnering with INADES Training in partnership
with the NGO Network RONGEAD for new projects on ICT and brick making -
basically our cashew nut shells are used in the heating
process instead of wood.
EMRC: Who should attend EMRC AgriBusiness Forums?
Anyone from Africa that wishes to launch or improve on a
project, anyone who wants to have confirmation that their business idea is
viable and who wants feedback from the business community should be involved in
Agri Business Forum, as it's the perfect opportunity to network and chat to Businessmen
from all sectors and all regions.
EMRC: Why should people enter the Project Incubator Award?
C: One should enter the Project Incubator Award because it is an
opportunity to meet and introduce oneself to business people from all over the
world without doing any advertising. You’re
able to not only present yourself, but your organisation, it’s activities and
objectives. It’s a great opportunity to travel
the globe and present your project within a few minutes to worldwide business
organisations and their representatives without spending a cent or any time or
effort on travel.
EMRC: What is the key to creating a sustainable business project in your community in Africa?
C: The drivers for success in sustainable project development in Africa is to be brave
enough to take risks, to believe completely in what you want to achieve and to
have the ambition to see your project through to completion. You should not
have a fear of failure and not allow yourself to be distracted from your goals
by the lack of financial resources.
On this note,
I’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Chairman of the Board of COOGES,
Mr Kouame Kouakou Theophile,who was willing to take a risk with this business,
who has never doubted it for a moment and who pushes us to go all the way.