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The sustainability game: scoring tries with copra
The sustainability game: scoring tries with copra
News 23 Sep 2013

I feel exactly like I felt on a rugby field a few years ago.

As of January 2019, The Forest Trust has become Earthworm Foundation.

Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sept 12th: After a week spent in the field, being properly shaken on the bumpy roads of the western part of the country, I am finally back in town. My Ivorian colleague Gérôme is flying to Liberia today for a week and then he is off to Ghana. Tough journey ahead for him on roads, plane and African airports. I am always humbled by his perseverance, professionalism and his humility; in fact I am humbled by those qualities that I find in all TFTers.

Often, I feel exactly like I felt on a rugby field a few years ago: the opponent we face now though is different: he is still human, but he is a mixed team of Complexity, Arrogance, Greed and Egoism. That team is pretty big and pretty tough though – they lead the world’s championship at the moment – throwing some nasty punches in the scrum. But we are in there, in the field, TFTers alongside partner companies in one united team, fighting every ruck and pushing every maul as if victory depended on each play.

As in a rugby game, there are ups and downs, and we do argue between team members, but I turn my head and I see the other TFTers and TFT partner companies tackling hard and throwing themselves in the confusion. Commitment. Concentration. Deep breathing. Exhaustion. Despair. Hope. Dedication. Happiness. I look inside and I feel the same desire to fight, independently of the pain, however the risk or how big the opponent may be. Victory against an opponent of this size requires creativity. We don’t have the solutions or prepared moves that we unfold during the game. We improvise using our values and our experience. We try to create the try on the spot, together with our partners and according to the context at that moment.

Thinking about it, I am glad to be 36 and have this feeling that I have not retired from rugby yet!

Yesterday we were with Mohamed El Taouil, a Lebanese entrepreneur in Ivory Coast who processes copra to make oil. He was among TFT’s first partners in the country when we opened the office almost two years ago. His company – HMA (Huilerie Moderne d’Abidjan) used to collect copra to feed his factory and when we met for the first time, he shared with us the vision he had to have everything “properly done”, which for him meant controlling the quality, having traceability of its raw materials, making sure there is copra in the future to feed his growing factory and “doing good for people”. Two years later, ovens to better dry the coconut are being built with the collaboration of two local cooperatives and traceability is being developed.

Farmers are very enthusiastic about the project: instead of selling to local traders who would pick the product and go as they used to do in the past, they are now part of a wider vision, they can add value to their crop, earn more money and develop their activity as a business. Next step will be to make sure new coconut trees are planted to replace the aging ones. A dynamic is being changed locally and this could very well become an inspiring success story for other operations that also rely on smallholders to buy agricultural raw materials.

If PFT’s (a Swiss oil importer) deciders had not taken the decision to improve the sustainability of their copra oil supply from Ivory Coast, we would probably never have done so. At the time, there was no solution, no certification scheme, nothing to tell PFT, HMA and TFT how to do it. But we have been there together, in the field, facing complexity, facing the greed of buyers and of other copra traders who are constantly pushing for lower prices, and facing the lack of interest from international buying businesses for the sustainability of coconut oil (because no NGO campaign has happened on this topic yet); trying to find solutions, creating with our partners in order to win. We don’t know yet if we will, but we are in the game, rucking, mauling and tackling, aiming for a victory in rural Ivory Coast.

Come on guys! The 80 minutes are not yet finished. Let’s hang in there – there is still time to score tries before the final whistle.

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