Good Food for Cities

COOSEMPODA and Kampani: the right growth capital for a resilient business and a thriving community

September 6, 2023
Heleen Verlinden
International Communications
Norvin Palma
Good Food for Cities coordinator in Nicaragua

Follow us back to 2019. COOSEMPODA, a Nicaraguan cooperative, produced about 80% of the cabbage sold in Nicaraguan markets. They dreamt of increasing their crop offer. Yet, they couldn’t afford to invest in washing facilities needed to clean other produce. As a result, they had no option but to sell their other produce to intermediaries, instead of bringing it directly to the market themselves.

Rikolto has been working with COOSEMPODA since 2016, to increase their profitability and sustainability by considering the wellbeing of their members, the community, and the environment.

  • First, we worked alongside COOSEMPODA to increase its professionalism in organisational, productive and entrepreneurial capacity. Building on SCOPE assessments, we jointly defined action plans to tackle COOSEMPODA’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Second, we helped by connecting them with companies, social impact investors and service providers willing to do business at fair prices and with shared risks, for long-term income security and stable demand. Furthermore, we worked with universities and research centres to support studies and innovations that addressed critical issues as climate change.
  • Third, we supported the sustainable chain development between the organisation and supermarkets or franchises such as Subway and Walmart, and supported the creation of a union of 6 vegetable cooperatives, called UCHON, to strengthen their bargaining position and the diversification of their product offer. We also enabled the cooperative to open up more marketing channels, such as a wholesale distribution centre in the market of Managua, the capital.

Follow-up SCOPE assessments in 2019 showed an increase in professionalism scores. The cooperative was ready to grow, but access to finance was a major blocker. This was Rikolto’s sign to facilitate a connection with Belgian social impact organisation Kampani. Coosempoda applied for the funding by presenting a solid investment plan backed by the results of the Scope assessments and the experience of working with various actors in the Nicaraguan and Central American horticulture sector and… Enter Kampani, with a long-term loan of USD 215,000.

From a slow start…

Kampani’s loan to COOSEMPODA would help the cooperative to make the type of investments that they could not do in the short run: a new washing facility, a seedling production facility and a refrigerated vehicle. Yet, it was 2020.

Operationalising the loan was challenging to say the least: the pandemic significantly slowed down life, prices of agricultural inputs increased by up to 30%, importing a new washing and drying machine took much longer than expected, and Eta and Iota, two category 5 and 6 hurricanes, hit Nicaragua a week apart, causing the loss of production of several food products.

… to a more resilient business…

Fast forward to 2023. Meanwhile, COOSEMPODA has acquired a new washing facility, allowing them to process, besides cabbage, also roots, tubers and lettuce. With some delay, they also acquired a refrigerated truck to transport produce requiring refrigeration directly to supermarkets in Managua.

The cooperative has also been able to invest in the construction of mesh houses for the commercial production of tomatoes and peppers, and in greenhouses for the production of seedlings to increase quantity and quality. This has been quite profitable: in April 2023, some 300,000 seedlings were distributed to farmers, both members and non-members of the cooperative.

COOSEMPODA's facilities seen from above

Thanks to these changes, COOSEMPODA has been able not only to sell its members’ products at a premium price but also to enhance the quality of the marketing and financial services it provides to members and non-members alike. This translates into increases in its membership: the cooperative now has 102 active members, of which 14 women.

And the cooperative continues to demonstrate its ambition: in addition to producing high-quality vegetables for the local market, COOSEMPODA members produce coffee as well and were successful in selling four containers of coffee to the US in 2022.

… and a thriving community

“When agricultural enterprises have access to the right type of capital for growth, they can generate significant and lasting benefits for the communities they serve, and this is clearly the case with Coosempoda.” Kampani Annual Report, 2022

The progress made has significantly benefited not only the farmers who are members of COOSEMPODA, but also their larger community. As COOSEMPODA’s business is growing stronger, they have started strengthening community ties by donating to schools, sports facilities and churches. Besides financial targets, Kampani has also set social targets for the cooperative, which include an increase in female and youth participation and a continuation of current efforts to promote environmental health, amongst others through recycling efforts.

And Rikolto?

As part of our Good Food for Cities programme, Rikolto continues to support COOSEMPODA on its growth path. This support is structured around three strategic pillars that guide Rikolto’s work: sustainable production, inclusive markets and enabling environment. In 2022, we worked with COOSEMPODA members to set up 3 model coffee farms that showcase the principles behind agroforestry systems and good agricultural practices. We also continue to support the implementation of good agricultural practices in vegetable production, amongst others by working on the importance of collecting empty pesticide and fertiliser containers, which risk to contaminate the nearby Lake Apanás. In 2022, COOSEMPODA collected a total of 671.5 kg of containers from its members.

Kampani visiting COOSEMPODA in the summer of 2023

Multi-stakeholder collaborations to derisk investments

Collaborations between NGOs, cooperatives and impact investors, like this one between COOSEMPODA, Rikolto and Kampani, are powerful tools to contribute to resilient and thriving farming communities. It’s a win-win: NGOs like Rikolto are well placed to identify potential deals, facilitate connections and accelerate the trust-building process between the cooperative and Kampani. In this case, the cooperative’s leadership has often explicitly referred to the feedback loop with Rikolto, and has repeatedly confirmed that our involvement was decisive when building the relationship with Kampani.

Read more about how an innovative stakeholder-shareholder investment model is helping smallholder farmers grow and thrive in this article co-written by our Executive Director and Kampani board member Chris Claes, Kampani Executive Director Wouter Vandersypen and Kampani Chair Steven Serneels.

Impact Investing for the Missing Middle in Agri-finance: read more!
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