Robin is one of the first cocoa doctors to graduate from the Cocoa Academy. In 2010, when he brought back the grafting technique to Mayoa village, it was still a very new concept to most of the cocoa farmers. With a 95% guaranteed survival rate and the pioneer advantage of setting a relatively higher price (budwood at $0.3 USD each, grafting service at $ 1USD/tree), Robin made his first pot of gold. His customers were also happy about the result of grafting: in less than 2 years, they saw yield increasing from 200kg to 800kg/Ha, and are expecting to harvest up to 2 mt or more with regular use of fertilizer and GAP.
“There will be one day that all farms in the village are grafted or replanted, and farmers can always learn to do grafting on their own,” said Robin. He knows that grafting is laying the foundation of future business: to reach 2 ton/ha, farmers will always need to buy fertilizer. Robin has a plan to develop a team of grafters to accelerate his grafting business and build up customer base, then shift to fertilizer distribution.
To ensure the quality of grafting service, the team is trained by experts from Cocoa Academy. They work as contractors while Robin supervises the grafting quality. He managed to keep the cost of grafting low, at a salary of $50 USD/Ha plus free training and help to the grafters to start their own grafting business later. In 2012, grafting contributed 28% to his annual income, at $3,500 USD.
In 2013, as many grafters started their own independent business, the sales of budwood and grafting services dropped. But before that happened, Robin prepared himself for the fertilizer distribution business. He is confident about the demand of fertilizer from his customers, and keeps a stock worth $ 11,000 USD. The profitability in 2013 is between 30% to 50%.
Robin has built strong connections with local government and NGOs, and is often invited to demonstrate farming techniques, which also brings him good business. For instance, he has orders for seedlings and fertilizers from the extension office.
Robin sees great potential in cocoa farming. Besides investing in his CVC business, he is buying abandoned land from cocoa farmers in his village, and hires workers to rehabilitate his farms. Started from 1 Ha in 2004, Robin has already purchased 13 Ha of land.
As a man with great business sense, Robin is exploring an opportunity to add bean collection to his services. He was inspired by the feedback from fertilizer customers, saying that they find it difficult to pay in cash, and offered to pay in wet beans. That is very attractive to Robin, because there is an administration fee of $20 USD per ton in bean collection, and it requires minimum work from a cocoa doctor. But as Robin expands his business interests, the CDC operators monitor the quality of his interventions to ensure that farmers are only getting the best.
Today, Robin has more than 549 customers. “The business is doing well. But if I want to have a stable business, they (cocoa farmers) must have a stable 2ton/ha yield first,” Robin tells us. “Only when they are good, my business can be good.”