Most of the world’s cocoa is produced by smallholder farmers, who all too often live in severe poverty. The struggle to make a decent living is getting tougher as farmers grapple with aging trees, declining soil fertility and a whole host of new challenges arising from unpredictable weather conditions to increased outbreaks of pests and diseases.
Very few farmers have access to the information and personal coaching needed to address these challenges effectively—but FarmGrow aims to change that. With this new digital application, farmers now produce a long-term business plan together with their personal coach. With data insights supported by satellite technology, the tool provides farmers with tailored business plans and advises on responsible methods to increase productivity on existing land. Although it is still early days, farmers who have been using the new tool are already responding enthusiastically.
Theresa Agyemang Badu says she would definitely recommend FarmGrow to her fellow cocoa farmers. When her husband passed away, she suddenly found herself in charge of their five acre-farm in Osei-Kusi Comunity, Kasapin district—and of being the primary earner for a family of 13. She decided to work with FarmGrow because she thought that having an individualized plan and coaching would help her boost her farm’s productivity and the family’s income.
Since starting in July 2018, Badu has already increased the average number of pods on her farm. She has done intensive pruning and thinning of her trees, as her plan recommended. She expects her post-harvest losses to be reduced and looks forward to the benefits of digital record-keeping. Knowing that coaches will report back to her regularly on her progress and make further recommendations is also a boon.
Smallholder farmer stands on his cocoa farm
Fellow cocoa farmer, Nana Kwame Korang, is similarly optimistic about his future with FarmGrow. Though Korang grew up in a farming family, he only decided to go into full time farming two year ago after having worked in the government sector for some time. Immediately attracted by the tool’s structured support for long term investment planning, Korang started implementing FarmGrow’s recommendations on his 20-acre farm. Already, he reports that his cocoa trees are starting to look healthier and are bearing more of flowers and pods.
Even farmers with many years of experience behind them are finding that they can still learn a lot from FarmGrow coaches and the system. Eric Berko has been a farmer for 20 years and was taught about the land by his uncle. After using FarmGrow, Berko says he has much better understanding of how to make smart savings—by spending money on pesticides more targeted, for example—and plan investments in better farm management long term. Berko goes as far to say that FarmGrow sparked a big moment of realization for him: farming may be a way of life, but you need to think of it as running a business.
FarmGrow is all about intensive personal engagement with thousands of farmers in the major cocoa producing areas of the world, requiring many coaches in the field who are supporting farmers on how to produce more cocoa without negative effects on the environment. To monitor this at scale, consistent information on landscape level is required, this is where remote sensing technologies come in.
Touton, on-boarded coaches among its own staff to guide cocoa farmers participating in FarmGrow on a personal basis in order to help them implement their seven-year farming plans.
Precision agriculture technologies for the cocoa industry in West Africa and Indonesia is often deemed far-fetched. Smallholder farmers in these regions, however, are susceptible to negative changes in the environment and often lack timely, site specific and actionable advice.
Global cocoa trader Touton has been closely involved in the co-design of FarmGrow right from the very start. “We appreciated the innovative approach” says Isabelle Adam, responsible for corporate relations at the company.
For cocoa manufacturing company Mars, embracing FarmGrow was an easy decision. Kim Frankovich, the vice president of cocoa sustainability at Mars Wrigley, explains that the reason her company is a “supporter, enabler, and champion” of FarmGrow is because of the benefits it offers the industry.