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.
As the cocoa sector increasingly struggles with low and declining yields, FarmGrow’s cutting-edge technology offers an innovative way to monitor and increase the productivity of cocoa farms. Smallholder farmers produce most of the world’s cocoa. Unfortunately, very few receive the information and personal support needed to address challenges such as declining soil fertility, aging trees and unpredictable weather and other climate-related problems.
FarmGrow offers an inventive solution— a digital application for mobile devices that provides farmers with a bespoke suite of information and services to increase their productivity. The tool effectively puts a personal agricultural coach straight into the farmer’s pocket, providing advice on more sustainable farming practices and even creating tailor-made business plans based on individual household profile data and the agronomic status of each cocoa plot.
Adam says one of the biggest benefits of FarmGrow is its potential to provide “more accurate, customized and scalable support to farmers.” Monitoring and productivity assessments are both time and labor-intensive, she explains. “In addition, some aspects of a farm can be complicated to assess accurately, even by trained field officers.”
This tool tackles these on-the-ground challenges also by harnessing technology from above: remote sensing. “Satellite technology can provide an accurate and low-cost assessment several agronomic criteria of cocoa plots.” There is also the question of speed: faster data analysis allows for faster decision-making and farm management on the ground. Often, time saved can make all the difference.
Touton has tested the FarmGrow methodology with the cocoa communities it sources from in Ghana, which is the world’s second largest cocoa-producing country. Already, Adam notes that the tool has met with a lot of enthusiasm amongst farmers who find it user-friendly and particularly like its tailor-made approach. And it is not just farmers who benefit. Adam is quick to note that these data insights also help companies determine how to efficiently allocate their resources at scale.
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.
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.
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.
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.