When the initial version of FarmGrow became available in Ghana, global cocoa trader Touton was the first company to embrace the system and started to promote the use of it among its network of farmers. Touton is deeply committed to supporting farmers in increasing their yields and income from existing cocoa lands and to avoid expansion into forest areas. To that end, 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.
FarmGrow is a new digital application that provides farmers and companies with relevant information and recommendations to increase productivity. Touton especially values the tailored and personalized approach of FarmGrow. With many data points collected on plot level, the tool looks at farming and business operations in a much more detailed and systemic manner. This in turn allows the platform to generate farm and plot level data insights that better reflect the specific requirements and needs of the farmer.
The FarmGrow coaches use the digital tool to guide the farmer on a personal level in creating and implementing a long-term business plan. One of the coaches at Touton, Jeffery Abam, says the benefits of the FarmGrow method are numerous. The tool’s output is accurate; it’s easy to determine the socio-economic status of farming households; and the data collected across a farmer network can be easily retrieved for reference. Best of all, because the plan is individualized and coaches are trained to apply a personal approach, farmers are coming to understand their farm management in a way that makes increasing yields and income a reality step by step.
As Bismark Dzinaku, another Touton coach puts it, farmers are beginning to think of their farms as a business rather than a way of life taken for granted. Bismark Dzinaku also agrees that the one-on-one coaching of farmers is one of FarmGrow’s biggest strengths. His role as a coach is to build a personal relationship with farmers, helping them learn to understand the FarmGrow plan and how to implement its recommendations. This personal approach builds trust between a farmer and his coach, he explains, which strongly contributes to the overall uptake of farming recommendations.
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.
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.