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.
FarmGrow continues to trial new technologies that have the potential to bring a greater control over the production process and farm management for cocoa farmers and their coaches. Therefore, we collaborate with Waterwatch Cooperative, an ag-tech organization focusing on optimizing agricultural production with efficient use of resources by applying tech-based services.
For FarmGrow, Waterwatch has trailed a service based on drone technology to support the field activities of the coaches. FarmGrow coaches visit farmers several times a year and give detailed advice to the farmer on how to adjust cocoa farm and cultivation practices in order to increase the productivity. The drone-based service provides detailed insights on the farm layout and agronomic conditions that support the coach and farmer in making good decisions.
For example, the high-resolution drone images provide the coach and the farmer with a detailed overview of the farm from above. These images enable the coach to make a very targeted farm inspection. On these images you can see the layout, pattern and quality of cocoa trees, shade tree cover, dead trees, open spots and other vegetation as palm oil and plantain. This information gives a quick overview on the setup of the farm and which areas need attention. Both coaches and farmers indicate that this is helpful to get a good overview of the of the problem areas in the farm and to setup the inspection more efficiently, which saves time in the process.
To even better understand the farm, two so called masks have been developed based on the drone imagery. These masks can highlight and distinguish certain properties and land use on the farm in high detail. The first masks distinguishes the locations of cocoa trees from other crops and vegetation types and points out where there are still open spots (see brown color in the image below). The second mask shows the location of shade trees and determines the height of these shade trees (see blue colour in the images below). This information can be used to quickly assess the farm setup and discover areas that have a potential for denser cocoa planting, and more optimal use of shade cover.
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.
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.