Smallholder farmers produce the majority of the world’s cocoa. While demand for cocoa is higher than ever, these farmers face persistent poverty, due in part to declining yields and ever-mounting threats from climate-related pests and plant diseases. Unfortunately, very few farmers receive timely information, training, or coaching that could help overcome these challenges.
Technology, however, can offer fast and scalable solutions—and that’s why the Rainforest Alliance, Grameen Foundation, Touton, Satelligence, University of Ghana, and Waterwatch Projects created SAT4Farming, an initiative that employs digital technology and satellite imagery to create digital individualized Farm Development Plans (FDPs) that guide farmers over a seven-year period. In order to make the FDPs even more precise—and to deliver FDPs to even more farmers—the Rainforest Alliance held the Ag-Tech Developer Challenge, a competition to create a remote sensing data product to support the mobile-enabled FDPs. The competition is now closed—and we are pleased to report an overwhelming response to the call for proposals.
Contest judges include Ed Parsons, geospatial technologist at Google; Kim Frankovich, vice president of cocoa sustainability of Mars Inc.; Farouk Nyame, technical manager of the cartography unit at the Ghana Cocoa Board; and Daan de Vries, chief innovation and technology officer at the Rainforest Alliance. A prize of €100,000 ($115,000) and another of €75,000 ($86,000) will be awarded for the proposals chosen for implementation, but all ideas are being entertained for possible future engagement with the Rainforest Alliance.
Remote sensing—images from satellite or radar that can spot sickly trees, for example—could transform the way FDPs are now created. Currently a field agent goes to each farm to collect and record information, whereas with remote sensing and upcoming Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies the same information can be gathered much more quickly, cheaply, and precisely—and for many more farmers. The SAT4Farming initiative aims to increase cocoa farmers’ yields to 1500kg per year—triple the average for Ghanaian farmers, for example—through sustainable farming methods. Contest applicants will design their remote-sensing product to be piloted with cocoa farmers in Ghana, where we envision reaching 30,000 farmers by the end of 2020. The remote sensing product eventually will be used for FDPs in other cocoa producing landscapes in Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Ecuador, and Nigeria, with the aim of reaching about 120,000 cocoa farmers.
SAT4Farming builds on a pilot in Indonesia where Mars, the Rainforest Alliance, and Grameen Foundation partnered to create the digital FDP. It is based on a specialized agronomic model for cocoa that includes digital certification performance information. In Ghana, the integration of satellite imagery is expected to streamline the process of creating an FDP, facilitate monitoring, and provide greater insights into dynamic environmental conditions.
Stay tuned to find out who won the Ag-Tech Developer Challenge.