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International companies launch satellite imagery technology to help cocoa farmers up yields

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Five international companies have launched an initiative that employs digital technology by use of satellite imagery to create digital individualized Farm Development Plans (FDPs) to increase cocoa farmers’ yields to 1500kg/ha per year, triple the average of Ghanaian farmers for example through sustainable farming methods.

The Rainforest Alliance, Grameen Foundation, Touton, Satelligence and Waterwatch Projects created SATFarming that builds 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.

The Farm Development Plan (FDP) is a decision making and planning tool for smallholder cocoa farmers, and includes agronomic practices that they need to adopt as well as the financial investment needed to do so to increase their productivity to up to 1500 kg/hectare. It is a tool for field officers to assist cocoa farmers with increasing their productivity through monitoring, coaching, training and financial planning. The data required for the FDP is collected by field agents from large cocoa traders such as Touton and a process for doing is already in place.

Smallholder farmers produce the 80 per cent of the world’s cocoa. While demand for cocoa is higher than ever, these farmers face persistent poverty, due in part to declining yields, low cocoa prices, and ever-mounting threats from climate-related pests and plant diseases.

Unfortunately, very few farmers receive timely information, training, or coaching and most lack financial means that could help overcome these challenges.

In Ghana for instance which is the second largest exporter of cocoa, yields last year were 700,000 tonnes, short of the forecasted 850,000 tonnes according to Cocobod Marketing Board, the country’s agency tasked with development of the crop. Cocoa beans are dried and used to make products such as butter used in the manufacture of drinking chocolate. It is also used to make moisturizing creams and soaps.

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Cocoa. Courtesy

Technology, however, can offer a fast and scalable solution to guide farmers over a seven-year period. And now, in order to make the FDPs even more precise—and to deliver FDPs to even more farmers, the companies are announcing Ag-Tech Developer Challenge, a competition to create a remote sensing data product to support the mobile-enabled FDPs.

Acclaimed expert competition judges include Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist of Google; Kim Frankovich, Vice President of Cocoa Sustainability of Mars Inc.; Farouk Nyame, Technical Manager of the Cartography Unit in the Ghana Cocoa Board; and Daan de Vries, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer of the Rainforest Alliance.

A grand prize of €100,000 ($115,000) and another of €75,000 ($86,000) will be awarded for implementing the idea, but all ideas will be considered for possible future engagement by the Rainforest Alliance.

Contest applicants will design their remote sensing product to be piloted with cocoa farmers in Ghana, where the alliance envisions 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 as well, with the aim of reaching about 120,000 cocoa farmers globally.

Interested applicants can click here to learn about contest requirements and guidelines before the 15th of March 2019.

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