Technology in isolated communities

By Jemma Dyson - January 29th, 2021 | Posted in Article

Technology in Isolated Communities

Cacao is the crop which produces cocoa, the key ingredient for one of the world’s most popular sweet foods – chocolate. , particularly in emerging economies such as China and India.

Colombia is currently producing around 1-2% of global production, and falls behind smaller countries (by area) such as Ecuador, with production increasing by more than 60% between 2011 – 2019 up to an estimated 60 thousand metric tons per year.

In Colombia, a ‘ cacao bean variety can be produced. This variety of bean is of a higher quality and currently only equates to around 5% of the world’s cacao production, offering a significant opportunity to cacao farmers as demand increases for fine chocolate products.

Despite this significant economic opportunity, many farming communities producing cacao in Colombia are isolated and their futures are not secure for several reasons, including a lack of support, connectivity resources and funding.

Over the last 18 months, COLCO – the Colombia Cocoa Control System – has been working with farmers to transform the way they produce cacao, boost productivity, and create a more secure value chain using both new and repurposed existing technology solutions.

Challenges Faced by Cacao Farmers

After the Colombian Conflict, cacao was designated as an official peace crop. However, cacao farmers in Colombia still face many social and economic challenges:

  • Education – Many farmers are illiterate and therefore struggle to adopt technology and communicate with professionals such as agronomists.
  • Aspirations – Cacao farming is hard work and does not pay well. For this reason, many younger people and their families have aspirations beyond farming and instead pursue education or move to cities in search of financial stability.
  • Lack of resources – There is a lack of skilled, efficient labourers to support farmers.
  • Finances – In current farm conditions the farmers can see low profitability which prevents future investment in the farm. This can create a perpetual cycle of lack of investment and therefore low profit in each harvest.
  • Isolation – Due to the isolated nature of many farms across the country and therefore a disconnect between the farming community and the government. The government struggles to support them, and some farmers have little contact with professionals such as agronomists.
  • Coca – Coca, the crop from which cocaine originates, is still grown widely across Colombia. The plant is easier to grow and is more resilient to the changing climate; some farmers see growing coca as a better way to make money.
  • Mindset – Many farmers struggle to plan longer-term and do not have plans for the future.

 

Isolating communities image

How Technology Can Help

COLCO is working alongside farmers to develop solutions that can be used on cacao farms to improve productivity, ensure consistent quality of product, and improve post-harvest processes.

Applications such as WhatsApp are already improving literacy amongst farmers and can be used to deliver training, connect with agronomists, and strengthen communication within farming communities. This enables farmers to access support through from extension workers who have received improved training on crop pests and diseases, thus reducing the risk of crop failure and improving product consistency.

Through increased connectivity to climate intelligence data the farmers will be able to make better decisions on the crop management which will create a more sustainable market for the cocoa buyers. This technology coupled with education could also prevent farmers moving from cocoa to illicit crops.

With an increasing demand for the higher quality of bean produced in Colombia, technology can also be used to improve quality control during fermentation and drying, which are the processes that have a large impact on the overall flavour profile of the bean.

Engagement with technology will help cacao traders to improve quality control, make the process more efficient and ensure product consistency – all of which contribute to substantial growth potential for the sector.

Linking together all the information collected from the different COLCO subsystems can also help in improving the traceability of the cacao produced and increase transparency across the whole cacao value and supply chains, thus benefitting all stakeholders.

Summary

From growing to post-harvest, technology will play an important role in capitalising on the unique economic opportunity that cacao offers Colombia and improving the livelihoods of farmers and their communities.

To enable further use of technology in farming, COLCO has joined forces with a consortium of cacao specialists, technologists, and support experts in Colombia to support cacao farmers and unlock growth potential.

For more information about COLCO, or to explore opportunities for collaboration, contact us on 01235 428199 or email agriculture@sa.catapult.org.uk.

 

 

 

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