Technology

New space satellite tech set to help cocoa traceability in West Africa

By Anthony Myers contact

- Last updated on GMT

Cocoa beans from Ghana, one of the world's largest producers. Photo: Lewis Rattray
Cocoa beans from Ghana, one of the world's largest producers. Photo: Lewis Rattray

Related tags: Technology, Cocoa

UK Space Agency’s pioneering Forests 2020 Project enables cocoa buyers to plot supply chain data onto satellite and LiDAR map.

African governments of cocoa-producing countries, along with the main producers, will have access to new satellite-derived information from the UK Space Agency’s Forests 2020 Project, led by tech company Ecometrica.

With over two million small-scale farmers growing cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana - the world’s biggest producers – governments and other stakeholders have been struggling with traceability of cocoa beans, leading to pressure on suppliers accused of unsustainable practices.

’Big cocoa’ has pledged to stamp out unsustainable farming methods that involve the destruction of protected rainforests in West Africa via the Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI), but it has proved a difficult task for an industry served by millions of small farmers in the region, said Ecometrica.

Deforestation

The Ghana Forestry Commission has already been supported in the development of a landscape-level map that separates cocoa from forestry, which is critical to measure how cocoa is driving deforestation.

In a further development, Ecometrica, which leads the Forests 2020 project to monitor tropical forests using satellite technology, says it is bringing together its innovative platform with new, more detailed land cover map to enable cocoa companies to securely plot their supply chain and assess their impact on protected areas.

Dr Richard Tipper, chairman of Ecometrica, said: “Cocoa and chocolate companies recognise the importance of sustainability and have clearly pledged to end deforestation caused by their industry. However, this has proven a difficult task because companies lacked the information to assess the effectiveness of their policies. The Ecometrica Platform will allow organisations to plot their own commercially confidential data onto the forest maps we are already creating with Forests 2020​.

This will offer a unified insight into what is actually happening in the vicinity of known suppliers, especially where legitimate farms border protected forests, and will therefore play an important role in helping companies and governments to sensitively tackle the complexity of ensuring supplies come from sustainable sources​.”

Shade loving

As a shade loving crop, cocoa is grown underneath the forest canopy and can be difficult to identify from traditional satellite monitoring. Traceability of individual batches of cocoa beans continues to represent a significant challenge to the industry, alongside the need to balance the livelihoods of millions of smallholders and preserve their natural environment.

Ecometrica said it is planning to add a further layer of information to the system in the coming months, using aircraft equipped with LiDAR, a method that can see through foliage to give a detailed 3D impression of a forest’s health and possible crops growing under the canopy. This will allow the project to further support Ghana in its commitment to the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, a joint pledge by the government and cocoa companies to reduce the impact of growing cocoa on natural forest in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire.

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