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Satellite for Farming, or Sat4Farming, is a consortium of the Rainforest Alliance (lead institution), Touton, Grameen Foundation, University of Ghana, WaterWatch Projects, and Satelligence and is funded by the Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) program of the Netherlands Space Office (NSO). The Sat4Farming project is designed to assist smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana to increase cocoa yields from 400 kg/hectare to 1500 kg/hectare (over 300%) over an 8- to 10-year period by developing a geo-data enabled precision agriculture service and technology platform known as FarmGrow. Agronomists will use FarmGrow with participating cocoa farmers to provide them with individualized support in adopting good agricultural practices (GAPs) and increasing on-farm investments to improve cocoa yields and cocoa income.
This report outlines the results for a quantitative and qualitative baseline assessment that was conducted between November and December 2018 among cocoa farmers selected by Touton to engage with the Sat4Farming project. Farmers in Sunyani and Kasapin cocoa societies are considered the treatment group and farmers in Goaso, who will not receive services under Sat4Farming until after the endline study is completed in late 2020, are considered the comparison group.
The results of the Sat4Farming baseline study indicate that there is much room for improvement in farm conditions and the adoption of GAPs. There is low use of fertilizers (less than 30 percent) but relatively high use of insecticides (about 95 percent) and fungicides (about 70 percent); however, qualitative data indicates that farmers primarily face a challenge with respect to the timing of the application of insecticides and fungicides. When households do not own their own equipment and have to rely on someone else to spray their farm, the application of the sprays are often late, reducing their effectiveness.
Almost all farmers reported pruning in the last year, with most reporting either pruning twice or more than 10 times. Approximately 85 percent of farmers reported maintaining shade trees on their cocoa farms; for those who maintain shade trees, their estimated yields are much higher than those who do not have shade trees (311 kg/hectare compared to 289 kg/hectare among those without shade trees). Most farmers (77 percent) rely on slash-and-burn to prepare their land for both cocoa farming and cash crops. Between 32 and 47 percent of farmers reported establishing a new farm in the last five years, which raises a concern about deforestation. Instead of intensifying efforts on existing cocoa farms, farmers may be using new lands to achieve the yields they need for income purposes. Fifty percent of farmers reported using soil and water conservation techniques; intercropping followed by the planting of shade trees were the most reported techniques used.
Finally, a regression analysis revealed that insecticides followed by fungicides and pruning were the techniques most influential on yields. This suggests that for farmers who may have limited funds to apply all GAPs could see the most impact from applying insecticides and fungicides. Mars researchers shared that pruning may be significantly related to the other two techniques as pruning reduces the need for insecticides and fungicides when dead or disease limbs are also removed. Pruning also directs energy and nutrients into fruit-bearing branches. Therefore, farmers should consider pruning prior to insecticide and fungicide use given its double benefits to the tree.
If a typical farmer fully adopted all GAPs, Mars research estimates that a farmer might be expected to spend 4,492 GHS to simply maintain their current farm (no rehabilitation or renovation), resulting in an expected return of 400-500 kg per hectare. For rehabilitating and renovating their farm1, a farmer would be expected to spend between 5,500 and 9,442 GHS, respectively, resulting in an expected return of 1.5 metric tons per hectare. When the current average yield of 307 kg per hectare (as measured among the farmers in this study) is compared to the targets of either 400-500 kg per hectare for basic good farm maintenance and 1.5 metric tons per hectare that would result from farm renovation, there is significant room for improvement.
Farm renovation entails the removal of old trees and planting new trees. Rehabilitation includes grafting or rejuvenation pruning of existing trees. Both techniques (often known as R&R) improve productivity on farms by increasing the amount of coffee produced by each
If average incomes are 9,716.45 GHS for cocoa farmers and farm renovation can cost a similar amount (9,442 GHS), the investment gap is significant. However, despite the likely need for external investment, the results show there is very little use of credit among these farmers, either due to low access to credit or aversion to taking credit given real or perceived high-interest rates. When credit is noted, it is often coming from informal lenders such as the local cocoa purchasing clerk and often requested for non-cocoa related expenses, such as education fees, funeral expenses, and health costs.
Farmers also indicated that due to the seasonality of cocoa farming and their significant household expenditure, it is always difficult to save which affects their ability to attract credit. Most of the communities visited had no organized saving groups despite farmer interest in being part of such savings mechanisms. Farmers also felt that crop diversification and intercropping could help them have regular access to funds and facilitate their ability to save and access credit. Given women’s important roles in income diversification and intercropping, this could have important implications for how Sat4Farming should engage spouses of male farmers in key farming decisions if they are not already a primary decision-maker on the cocoa farm.
In conclusion, the baseline study indicates there is much room for improvement to ensure that the current yields of 307 kg per hectare reach the desired 1.5 metric tons per hectare goal set by the Sat4Farming project. FarmGrow has been designed to address this key concern: by supporting farmers in the adoption of GAPs and supporting the farmers’ understanding of the investment needs and the potential returns on investment will provide them with a clearer roadmap to improving their income and professionalizing their farms as well as providing the cocoa sector with a more reliable and sustained source of cocoa for years to come.