Maps to the Future: How can soil map data be used by smallholder cocoa farmers?

Posted on 02/01/2021

Ghana is the second-largest cocoa producer in Africa, with the cocoa sector providing livelihoods for over 700,000 farmers in the country’s southern tropical belt. Most cocoa farmers in Ghana operate small-area, low-input farms where cocoa is mostly grown under full sun or very low shade with little or no fertilizer applied.

Healthy soil is critical for agricultural productivity, as well as lives and livelihoods, for these farmers. With soil health deteriorating in Ghana, it’s become critically important for farmers to know the practices that will help increase productivity and profits, lower input costs, and optimize fertilizer use. But many farmers don’t have access to the data or technology they need to implement these practices.

Enter our project, “Map to the Future (M2F): Integrating soil mapping into cocoa farm development plans in Ghana.”

[Read the full report here]

This project, funded by the World Bank’s Data Innovation Fund (a program of the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building III), was executed by Grameen Foundation in collaboration with The Sustainability Innovation Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. We set out to provide site-specific soil information that the smallholder cocoa farmers could use to improve their soil health and overall farm productivity.

Sustainable, Accessible Technology

We turned to two mobile applications to execute this project: FarmGrow and LandPKS.

FarmGrow is an Android-based decision-making tool used by cocoa extension coaches that we developed in collaboration with the Mars and Rainforest Alliance. The app tracks adoption of good agricultural practices for cocoa, presents farmers with individualized recommendations designed to increase their productivity, and generates a profit and loss statement to help farmers understand the financial investments needed to reach this level of productivity over a multi-year timeline.

The Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) is an open-source suite of land management tools developed within a single app, initially funded by the USAID, and developed and implemented by the USDA. LandPKS can be used globally to collect the information necessary to determine land potential, assess and monitor major changes in plant community composition, and determine wind and water erosion risk. The LandPKS team is led by the USDA-Jornada Research Unit in partnership with SILC and New Mexico State University.

What We Found

After conducting a series of analyses, here are some of our findings:

  • Observational soil data currently collected by FarmGrow agronomists and farmers could be replaced with LandPKS data, and reduce agronomist or farmer error.
  • Site-specific soil recommendations could go beyond cocoa to identify crops most suited for planting with cocoa based on their soil’s condition, and increase soil fertility through increased biodiversity.
  • LandPKS could be used with other databases to determine the suitability of the land for up to 54 crops, and integrated with tools similar to FarmGrow to improve these recommendations.

Adoption of these practices and tools requires trust, investment, and the general belief that steps taken today will lead to improvement tomorrow. As the legendary USDA soil scientist Charles Kellogg is quoted as saying, “Each soil has had its own history. Like a river, a mountain, a forest, or any natural thing, its present condition is due to the influences of many things and events of the past.”

The M2F team hopes that this analysis both informs improvements to existing soil maps and leads to trustworthy and cost-effective recommendations for smallholder farmers and agronomic support organizations worldwide.

Dig Deeper Into the Study

Want to know more? Register for a conversation on the study Feb. 3, or check the Events page for an archived recording, once it's available.

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