A food traceability software to smooth the cocoa beans supply chain

According to the Innova Market Insights, traceability in the food supply chain was the top concern for consumers in 2021. 60% of people interviewed globally want to know more on what happens across the farm to fork value chain.

However, rather than at its end, one can taste the most bitter issues along the first mile of the agricultural value chain. That’s why Farmforce developed a sweet food supply chain technology that keeps track of cocoa-based products right from their source.

Before unlocking the advantages of our supply chain visibility software as a service (SaaS), let’s get to the roots of the cocoa beans value chain.

The cocoa supply chain architecture

Obvious as it sounds, the life of a chocolate bar starts at the cocoa farm. However, the cocoa supply chain structure changes based on which country you are in and how smallholder farmers deliver cocoa beans (i.e., dry or wet).

Geographical specificities

Every country has its own way of arranging the cocoa supply chain. For instance, in Côte d’Ivoire and other West African states farmers are generally members of a cooperative. With up to 3,000 members, coops are the key link between growers and the purchasers. In Latin America, coops have fewer farmers yet larger farms. Just to give some perspective, Côte d’Ivoire farms are around 2 ha, while in Brazil they can be up to 10 times as large.

On the other hand, Ghana is a typical example of a state-driven value chain. Here, the government-led organization Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) controls the whole stream and is the only exporter from Ghana.

Dry beans vs wet beans

West African countries usually go for a dry beans cocoa value chain setup, where smallholder farmers ferment and dry beans in-house. After harvesting the wet cocoa beans from cacao trees, growers lay them in a wooden box with holes at the bottom to drain away the pulp juice. As cocoa beans ferment, they reduce their bitterness while developing their flavor. After 5 to 7 days, farmers let the beans sun-dry over tables or mats for up to 10 days. By turning them regularly, they allow beans to dry evenly and once reached a moisture level of around 7%, they pack them in 60 Kg jute bags.

When leaving the farm, the cocoa beans journey varies depending on the country of origin. For instance, in Côte d’Ivoire, cocoa producers carry the dry beans to the village warehouse, a.k.a. section, where a delegate deals with the purchase of the cocoa beans.

At this point, the cocoa beans have already travelled the agricultural first mile. Being dried, they can sit at the section for a long time without losing their freshness. However, once at least 30 bags have piled up in the warehouse, a small truck pick them up for the so-called primary evacuation. This is just the transit between the section and the coop warehouse, where bags are usually reweighted.

As the number of bags in the coop warehouse approaches 600 units or so, you’ll have your first lot. Based on the International Trade Centre guidelines, a lot is defined as the minimum amount to be traded in a contract, which is 10 metric tons for cocoa. In Côte d’Ivoire a cocoa lot usually amounts to between 30 and 40 tons.

Cooperatives and local traders register each lot in an online system, which is the Conseil du Café Cacao (CCC)’s SICOPS in Côte d’Ivoire. After entering the lot’s data, they can then generate a consignment number, a.k.a. connaissement. This is an official document reporting the amount and the origin of the cocoa lot. It’s then all ready for the secondary evacuation, when a bigger truck transports cocoa beans to the export warehouse.

Instead, the wet bean approach is typical in Latin America. The main difference in this case is that fermentation and drying processes happen at an external center rather than on the farm.

This implies a production traceability gap, which is the major drawback of this model. That’s because farmers deliver their wet cocoa beans bags to a coop warehouse or a trader-owned center, where operators unpack beans and mix them together for processing. To be more specific, coop or trader personnel put cocoa beans in a fermentation box for 3 days or so. After that, they lay the beans on the tables to dry. Finally, they bag the dried product before sending it to the exporter.

The banana skins of cocoa beans value chain

Unfortunately, the cocoa supply chain bears some bitter fruit.

Cocoa beans are one of the crops driving deforestation. Over 50% of the world’s tropical forests have been ravaged since the 1960s, with 80% of them leaving space for livestock grazing and agricultural land. To counter this issue, the European Union has just released a new regulation to promote the consumption of deforestation-free products only. In the wake of this new law, tracing cocoa beans to the farm level becomes paramount.

Besides depriving our planet from invaluable carbon captors, cocoa farming bereaves kids of their childhood. According to the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), child labor affects 1.56 million children in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana alone.

Yet, Farmforce has crafted a food traceability software that turns data into action-oriented tools. By using these, organizations can tackle these two pressing issues from the cocoa value chain’s first mile.

The digital recipe for a traceable & sustainable cocoa value chain

Regardless of which supply chain model you refer to, Farmforce cooked up a food tech looking after cocoa beans’ traceability from farm to export, where traders’ IT services take over.

To be more specific, we devised our Information Management System (IMS) to engage and interconnect all the cocoa supply chain actors in the first mile. Our agricultural software recipe, designed for small farm management, features 3 essential ingredients:

Office staff: At the top, you have an operational manager and a group administrator (a.k.a. ADG) using the IMS website for handling certifications and issuing surveys in a few clicks time. In addition, multinational corporations (MNCs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and cooperatives can access our web platform to create and conduct Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) surveys to investigate any child labor on the farm. What’s more is that our digital tool links farmers to their family members. Therefore, you can have an effective oversight of any kids in child labor. Data collected in Farmforce are available to Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS) community facilitators (which are often farmers). By visiting households, CLMRS facilitators raise awareness on child labor and identify any children in danger. In case they come across anyone in or at risk of child labor, they record them in a digital system and put in place remediation strategies (e.g., providing children with educational material, supporting income-generating activities for farmers).

Field staff: This includes a section delegate, a coach, and an internal auditor. They all use the IMS mobile app to liaise both with the office staff and the farmers. Sections delegates play a very strategic role. Besides recording cocoa beans purchases and registering growers’ profiles on our digital database, they can also upload farmers’ GPS-mapped plots using the polygon feature. Our SaaS then assigns a unique ID number to each farmer which is associated with their farm location and is attached to the lot’s purchase paperwork. Traders can upload the plots’ shape file onto the Global Forest Watch (GFW) platform and overlay it with historical deforestation data recorded over the last 15 years. Doing so, they’ll find out whether cocoa beans producers are farming protected or deforested lands. Using the Farmforce database, delegates can also check the amount of cocoa beans delivered by the farmers at the section against their given quota. The latter is just the maximum quantity of cocoa beans each farmer is allowed to deliver. By monitoring quota, we minimize the risk of uncertified and  untraceable cocoa beans sneaking into the supply chain.

Smallholder farmers: Accounting for 84% of the world’s 570 million farms, smallholder farmers are the vital pillar of the agricultural value chain development. Besides receiving adequate training, growers will soon expand their capabilities within our IMS. In fact, Farmforce has been piloting a Farmer App which is expected to go online by 2023.

By coordinating the above mentioned three first mile players, Farmforce put in place a bag-level traceability. Each bag is associated with a farmer’s field and recorded in our system. Farmforce’s agricultural supply chain software then generates a unique barcode to stick onto each bag. This enables us to track bags and their weight as they move across the cocoa beans value chain.

On top of that, our IMS ensures an all-year-round visibility of the fertilizers and chemicals used by farmers on their fields. This is crucial to detect any contamination hot spots. Also, relying on these farm data, companies can make sure their cocoa beans suppliers adopt sustainable farming techniques that comply with GLOBALG.A.P., Rainforest Alliance, and other certification schemes.

Using APIs, coop staff can pull out all data stored by Farmforce and transfer them to the trader’s system. Traders, in their turn, pass the information on chocolate manufacturers. Overall, thanks to our food tech, the chocolate industry can confidently satisfy consumers’ appetite for cocoa beans’ traceability and sustainability.

The driving Farmforce making you go the extra first mile

Back in 2017, Cargill aimed at implementing Farmforce’s barcode-based, bag-level traceability system across their whole cocoa supply chain in Cote d’Ivoire.

After 3 years of collaboration, the cocoa trader has now upgraded their four-cooperative pilot to our new Global Management System (GMS). Born as an evolution of our IMS, this sustainable food supply chain management let Cargill consolidate all of its sourcing operations across West Africa into a single integrated platform. This model connects over 130 cooperatives and engages more than 250,000 smallholder farmers.

Also, by mapping cocoa tree fields nearby National Parks, rivers, and other protected ecosystems, our GMS strengthened Cargill’s efforts against deforestation.

Farmforce will keep pushing Cargill forward to help them meet their ambitious target. 100% traceability along the first mile of their direct and indirect cocoa value chain by 2030.

To add to that, our streamlined first-mile solution facilitated the achievement of the FairTrade certification for 3 Ivorian cooperatives. These are currently using our IMS to store their own data and benefit from it. They will know exactly how many cocoa beans their members buy and where they get them from. Thanks to this level of certification, they’ll become more attractive trading partners for MNCs.

As you can see, our first-mile SaaS solutions provide organizations with the confidence to secure sustainable sourcing, improve farmer quality of life and protect the environment. Using Farmforce’s data-driven tools translates into more vetted acres, more measurable impact on local communities, more financial opportunities for farmers, and more clarity for your customers.