Certification for Growth
Fairtrade started more than 30 years ago to enable farmers and workers to have more control over their lives and invest in a sustainable future. Fairtrade certifies cocoa and other products that meet rigorous social, economic, and environmental standards, from farm to shelf. Farmers and workers benefit from Fairtrade’s Minimum Price and Premium guarantees, as well as standards, training, and support on topics from gender equality to climate change adaptation, to good agricultural practices and crop diversification. When it comes to the food supply chain, the foundation adamantly supports cooperatives, acknowledging their potential to improve smallholder farmers’ livelihoods. Beyond farming practices, Fairtrade believes democratic, transparent, and participative cooperatives can be powerful economic and political aggregators that can respond to their members’ needs and manage their business operations effectively.
Since 2019, the Fairtrade Cocoa Standard requires all Fairtrade-certified coops to implement an Information Management System (IMS). Such systems collect data on members’ farms, production, and sales, and enable them to manage risks such as deforestation. The ability to track the purchased cocoa from each member’s farm is essential to ‘first mile’ traceability. The aim of the IMS requirement was to promote cooperatives’ collection and ownership of their own data in one place and to enable them to better track and manage risks, which in turn meets commercial partners’ information needs. In addition, having detailed member and sales information can help cooperatives to access bank loans.
However, while training a few African coops in the lead-up to the IMS implementation, Fairtrade came across some issues. Although the cooperatives were learning how to use an IMS, they were not fully integrating the system into their data collection and storage practices. Most coops were still loosely recording information on spreadsheets or even on paper. Coops were also collecting an enormous amount of data for other third parties, such as NGOs, government entities, traders, and other certification bodies, usually each with different systems. Even when the cooperatives had set up their IMS and integrated all their data into it, the managers were not conducting much data analysis.
That is when Fairtrade turned to Farmforce to forge a partnership. The aim was to have a system where coops-maintained ownership of their data, increasing their cocoa traceability while collecting information that helps reduce risks such as deforestation and child labor.
In 2020, we started a pilot project with three Fairtrade-certified cocoa cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire, providing our supply chain management software as a service (SaaS). The initial pilot was also supported by the local software implementation organization, Think! Data Services. As of May 2022, Farmforce and Fairtrade are scaling the project up to a further twenty-five cooperatives.
One of the pilot’s main takeaways was that coop’s senior leadership must be fully committed to the project to make the IMS a success. This is achieved if coop managers are made aware of and appreciate the following:
We also set up a centralized mailbox for coops to request assistance whenever needed. This will also be used in phase 2 and will be complemented in the first eighteen months by intensive in-person support from Farmforce and Fairtrade. This will maximize coop managers’ engagement in the crucial early months and help us nurture long-term relationships with them.
In order to better reinforce expertise on-site, we introduced a superuser concept at each coop. Superusers are often more tech-savvy and receive specific training so they can help coop colleagues familiarize themselves with the technology, and serve as a link between Fairtrade, Farmforce, and the coop.
Since the pilot phase, the need for coops to have a digitalized IMS has grown even further. The evolving regulatory landscape in Europe on Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence and deforestation means that coops will need to manage more complex data and risk analysis to continue selling their cocoa on the European market–which farmers are reliant on for their livelihoods. The Farmforce system enables coops to have the digital capacity to manage this data.
The Fairtrade-Farmforce partnership expansion will now see an additional twenty-five cooperatives engaged with the Farmforce system, with nearly 400 people trained on how to use the software for optimizing efficiency for the cooperatives and their members.
In line with the pilot phase, we have selected an eclectic mix of coops to boost our learnings through this journey. Scaling up will not necessarily be easy, but we are working hard to minimize the challenges. For example, Farmforce has developed a standardized IMS configuration that could be adapted to any of the 25 Ivorian coops engaged in phase 2. Together with the pilot cooperatives, Think! Data, and Fairtrade, we have crafted data templates to speed up the upload of coop-specific datasets. In addition, we have designed a Farmforce Academy (FFA) program to streamline our training campaign.
“Because of the logistics challenges, an extensive and high-quality training on the solution will be really beneficial to our cooperative for collecting the information needed, streamlining our certification process, and accessing new markets,” Louis Sosthene B., trainee from the Coop CA ECAPR., said. “Considering the increasing stakes in the sector and the upcoming stricter regulations, digitizing our farms is a step we need to take to improve our activity and the living conditions of the producers.”
“Our primary mission during this scale-up phase is to ensure that the involved cooperatives are enabled to use Farmforce effectively, leading to long-term benefits for their businesses and for their members,” says Jon Walker, Fairtrade’s Senior Advisor for Cocoa. “Ultimately, the focus for us is to ensure greater efficiency in cooperative management based on the principles of Fair Data, or the implementation of fairness in data distribution and ownership.”
Fairtrade changes the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions, and a fairer deal for farmers and workers in developing countries. Fairtrade International is an independent non-profit organization representing 1.9 million small-scale farmers and workers worldwide. It owns the FAIRTRADE Mark, a registered trademark of Fairtrade that appears on more than 30,000 products. Beyond certification, Fairtrade International and its member organizations empower producers, partner with businesses, engage consumers, and advocate for a fair and sustainable future.
At Farmforce, food’s first mile is our passion. Our SaaS solutions provide organizations with the confidence to secure sustainable sourcing, improve farmers’ quality of life and protect the environment. We turn data into tools, which means more vetted acres, more measurable impact on communities, more financial opportunities for farmers, and more clarity for customers. We believe in building a better food supply where it starts. Farmforce customers span 28 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. With over nine years of experience now managing over 735,000+ farmers in 27 crop value chains in 15 languages on our platform. A continuous loop of innovation with our customers in the center of food’s first mile journey.