Making zero deforestation cocoa a reality

MapHubs has won the Chocothon People's Choice Award at the 2017 World Cocoa Foundation Conference, in Washington, DC. Ensconced in the trendy Impact Hub and fed a constant supply of delicious chocolate courtesy of Valrhona, we spent two days figuring out how to make cocoa truly deforestation-free. Given our experience mapping cocoa we decided to compete in the Chocothon -- a two day event to come up with a technology that improves the sustainability of cocoa and the livelihoods of farmers.

The sad reality of cocoa

While all of us enjoy a tasty bar of chocolate, cocoa is directly and indirectly responsible for an enormous of amount of deforestation across the cocoa belt of West Africa.

Cocoa farmers - many extremely poor with no other livelihood options - are unwitting pawns in a complex game where local timber and cocoa barons run rampant over poorly enforced forest laws. This has lead to the conversion of forest areas to cocoa farms - some home to chimpanzees.

Chocolate companies and cocoa suppliers have made lofty commitments to sustainably source cocoa but for a variety of reasons, turning rhetoric into reality has proven difficult.

The supplier spider web

Cocoa beans meander through a complex web of actors from farm to factory, which currently makes linking deforestation to a particular farm nearly impossible. Cocoa has millions of farmers with small cocoa plots scattered across the West Africa. Some sell to cooperatives or directly to processing facilities.

The opportunities to "launder" so-called clean or deforestation-free beans with dirty ones are countless. Even with certification schemes and other supply chain transparency initiatives, there is no way to guarantee that your cocoa beans are deforestation-free.

The fundamental problem is if you don't know which farm your beans came from, you don't know whether your cocoa supply chain is deforestation-free.

How it can be done -- GeoCoco

MapHubs teamed up with Jennie Davis, a Food Security specialist originally from Ghana, to build two prototype apps that can trace cocoa's forest impact from farm to cooperative - a vital link in the supply chain.

App 1 -- Trucker App

Our idea was to use cocoa trucker drivers who typically have smartphone phones to collect geo-referenced photographs of cocoa depots - locations where farmers drop off their crop for pick up.

The app would be very simple to use and requires no network access to function. At each depot, the driver just snaps a photo with the GPS turned on, records the weight of the beans, and optionally asks the farmers the distance they travelled from their farm.

App 2 -- Coop App

When the truck driver arrives at the coop or processing facility, they transfer the data from their phone to the Coop App by scanning a QR code. Coops and Processors are typically located in towns and cities where there is 3G coverage and internet. The Facility Coordinator can then run a deforestation report on all the Depot points, setting a custom buffer around them (e.g., 1km), or using information collected from farmers.

In a matter of seconds, the facility coordinator receives statistics on total deforestation annually from 2000-2016 and remaining 80% canopy cover forest. These statistics area weighted mean for the truckload of the cocoa based on weight and distance information collected. The depot areas can then be monitoring weekly using University of Maryland GLAD forest alerts.

The coop app can rank of depots with the most remaining forest cover and the highest rates of deforestation.

Next stop, the farm

The first of the supply chain from farm to depot is the most tricky and expensive. Cocoa farmers deliver beans to depots either by foot or motorcycle, so the farm may be a kilometer or two away from the depot.

To map farms, we would target high risk depots identified by the trucker and coop app and then map farms boundaries or all farmers bordering forest areas within the depot catchment area. Weekly forest reports would then be run with high resolution satellite imagery providing verification.

Integrate with business intelligence software

Companies such as Olam and Mars already use business intelligence software to track some of their supply chain. The apps complement these systems by running deforestation reports for farms that have already been collected.

Forest Reports: a deforestation-free future?

With just two days of hacking, we now have the MapHubs Forest Report app that we are integrating into our suite of tools. Soon, anyone with a MapHubs Pro portal, will be able to upload photos directly from the field and run a deforestation report.

As we continue to build our technology, we focus on three core principles.

Keep it simple

We don't like complicated tech. All of our software is designed to be used by people without a technical background. Key figures in the cocoa supply chain from an Ivorian cocoa farmer to a chocolate company executive can use MapHubs software to know where their cocoa comes from.

While we built the app around deforestation, our app can also be used to track a variety of other issues such as progress on reforestation, or collecting grievances from farmers.

MapHubs is designed to be flexible, so different types of information can be collected, mapped, and monitored.

Keep it affordable

There is little point building fancy software that only a company like Mars or Cargill can afford. We want MapHubs tech to be affordable from the smallest cooperative but with the ability to scale to the largest company.

That's why we build in house, open source, and work in close partnership with organizations that manage forests on the ground. This way we avoid overheads of proprietary mapping software.

Keep it secure

MapHubs takes security seriously. All MapHubs websites are 100% encrypted and require use of HTTPS. We use an industry tested login and authentication system trusted by hundreds of large organizations and have built in protections against common types of web based attacks. We constantly monitor for potential vulnerabilities and issue quick patches. More information can be provided on request.

Work with us!

Would you like to try out our app in the field? Or do you have cocoa farm data that you'd like us to run a forest report on?

Please get in touch! We're a small by highly experienced team dedicated to delivering software that works on the ground and delivers more sustainable and transparent supply chains. Read some examples here.