When tech goes to the farm
Ghana’s tech startups are working on innovative solutions for cocoa farmers. But the two parts of agritech don’t always get to meet in person. We’re changing that.
David Boye-Doku has a lot of ideas about how his digital payments company Paybox can support Ghana’s cocoa farmers. Use blockchain to prove the origin of crops. Enable digital payments. Create a bank in a van to serve rural communities.
But until August, he’d never actually visited a farm.
“It was really insightful, as we got to experience the whole value chain of cocoa,” he said. “Cocoa contributes 10 percent of the GDP of the country. Ghana is the second-highest exporter of cocoa in the world. But just one percent of the chocolate made in the world comes from Ghana. We have to augment the services around cocoa.”
That’s exactly what the Netherlands Trust Fund V is working on, looking at ways to maximize the benefits of cocoa for everyone from the farmer to the chocolate maker. At the same time, the programme collaborates with tech startups looking to innovate how Ghana does business, with an eye toward reaching overseas.
To make sure the digital solutions really fit farmers’ needs, the project uses ITC's Alliances for Action approach. This sustainable agribusiness model works from the bottom-up to transform food systems through partnerships that are ethical and climate-smart.
Some tech companies who concentrate on agritech work with farmers all the time. Others never have that opportunity. And rarely do leaders from companies across the industry get to meet in person to see firsthand how the entire process works, and understand where the needs are.
“What we are always looking to do is see how we can work closely together,” Isaac Acquah, NTF V Tech national project coordinator in Ghana. “With all the tech products, they’re always interested in the value chain, and if they can provide solutions to the value chain. So we thought, why don’t we take you to the field, so you can actually understand what’s happening.”
Fourteen companies joined the field trip, which took them to distant farms that belong to the Kuapa Kokoo Cocoa Farmers and Marketing Union. With 100,000 members, it’s the largest cocoa farmers association in the world.
Audrey Darko of Sabon Sake already spends a lot of her time working with farmers. Her company works in regenerative agriculture, focusing on soil health. Some of the Kuapa Kokoo farmers use her techniques to plant trees and other crops alongside cocoa, in a way that lets the plants provide each other shade, nutrients and other benefits.
“It was eye-opening, because I thought the cocoa industry did not really care about the hands-on soil health or plant management aspect of things,” she said. “It was really exciting to see how the union and the towns we went to were adopting these regenerative practices that are necessary to reduce carbon emissions.” “I began to see the gaps in the industry, and how a business like mine can fill that gap,” she added.
Mawuli Addo, impact lead at Grow for Me, also spends a lot of time on farms. His company likes to think of itself as “crowdfarming,” using the aggregations techniques of crowdfunding to help farmers access credit. When funders invest in a farm, they can monitor its progress through drone and satellite imagery. By pooling together harvests, farmers can earn better prices by selling higher quantities of uniform quality cocoa.
Many farmers currently work on a trust basis with warehouses and aggregators. Companies like Grow for Me and Paybox see an opportunity to connect the different businesses with digital data and payments.
“Our business really runs on impact directed to smallholder farms. Being able to see how the value chain works and how farming works is a good advantage,” Addo said. “The better we are able to understand the ecosystem, the better we are able to thrive in it.”
The ecosystem extends all the way to chocolate makers. The visit included a stop at Fairafric, a local chocolate maker who just received international recognition for its 70 percent dark chocolate at the prestigious Great Taste Awards in London.
“Visiting our chocolate makers showed the tech companies the final stages of the cocoa process,” said Mayqueen Serwaa Frimpong, a quality assurance analyst at Fairafric. The visitors got to see the manufacturing process, and taste some of the products.
“That really gave them an understanding of what goes into making a chocolate bar,” she said.
About the project
The Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF) (July 2021 – June 2025) is based on a partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands and the International Trade Centre. The programme supports MSMEs in the digital technologies and agribusiness sectors. Its ambition is two-fold: to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable transformation of food systems, partially through digital solutions, and drive the internationalization of tech start-ups and export of IT&BPO companies in selected Sub-Saharan African countries.