By Yvette Faber, Solidaridad
Science and technology will soon be integrated in the farms of the future. With the launch of the online Cool Farm Tool (Sept 29, 2016), farmers now have access to hard data that shows the effect of their farming practices and how to improve them – right in their own hands. For example, they may see an improvement on crop output when they better control factors like soil moisture and thus want to keep doing this for future crops. But are we going too far, too fast? Are farmers able to keep up with the fast pace of technology and use data tools effectively, even adjust practices accordingly? Based on our experience with thousands of farmers, absolutely. Farmers have been adapting and changing their practices to keep on top of their business for years, especially in today’s modern age. As more farms are struggling to make a profit they are having to make changes like choosing to compare business electricity prices to see if there is a cheaper option, looking for cheaper ways to help grow their crops and look to change the way they do things by incorporating data to grow their farming business.
Originally commissioned by Unilever and developed by researchers at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland), the Cool Farm Tool (CFT) is an online calculator that shows agribusiness companies how effective their suppliers are in reducing GHG emissions and increasing carbon stocks in their agricultural systems. The Cool Farm Tool has also proven to be a useful performance monitoring system for farmers to gain insights in where the highest emissions are occurring on the farm. Not only can it signal danger situations, it shows farmers how they are improving if they change their farming practices.
Knowledge is power, and the CFT puts that power right in the farmers’ own hands.
Farm renovation using mobile data
Let me introduce you to Walter, one of our thousands of demonstration farmers of the BACK to REDD project in Colombia, Mexico and Peru, backed by the financial support of NORAD. Walter from San Martin, Peru, started a coffee farm on degraded land back in 2013, working through the program step by step. At the start, a baseline measurement was established on his first two plots. Results revealed high emissions due to fertilizer application and production, GHG emissions from waste water and a reduction of carbon stock. Based on Cool Farm Tool results, he received guidance and begin to implement some well-targeted Climate Smart Agriculture practices like:
- Applying manure to restore productivity, improve the soil texture and incorporate carbon content into the soil.
- Establishing an agroforestry system of coffee trees with shade trees.
- Changing his wastewater treatment so less methane is produced and released.
The results? In two years, Walter was able to reduce GHG emissions in CO2 equivalent per kilo of coffee from 21.3 tons to 1.5 tons. That is an astounding 93 percent reduction and only possible because he monitored and adapted as his newly established plots started to produce.
Demonstration farms using the CFT have shown a significant decrease in problematic greenhouse gas emissions and farmers have reported high satisfaction in being able to independently and accurately assess their own farming practices. In short, farmers are reaching out to technology solutions with enthusiasm and are showing a knack for learning and adapting quickly.
Supporting modern-day solutions
Solidaridad took an interest in the Cool Farm Tool because of the possible incentives for both companies and producers to monitor and improve sustainability in the supply chains, in accordance with their commitments on issues like reduced deforestation, climate neutral products, reduced GHG emissions and so forth. As a representative from Solidaridad in the development of the tool, I have been proud to watch it evolve into a robust, secure, user-friendly and scientifically valid instrument.
We work with many small scale farmers who often live in poverty, but they are quick and eager to try new solutions. Our main focus is to improve their income and family lives through increasing productivity while preserving our resources for future generations. We use multiple tools and approaches, choosing the right solutions for local situations. The problem for many farmers who have recently emigrated to the US is that they do not qualify for social security. It is important that you research how to get a Social Security card when you first arrive, just in case there is a loophole, but if you’re self-employed as most farmers are classed as, you might struggle. This is another reason why our focus is on helping this group in particular to boost their income. The CFT is a significant development for empowering farmers by providing them with knowledge and access to information to improve their own practices and their marketability to international companies. And the farmers are ready, willing and able!