Profiling Producers to better support them

If your supply base encompasses thousands of smallholder producers, or your development project reaches similar numbers of beneficiaries, you’ll certainly have groups of producers behaving the same way or facing the same issues.  For example, producers whose yields are under the average, producers who never use fertilisers, producers who always deliver top quality, those who receive training but keep their old habits, and the ones who have dependents under the age of 6.

                Profiling them based on set criteria could be an efficient way to better support them and monitor the impacts of your interventions on these groups.  Good databases and systems include query functions allowing you to isolate producers using filters and set criteria.  But in most cases, you’ll need to repeat the same iteration to obtain the same result.  For example, female farmers having field of less than 1 hectare, having 4 children under 16 and a yield under the average if you want to monitor this specific group.

                Our web platform has a powerful feature called the User Story.  With this feature, users can create groups of producers and save their stories by giving it a name: Female with less 1ha, with 4 and up children under 16 and yield under average.  This means you can access this search repeatedly without having to redefine your criteria.

                Suppose at the start of your program you have 46 women meeting the criteria mentioned above.  Your objective should be to decrease this number overtime and support these women to improve their yield, despite the small size of their farm and their obligation toward young dépendants.

Screen shot from the web platform showing 46 female famers who meet the criteria selected

Screen shot from the web platform showing 46 female famers who meet the criteria selected

In addition to being able to save set criteria, the System is dynamic and updates the results as data is added.  This means you can set the criteria at the start of the project and then assess how the results change over time.  So, you could build a complex M&E framework with various milestones to reach overtime.

Screen shot showing a pre-defined list of searches used for monitoring and evaluation

Screen shot showing a pre-defined list of searches used for monitoring and evaluation

The User Story also has the ability to show you when certain criteria are not met.  For example, you can create a story for the producers who only deliver C quality, the lowest.  But you can reverse the result and obtain the producers never delivering the C quality.  This is very useful to instantly create control groups.

Screen shot showing the ability to invert search criteria

Screen shot showing the ability to invert search criteria

The System lets you modify your existing stories by adding or removing criteria.  This way, you can follow your groups as they evolve and bring them to a next level.

You can learn more on the User Story by getting in touch with us (

Traceability: implementing tracks for transparency

Hannah Hobden’s speech at the Partnership meeting of the World Cocoa Foundation on October 24, 2017, Washington DC

Hello – my name is Hannah Hobden. I work for GeoTraceability and I’m here to challenge you to turn full traceability – from bean to bar - from an aspiration into a reality for the cocoa sector.

Traceability systems are the operational infrastructure on which you hang data to create transparency. An effective system requires full traceability from bean to bar and the ability to capture data as the product moves through the supply chain. Technologically this is possible, as I will show later. The challenge is how to implement a system in cocoa. To do so will require collaboration and, ultimately, a willingness to move away from a mass balance system – because mass balance effectively creates a wall against transparency and traceability.

But before we go any further, what do mean I mean when I say that a full traceability system provides the operational infrastructure to create transparency? Well I like to think about it in terms of a train track. A tracing system is like the railway tracks that link different components of the supply chain – for example farmers, warehouses, ports, factories …. Once the tracks are in place different information can move along them between the supply chain stakeholders. In the case of cocoa this could be information on the producers, such as data relevant for monitoring gender equality, living income, deforestation, use of child labour. Information can be collected on the price and bonuses farmers receive for their cocoa and this can be compared with the amount of money received by the cooperative. In the past we have created risk assessments for child labour at a farm level and we are currently in discussions about doing this at a community level. Having this risk assessment data as part of a traceability system would mean a final batch of cocoa having a child labour risk level associated with it. Data can be collected on the cooperative, warehouses, ports, factories. The quality of the cocoa can be tested and recorded at different points along the supply chain. What I am trying to demonstrate is that once the tracks of traceability are in place, multiple levels of data can be added. But, to be most effective, tracing data needs to start with the farmer and a bag of cocoa and go all the way along the supply chain. Mass balance interferes with this because it creates a barrier against the movement of data and information and so cuts the tracks off between farmers and final customers.

So, you might now be thinking, that’s all very well Hannah but it’s not realistic to achieve. But I’d like to challenge you and say that with collaboration and investment into existing operational frameworks it is possible. I think the most inspirational story to show what can be done is from the palm oil sector. As I’m sure you are all aware, there are significant challenges in palm oil around deforestation. Many of the consumer brands have made promises to have supply chains free from deforestation and have decided to use traceability as one tool in achieving this. However, making the link between mills and farmers was a significant challenge.  As in cocoa, there is a complex web of smallholder farmers, cooperatives, and middle men. For a while it seemed hopeless. But two years ago, we started a project which was a collaboration between IDH, Wilmar and ourselves to pilot a tracing system linking farmers to fresh fruit bunches, fresh fruit bunches to middlemen, and middlemen to mills. The system was simple and effective and demonstrated the possibility of laying the tracks of traceability between the farmers and the mills. This initial pilot allowed us to develop a commercial model, which we are now able to roll out to other mills, this time without the need for donor funding. And now the basic tracing system is in place, we are able to increase transparency though data collection. So, we are collecting data on the farmers’ production methods, which allows us to create business plans for each farm for productivity improvements. We know the exact size and location of each field and so can monitor over time whether these fields encroach into forest. We can record what training each farmer has received and any follow-up visits they’ve had. We have delivery records of the amount of fruit a farmer sold, on which date and for what price. We can record all this information again when the middleman sells the fruit to the mill. A key factor in palm oil is that the fresh fruit needs to be processed within 42 hours of harvesting. So, we have started implementing an alert system which notifies the mill when fresh fruit bunches have been collected from the farmers but not delivered to the mills for processing – this means the mill can take actions to retrieve the fruit before it goes off. The technology is also available to send text messages to the farmers informing them of when trucks will be sent to collect their fruit, or when training will be happening on a topic. This simple tracing system from farmer to mill can then be linked with the tracing systems already being implemented at mill level and further along the supply chain and relevant data passed along.

This has all been achieved as a culmination of:

  • political pressure for transparency around deforestation,

  • commitment by organisations to traceability,

  • collaboration between different stakeholders both in terms of funding and operationally, and

  • pure determination.

I am not saying the issue of deforestation is solved in palm oil by any means, but what I am saying is that something which seemed impossible three years ago – having full traceability along the supply chain – is now possible.

So, what needs to be done in cocoa to make traceability a reality here too? Others in this session are discussing transparency at a policy level so what I want to focus on are some operational solutions. Firstly, from a technology perspective there are plenty of solutions out there. The key is that technology should be collaborative, in the same way that organisations must be. Therefore, when investing in supply chain data and traceability systems it is essential that they are interoperable – this means regardless of who is providing the technology, it will be able to link to other systems. So, overtime you can link tracing data with mobile payments, cooperative sales records, soil testing, financial support, farmer loyalty schemes etc. Secondly, we need to start implementing traceability from farmer level. At GeoT we have worked with the traders and exporters to implement tracing systems. But the issue here is that these organisations do not usually use the systems that are implemented – they pass the data onto their clients, who get frustrated with the fact that slightly different data is being provided to them in multiple formats by different organisations, but who usually do not have the power to demand specific data from their supply chain.  So, my suggestion is to copy the palm oil model and develop a tracing system that can be implemented initially by cooperatives and build up from there. This is particularly important to do because it is at this level that we need to tackle the significant challenges of living income, deforestation, child labour, modern day slavery, and climate smart agriculture. Commercial models need to be developed for systems that allow cooperatives to take charge of their own data collection and provide traceability data to the people they sell to. We have already started working with Root Capital in Cote d’Ivoire to provide a basic data collection system to cooperatives but more needs to be done to enhance this and ensure relevant data is captured and effectively passed along the supply chain.

I expect momentum will develop around traceability in cocoa as we see continued political pressure for it by national governments and internationally; organisations needing to meet their own traceability commitments and so having to start tackling the traceability problem caused my mass balance and not knowing who their farmers are; and collaboration between organisations to develop a commercially viable system that works for the private sector.

So, I hope I have inspired you today with the possibilities for transparency and communication along the supply chain which are possible when full traceability is in place. I’ve challenged you for the need of greater collaboration to make traceability a reality for cocoa and have suggested a simple place to start is with farmer organisations and cooperatives.

Providing tools to make your data talk

                Problems occur for organisations when they start collecting data and then, after the data has been collected, ask themselves what they can do with it.  Often, they realise that they have not collected a key piece of data, or that they have collected too much, and so have paid for data they do not need.  So, our advice to clients is to be 100% clear on how you will use the data you collect BEFORE you collect it.  This can be a frustrating task at the start of a project when everyone is excited about what the data will show and just want to get going with the data collection, but it’s like building the foundations for a house – you spend a lot of time digging down with little to show for your efforts, but without this investment, the building will fall.  A clear data framework is the foundation for any project involving data collection.

                Once the data has been collected, you need to make the most of your investment.  Using the right tools to analyse the data helps increase the value of the project.  Sometimes we see investment wasted because the data that has been collected is not analysed effectively.  This is something we want to help clients avoid and so have developed tools on our web platform to help with data analysis.

                In a GeoTraceability System, all the data gathered on each smallholder (for example production, household, training, credit, payments, inputs provided) is recorded in a ‘supplier profile’ (see diagram 1).  It is also possible for the system to make automatic calculations using the data gathered – for example if you know the size of a farm and the annual yield, the system can automatically calculate yield per hectare.  If delivery data has also been collected, you can estimate the amount of side selling occurring.

Diagram 1: Supplier Profile

Diagram 1: Supplier Profile

In addition to viewing the data on each individual farmer, the results for all the farmers are aggregated.  The results can be viewed in a number of different formats: bar graph, pie chart, table, and thematic map.  At any point, you can capture the result, a graph for example, by saving it on a pin board (see diagram 2).  The pin board lets you group results under different categories, which you can manage.  The results can then be integrated into a PowerPoint or Word document at a later date.

Diagram 2: Pin board

Diagram 2: Pin board

                You can also combine different indicators and do a multi-criteria analysis.  For example, the producers who delivered in February, have over 40 years old and apply over $500 value of fertiliser.  This iteration creates a ‘story’ that you can save and re use after (see diagram 3). It can also be used to monitor project indicators, such as the number of women who have been trained on how to prune.

Diagram 3: User Story

Diagram 3: User Story

If the above functions don’t give you the insight you’re looking for, you can also us the Pivot Table on the web platform (see diagram 4).  Here different pieces of data can be seen in relation to each other as you make a simple matrix, for example, the distribution of age per gender.  But you can also add a third dimension, like production, to see if the gender and the age impact production.  You can express the result as the average production for female farmer in the range 21 to 30 years or the tonnage produce by this group.  You can also add a forth or a fifth dimension and so on to see if other factors impact production, like the household revenue or the average distance to the nearest clinic.

Diagram 4: Pivot Table

Diagram 4: Pivot Table

Once you’re happy with your analysis, you can save it on Excel on a click of a button (see diagram 5).

Diagram 5: Pivot table results in Excel

Diagram 5: Pivot table results in Excel

With the GeoT tools you can analyse your data from any angle.  For example, show me first the producers who grew peanuts on their farms, and then, looking at only this sub-section of producers, which containers shipped to my clients contain their cocoa beans.  Or the other way around: one client says they found peanut residue in a batch of cocoa butter they processed with the beans you supplied, so they want to know if some producers who have contributed to this batch grow peanuts.  This shows how you can easily understand the power of the System to prevent contamination or to manage product recalls, as an example.

You can learn more on data analysis by getting in touch with us (

Cocoa Deforestation – lessons from Palm Oil

There are many significant challenges in the cocoa sector.  One of these is deforestation.  Cocoa smallholder farmers are encroaching on forested land in an attempt to improve their income.  There are many issues intertwined with this – low yields on existing plots (which is itself connected with the issues of a living income), a lack of full-appreciation of on the importance of the forests, an unknown farmer base (companies don’t know which farmers they buy from let alone whether they are farming deforested land) etc.  Because small-scale farmers do not have access to adequate financial resources and services, it’s more economical for them to clear new land, with the slash and burn method, than to use intensive agricultural practices such as fertilising.  So how can these challenges be addressed?  Maybe lessons can be learnt from the Palm Oil sector.

Palm Oil and Cocoa similarities

  • Unknown smallholder farmers:  In both sectors, the industry is supplied by thousands of smallholder farmers working in remote and vast areas.  The current data on these farmers is extremely limited.

  • Forest encroachment:  Smallholder farmers are either expanding existing plots into forested land or developing new plots in forested land.

  • Middle men and tracing data:  There are many middle men purchasing from smallholder farmers and selling to traders, exporters, and processors.  There is usually very little data conveyed at the point of sale as to where the product was originally sourced from, the quality and prices paid.  This makes it difficult to understand whether produce was grown on deforested land and if farmers receive the right market signals.

What is being done in Palm Oil

The Palm Oil sector has started tackling the issue of deforestation head-on.  There are a number of things happening in the sector, which the cocoa industry could learn from:

  1. Collaboration:  Any solution requires collaboration between a range of stakeholders from Government and Industry bodies enforcing policy and standards, to private sector companies adopting new sourcing practices, and NGOs supporting through training and education.  In Indonesia, we are seeing numerous stakeholders come together to tackle Palm Oil related issues.  The projects we are involved with include traders, mills, middlemen, smallholder farmers, funders, NGOs.  Collectively they are providing the resources and opportunities to adopt technology and behaviours to limit deforestation and at the same time help increase crop yields.

  2. Traceability:  Key to eliminating deforestation is a transparent supply chain that provides visibility of where produce is sourced.  To enable this, GeoT has successfully developed the first ever genuine tracing system able to link oil palm Fresh Fruit Bunches arriving at the mill back to the field where it was grown.  This means that all fruit processed at the mill can be traced back to the farmer who produced it.  The mapping functionality of the GeoT’ System shows for each consignment received at the mill the location of the fields where the fruits were harvested.  There are other benefits to this system as well, such as the ability to send real-time alerts when issues arise.

  3. Yield improvements:  Farmers must receive a living income.  Without this it is no wonder that forest encroachment occurs to increase incomes.  Therefore, if deforestation is to be tackled it must be hand-in-hand with improving the yield farmers receive from their crop.  To support this, the GeoT System is used to collect data on the farmer’s production methods and crop characteristics.  This is used to generate individual business plans , which set-out for each farmer what practices they need to adopt or how they should modify existing practices to improve their yield.  Working with NGOs, agronomists, and the private sector, an aggregated plan can then be used to target interventions effectively.  This information is passed to financial institutions to provide tailored financial services to farmer groups and individual farmers.  The traceability data, which usually includes delivery records, can then be also used to monitor changes in yield and farming practices.  Over time, the production data can be re-collected and the plans adapted accordingly.

These ideas of collaboration, traceability, geo-localisation and yield improving practices could also be adopted by the cocoa sector to tackle deforestation and other sustainability issues.

If you are interested in discussing these ideas further, please get in touch at


You think you’re investing in a traceability system – is that really the case?

I have had the chance to meet and discuss with many supply chain and sustainability managers across multiple industries and geographies.  I often realise that there is confusion on traceability and traceability systems.  Some people think that they trace their raw materials by subscribing to a digital solution or by complying with a certification scheme, but they don’t.

Some clarifications would certainly be useful to understand what is happening and make the right decision when investing in a traceability solution.

The International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO) defines food traceability as the ‘ability to follow the movement of a feed or food through specified stage(s) of production, processing and distribution’, and a traceability system as ‘the totality of data and operations that is capable of maintaining desired information about a product and its components through all or part of its production and utilisation chain’.

If we replace feed and food with raw materials to cover all supply chains, it is obvious that ISO is referring to physical traceability:  tracing in space and time the raw materials as they change their status to become ingredients or components of a final product.  We can even go beyond this to how the final product is terminated and recycled.  There is no reference to a ‘one step back, one step forward’ approach, which so many organisations seem to limit traceability to.  A proper system should trace all the way through a supply chain and consider all the tiers.


Mineral tracing.png

So, if the system you use doesn’t physically trace raw materials, ingredients, components and products, you should not claim that you’re performing traceability.  Is it possible to say your supply chain is overall 10% traced because you know your suppliers three tiers down? In my opinion, no. But you could say, if you can prove it, that 10% of your procurements and products are 100% traceable!

Most of the standards certifying products use a mass-balance approach, where certified raw materials, such as cocoa, coffee, tea, palm oil, cotton, are mixed with non-certified ones.  Is this traceability?  Absolutely not.  These standards don’t even ask the organisations selling certified products to indicate on the wrapping what the ratio is of certified and non-certified raw material in a specific consumer product.

Sometimes certification standards use the segregation or identity preservation model.  This only results in proper traceability if the raw material is physically separated from non-certified products at each stage along the supply chain and if the final output (the consumer product) can be linked with the initial input (the raw material).  This is rarely the case in the certification world.

Another method that we often hear about is administrative traceability or a chain of custody approach (following the paper trail).  Again, this is not traceability as you track product movement and transactions with volumes and quantities but not the product as such.  You can record in a system that a consignment as moved from point A to B and changed ownership but can you confirm without any doubt that no product substitution or contamination happened?

Let’s now look at digital supply chain mapping and supplier risk assessment systems.  We found many providers offering this type of solution and some of them insert ‘traceability’ in the description of their system.  Sorry but mapping all the tiers of your supply chain and assessing the risks for each supplier doesn’t result in traceability.

However, if you put in place a traceability system and you start tracing the raw materials throughout all the tiers to your own facilities (end to end traceability), you’ll obtain a detailed map of your supply chain, updated for each consignment you’re receiving; thus, killing two birds with one stone.

Some digital systems will put the emphasis on product compliance and give you the tools to verify it.  For example, you could document at different tiers of your supply chain if the cold chain requirements are respected, regulations are observed and your product specs are applied.  Again, this information is certainly highly valuable and useful but this is not traceability.

At this point, you might want to ask is there a solution on the market that could perform traceability, risk assessments and compliance assurance at once?  To my knowledge no, but if you know of one please let me know.

Why is this?  Each of these systems is inherently complex and when applied to large logistical and manufacturing operations the level of complexity only increases.  If you need to pursue the three objectives, you’d do better with three different systems that, and this is very important, could interoperate with each other (pull and push data from system to system).

If you ask your IT provider if their system can interoperate with others and if they use APIs, and they look at you as a deer does at night on the road in the car’s lights, walk away!

At GeoTraceability, we’ve deliberately developed a traceability system adapted to the raw material produced by smallholders.  For us, traceability starts at the production site - the field, the forest - or at the extraction site - the mine, the sea.

The main originality of our solution is the ability to combine geo data with traceability data.  Not only do you know the origin of the raw material but you also know who produced it, how, and what could be the human and environmental impacts.  This upstream information will follow the raw material throughout your supply chain and enrich as other relevant data is added.

Do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss further traceability and supply chains matters.  It will be my pleasure to exchange with you.

The biggest threat to your brand and reputation happens when performance does not meet expectation.  So, please don’t claim that you perform end-to-end traceability when you don’t.