Project diary chapter two

Posted by Philippe Saner 1 1st Jun 2024

Lower costs, higher revenues thanks to seamless traceability

DigitAgri%20Traceability

The Cotton4Impact project aims to trace the cotton supply chain back to the farmers' fields, via the spinning mills and ginning plants. The aim is to ensure long-term demand for African cotton and increase farmers' incomes. A digital solution is used for traceability, in which the necessary information can be captured, processed and made available to the supply chain.

Collecting data in supply chains is nothing new. Until now, deliveries also had to be recorded, if only so that suppliers could receive money for their goods. The cotton ginning company Ivoire Coton, which processes an average of 60,000 tonnes of cotton fibre a year with 1,200 producer groups in the north-west of Côte d'Ivoire, has of course been recording data since it began operations in 1998 – on paper. "The data collected in this way took varying amounts of time to become available to the higher-ups," explains agronomist Vassiriki Kone of Ivoire Coton. "If we have to make decisions quickly, it doesn't help us". To establish direct communication with farmers, this is not possible through the traditional paper route at all, as they are mostly illiterate.

"This direct link is very important", explains Philippe Saner of Paul Reinhart SA, who is working on the "Cotton4Impact" project in collaboration with Alliance Ginneries Ltd. from Tanzania and Zambia and Ivoire Coton from Côte d'Ivoire. "Direct communication allows us to pass on important information directly to farmers". By this, Saner means, among other things, information on better farming practices that enable farmers to achieve higher yields even in times of climate change. Or current meteorological data that can be used to adapt sowing and field management to the expected weather conditions.

The last mile: From the ginning plant directly to the field

Part of the supply chain for cotton imported by Paul Reinhart AG has already been digitised. From the ginning plant through the spinning mill to the importer, it is already possible to trace the cotton's journey. But this is no longer enough to meet the legal – and moral – obligations of vigilance in supply chains. In fact, the Paul Reinhard AG wants to go all the way to the field, but it's not that simple for cotton. Ginning plants get their supplies both from individual farmers, who pack their raw cotton in bags, and from collection centres, where the cotton is collected from various fields. In order to fill the gaps in traceability, the ginning plants have started to collect data from individual producers. The procedure was not only agreed with them, but it was also developed jointly.

In Côte d'Ivoire alone, Ivoire Coton employs more than 250 staff who supervise the activities of around 40,000 farmers. These employees enter social, economic and technical information about producers and cooperatives with tablets. How much land is farmed, and who works on the micro-farm? How old is the farmer, how many children belong to the household, and what is the farmer's income from cotton each year? On top of this, information on which trainings the farmer has received on good sustainable farming practices is recorded.

“In this way, we gain transparency and simplify the management of field activities and the entire business unit, which helps to reduce operating costs in the field.” Boaz Ogola Abiero, Managing Director of Alliance Ginneries Ltd.

Digitisation creates transparency and reduces costs

"Based on this data, we can not only monitor the supply chain, but also advise farmers and organise any necessary or desired training," explains Boaz Ogola Abiero, Managing Director of Alliance Ginneries Ltd, a company based in northern Tanzania. Abiero hopes that by the end of the project in November 2024, all male and female farmers will be registered with their data in the Farm App. "In this way, we gain transparency and simplify the management of field activities and the entire business unit, which helps to reduce operating costs in the field."

One of the benefits for growers is the reduction in the cost of operating their fields. The other is the availability of information that would be difficult to access without the Cotton4Impact project. However, the mobile infrastructure in the most remote regions of Côte d'Ivoire still represents a major challenge. "Some of our staff have to travel to other locations to transmit the data collected, because they are in areas not covered by the telephone network", says Vassiriki Kone of Ivoire Coton. Similarly, because of the lack of access, some farmers are still unable to receive information directly, but only through their agricultural advisers. However, the fact that some farmers cannot always read well enough has been solved in a simple way by the ginning company: information on good agricultural practices and weather data will be sent in the form of voice messages in the course of 2024. In this way, digital innovation will help to improve communication with farmers who cannot read or write.

Cotton4Impact is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development within the Sub-Saharan Cotton Initiative and supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

The original article is published here.