INA in Colombia: Boosting sustainable supply chains in the Amazon and Orinoco with digital tools for farmers

Niels van Iperen / Solidaridad
Niels van Iperen / Solidaridad

The department of Caquetá is part of the Amazon river basin, a strategic ecosystem for Latin America and the globe. Historically, the department of Caquetá has been the most affected region by deforestation in Colombia due to advancing agricultural frontier and the widespread presence of illicit crops. The region is of crucial importance in the current peace process, but suffers from the continued presence of illegal armed groups and the lack of state control. Main crops are coffee, cocoa and extensive livestock production.

 

The department of Meta is at the heart of the agricultural frontier, located in the Orinoco river basin and bordering the Amazon. Meta is a key area for Colombia’s palm oil production and an expansion area for crops like coffee and cocoa (on the edge of the Andes mountains and the savannah of the Orinoco). Parts of Meta are now opened up for agriculture as a result of the peace process, creating huge challenges to preserve the balance between natural resources and agricultural development.

 

Smallholder farmers make up over 80% of the producer population in Caquetá and Meta. The vast majority struggles to assure or maintain access to (inter-)national markets. Smallholders are often underperforming compared to their peers with bigger sized farms. The income of smallholders is often below the regional living income benchmark, forcing the producer, his family and its workers to operate under poor livelihood conditions.

Since January 2020, the Sustainable Supply Chains Initiative (INA)  works in these two key landscapes to support producers of coffee, cocoa and palm oil in their efforts to adopt Voluntary Sustainability Standards and ensure access to premium international markets. GIZ and its implementation partner Solidaridad have developed a set of digital solutions for assessments, education and technical assistance. The information gathered by these tools enable producers, companies and regional entities to take better decisions on policies affecting these productive landscapes.

 

Through the use of the digital application Farming Solution and Extension Solution, companies will be able to spot the main improvement areas and the sector at large can gather substantial acumen and insights on transversal production matters. Specific, tailor-made action plans will be made based on the individual assessments for both the company and the smallholder producers (micro level). Group benchmarks allow farmers associations (meso level) and value chain partners to identify challenges per group of producers and to compare their performance with their peers in the project area and at sector (macro) level. Joel Brounen, Solidaridad´s Country Manager in Colombia explains: “In past months this digital application has been applied among the first group of 100 coffee and palm oil producers, covering around 20.000 hectares. We expect to triple that number of producers and hectares in the coming months.”

The project is also building capacity to support the participating companies, organizations and producers to implement their improvement plans, through the development of tailored education materials and training. Local farmers and rural extension services have access to an online library providing relevant support materials, such as manuals or videos with concrete orientations on how to improve economic, social and environmental performance.

When coming to an advanced level, farmers interested in certifying their production have access to a full certification checklist, helping them to benchmark their practices against certification requirements of Voluntary Sustainability Standards such as Rainforest Alliance or Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Joel Brounen adds to this: “the ICT-based expert system we use within the INA project in Colombia is especially designed to strengthen collaboration throughout the supply chain and support continuous improvement of agricultural production along that chain. When successfully adopted by the target groups, the digital applications, the supporting materials and methodology can be easily disseminated across the sectors in Colombia.”