Fairtrade partnership deploys satellite monitoring tool to combat deforestation

The project will strengthen co-operatives’ access to risk management data, enabling them to maintain access to their core markets in Europe and beyond

A project using satellite tech to monitor deforestation and assess environmental vulnerability is being launched by Fairtrade International, Fairtrade Africa, and non-profit organisation Earthworm Foundation.

The pilot project, which uses a satellite monitoring tool called Starling, will capture deforestation data from Fairtrade co-ops and their smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The data will be used to help them improve forest management,

Working with the co-ops, Earthworm will develop a set of environmental vulnerability assessment tools which will analyse deforestation monitoring requirements, assemble the data needed to carry out risk analyses, and deliver near-real-time deforestation alerts using Starling base maps. It will also develop training programmes for the smallholder co-ops, on how to interpret and act on the data.

The partnership is expected to roll out its first deforestation alerts this summer. 

“Earthworm Foundation is excited to implement this project with Fairtrade International and Fairtrade Africa,” said Rob McWilliam, director of technical services at Earthworm. “We look forward to proving our experience and knowledge of using Starling’s land cover and forest cover change datasets to tackle deforestation and support actions for addressing environmental vulnerabilities.

“We are also excited to be working further with farmers and their organisations to develop fit for purpose tools to enhance their work on the ground.”

 Jon Walker, senior advisor for cocoa at Fairtrade International, said: “We are thrilled to announce this landmark partnership that will explore how powerful data sets can be leveraged by co-operatives and their members for their own risk analysis processes and in alignment with expected government regulation against deforestation not just in the European Union but also in the United Kingdom and United States.”

The announcement follows last year’s legislative proposals from the European Commission, which would ban imports of cocoa, coffee and other commodities when their production is associated with deforestation. While supportive of deforestation legislation in general, Fairtrade has voiced concerns about the impact this could have on smallholder farmers, who are reliant on cocoa for the majority of their household income.

The Fairtrade-Earthworm Foundation partnership aims to help smallholder cocoa farmers navigate any legislative complications that may threaten their livelihoods, and help them preserve the environment.  

“This partnership will finally direct the transfer of deforestation risk data in a meaningful way to co-operatives and their members in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana using the principles of Fair Data,” added Mr Walker continued. “In this manner, we can ensure that those with the least power in supply chains have access to this critical data and can use it to improve their livelihoods and beneficially impact their communities.”