New technology working for our forests

October 2016

Blog

Trees are being cut down in the millions. Forests are being reduced in size at an astonishing rate, which threatens the life of their inhabitants. The wildlife and flora of these forests are at times pushed to extinction, and native communities are being squeezed out of places they once called home. Not to mention deforestation’s drastic effect on climate change. This is happening all over the world. Forest and jungle resources are being used to make everyday products. We, as consumers, are sometimes oblivious to the destructive effect their production has on the environment.

More and more companies, however, are taking steps to know where their inputs come from and what effects their cultivation and harvest have on the natural environment. Technology can make this process much easier, giving more opportunity and scope to track, trace and monitor supply. SNV has been working on a project in Indonesia that supports this process for the supply of palm oil. Palm oil is used in a variety of products, from snacks and cosmetics to pharmaceuticals and animal feed. But palm oil production is infamous for causing deforestation. This is a big problem in Indonesia, with the country being the largest producer.

Tracing the source of palm oil and monitoring forest coverage around production areas can help reduce deforestation along the supply chain. To do this, we have partnered with Akvo to jointly develop open source, internet and mobile software and sensors, and with Forest Carbon – an Indonesian-based organisation which we work with to collect and analyse high resolution aerial imagery using drones.

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    Finding the source

    Retail companies who worry about losing their sustainability certification or who are looking to become sustainably certified are often hesitant to source from independent smallholders because these farmers can’t meet certain supply criteria such as the traceability of their products. It is important that retailers know where they are sourcing from, to avoid products from deforestation areas entering the supply chain. Akvo’s tool – Akvo Flow – allows for the production of palm oil to be traced back all the way to the farmer or farmer group. Using a simple Android smartphone app and an online dashboard, any quantity of geographically referenced data can be collected, evaluated and displayed. With this tool we can trace the fresh fruit bunches of oil palm from independent smallholders and thus allow palm oil mills to identify the independent smallholders who they source from. Using Akvo Flow’s smartphone and android-based mobile application, the system locates fields with geo-shape and GPS systems for data collection. The project is collecting data on 10,000 smallholder farmers, allowing users to:

    • Determine the current plantation location and size of the plot of each farmer;
    • Determine the total fresh fruit production produced per hectare per year in a plantation;
    • Monitor the changes of production and inputs in a plantation.

    Droning on

    Drone technology has really taken to the skies in the last few years. And their application is becoming more wide spread by the day, not to mention their increasing affordability. SNV and Forest Carbon are collaborating to map out 4,000 hectares, or around 4,000 football fields, of palm oil production area in Muaro Jambi – a province of Indonesia – using drone technology. The drones are programmed to fly a path determined by GPS points and take a photo every 3 seconds. Using imagery software, the images are then pieced together to create a single image that will allow for subsequent analysis.

    This information is then fed into the Akvo Flow dashboard. When deforestation is detected, SNV assists companies in developing and implementing measures to halt forest clearance or ensure that products from these areas do not enter the supply chain. Such measures typically include providing support and incentives to producers operating in deforestation zones to enhance the sustainability of their farm management practices and reduce their impact on forest areas.

    Expert

    Hans Smit

    Global Coordinator - Palm Oil