Blog type: Innovations

Originally published: 4th November 2020 by Taking Root

Background: FARM-TRACE is an innovative tool developed by Taking Root to communicate smallholder reforestation impacts with confidence. Taking Root and Plan Vivo’s relationship dates back to 2011 when the organisation certified its Communitree project under the Plan Vivo Standard. FARM-TRACE was developed as a response to the project’s monitoring needs and challenges on the ground to create a rigorous, science-based and affordable reporting tool.

FARM-TRACE is currently under review by the Plan Vivo Foundation to become an Approved Approach (a methodology or tool that can be used by any project applying for Plan Vivo certification for the quantification of climate benefits).

 


On Thursday, October 22, over 160 professionals across the carbon, environmental and commodity industries tuned into Taking Root’s first ever webinar, showcasing our software platform, FARM-TRACE. Built by Taking Root over the last 5 years, FARM-TRACE is disrupting commodity industries by using mobile, satellite and machine learning data to automate high quality forest and carbon reporting for smallholder supply chains and forest projects.

 

 

Jointly held with the Plan Vivo Foundation the webinar was part of a public consultation for FARM-TRACE to become a Plan Vivo Approved Approach. Becoming an Approved Approach is extremely exciting for Taking Root and the carbon industry, as it would mean that any smallholder project using FARM-TRACE will be able to automate the carbon reporting they submit for the generation of carbon credits through Plan Vivo’s carbon certification standard.

 

What is FARM-TRACE?

FARM-TRACE is a platform built by Taking Root that helps organizations working with smallholder farmers improve and communicate their impacts with confidence. FARM-TRACE provides an affordable platform specifically built to create impact and value for and with smallholder farmers including:

  • Automating continuous forest and carbon tracking to minimize reporting and verification costs
  • Providing a science-based and fully auditable approach to be able to provide funders and customers with maximum transparency
  • Providing management information for more targeted and effective interventions with farmers.

 

Why FARM-TRACE?

When Taking Root first started planting trees with smallholder farmers in Nicaragua, we quickly faced major challenges with monitoring and reporting. Traditional approaches became prohibitively expensive because of how complicated it can get to measure and track impacts across hundreds and thousands of farms, as well as the scarce expertise that’s available in remote smallholder contexts. As a result, the project was becoming impossible to manage effectively while funders wanted more transparency into the impacts they were supporting. We realised this wasn’t just a problem for Taking Root, it’s a major issue for smallholder supply chain actors across the world, whether they be producer groups, commodity buyers, food brands or NGOs. The challenge was how to create rigorous, science-based reporting which was affordable and didn’t rely on external consultants.

 

Introducing FARM-TRACE?

Over the course of the last five years, through an initial collaboration with the University of British Colombia and a team of PhDs with expertise in remote sensing, forest statistics and machine learning, Taking Root developed FARM-TRACE. FARM-TRACE makes measuring forest carbon so easy that anyone can do it without the need for experts, and with minimal effort. The only piece of hardware that’s needed is a mobile phone, which makes it an extremely cost-effective solution for anyone working with smallholder farmers. The result is impact reporting across forest carbon and forest change over time as well as management reporting to deliver more effective operations and farmer interventions.

 

 

How FARM-TRACE works?

FARM-TRACE brings together extremely rigorous scientific methods with radically simple ease-of-use. Dr. Kahlil Baker, Taking Root’s Executive Director, breaks down FARM-TRACE’s approach in the webinar. The approach is split into two methods of measurement for forest and carbon quantification:  field and satellite measurements.

Field measurements:

Forest carbon field inventories can be easily conducted in 3 simple steps with FARM-TRACE, removing the need for specialist geo-spatial software and consultants. Using this approach, our technicians at Taking Root are able to complete high quality carbon and forest inventories on a 1-hectare parcel in under an hour with no specialist training.

  1. Farm mapping: a technician starts by walking the perimeter of a smallholder farm with a smartphone. FARM-TRACE creates a polygon for that farm and automatically generates sample plots within that polygon.
  2. Tree measuring: field staff use the mobile app to simply record each tree within the sampling plots. They note the species (if available), diameter at breast height, and height (if available) for each tree. This information is then processed in FARM-TRACE to extrapolate the total number of trees across the farm. At the same time, FARM-TRACE connects the tree measurements with their most relevant above and below ground biomass equations, compiled from scientific literature in FARM-TRACE, to provide an accurate measurement of carbon being stored on the farm.
  3. Receive reporting: Through the FARM-TRACE web platform, reporting is delivered including a breakdown of total trees by species on the farm and carbon stored on the farm.

Satelite measurements:

Using the reporting from farm field measurements, FARM-TRACE connects the measurements to satellite imagery of those farms. It then uses a combination of the data sets to train a machine learning algorithm to classify and assign different types of vegetation class to the satellite imagery. Once trained, this enables FARM-TRACE to automatically track forest cover and carbon values across farms. This results in expert level impact reporting, generated on an ongoing basis with no extra work required.

The approach described is not unique to Taking Root’s project in Nicaragua or any one location, it specifically caters to different project locations and ecosystems around the world. Given that forests look different from space depending on where you are in the world, FARM-TRACE trains its machine learning algorithm specific to the local ecoregion in which the farms are located. This means more specific, high quality reporting wherever a project is located.

 

FARM-TRACE: Managing for impact

Beyond impact reporting, from our experience as a project developer and manager, we knew FARM-TRACE had to help improve operations and create value on the ground. Alongside its impact reporting, FARM-TRACE makes it easy to create management insights. This includes tracking activities on farms, farmer interventions and staff performance to not only communicate impact, but improve it over time.

 

Who is using FARM-TRACE now?

Having initially developed the FARM-TRACE platform to solve our own challenges in our Nicaragua project, we realized the platform could be applied to solve problems faced by hundreds of other organizations working with other smallholder farmers around the world. FARM-TRACE is being used by producer groups, commodity buyers, food brands and NGOs including for Taking Root’s CommuniTree carbon project across 8 countries, in 3 different continents! Its applications have multiplied as well, including uses in carbon projects to automate certification reporting, cacao supply chains to demonstrate zero deforestation, or coffee supply chains to track forest cover for enhanced farmer premiums.

 

What's next?

FARM-TRACE’s public consultation with Plan Vivo will be open to submit feedback until November 28, 2020. It will then be peer reviewed before going into a final approval process. In the meantime, we will continue to grow FARM-TRACE to create impact with and support smallholder projects and supply chains around the world. If you’re interested in using FARM-TRACE to improve and communicate your impact, please get in touch by contacting [email protected].

 

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