£1m project to boost cocoa farming productivity

A £1m project delivered by the MTC is being launched to help improve the lives of cocoa farmers in Colombia by improving quality and productivity of operations.

The MTC aims to focus on improving farm productivity, consistency of product, quality and post-harvest processes - image courtesy of Depositphotos,
The MTC aims to focus on improving farm productivity, consistency of product, quality and post-harvest processes – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The Coventry-based Manufacturing Technology Centre is aiming to focus on improving farm productivity, consistency of product, quality and post-harvest processes.

The overall objective is to improve the profitability of smallholder farmers and their families by ensuring they get a better deal from buyers, become more productive and produce better quality cocoa.

MTC’s team is looking specifically at the bean fermentation and drying processes which are vital to the quality of the bean. Over 70% of the flavour of cocoa beans comes from the fermentation process.

The team is also working with the cocoa and chocolate supply chain to establish better quality assessment of the beans on the way to market.

The project – named COLCO – is funded by the UK Newton Fund which supports welfare and sustainable development through science and innovation among developing countries. The funding is channelled through Innovate UK, and the project is led by the Satellite Applications Catapult.

MTC technology manager Alejandra Matamoros said that they were working to ensure that farmers could achieve consistency in their processes, which would benefit them when the beans went to market.

“We want to ensure that the smallholder farmers get a better deal, which will improve the quality of life for them and their families, and will have a socio-economic effect on their region and the Colombian economy as a whole. We are not just interested in deploying technology – that would be easy. We want to make sure that our impact is positive and lasting,” she said.

Farming is being transformed with ‘agribots’

Agricultural robots, or ‘agribots’, are gradually being deployed across the world to assist farmers and improve productivity. The result is a much more precise and smart operation.

UK-based Small Robot Company who design and manufacture agribots has announced a new three-year partnership with Waitrose & Partners to test its revolutionary robotics at the company’s farm in Leckford, Hampshire.

Agribot, Tom is pictured - image courtesy of Small Robot Company.
Agribot, Tom is pictured – image courtesy of Small Robot Company.

The Leckford Estate, which grows produce for Waitrose & Partners including mushrooms, rapeseed, apples and many other products, will see three robots – Tom, Dick and Harry – challenge traditional farming techniques on a one-hectare wheat field.

The Manufacturer previously sat down with founder of Small Robot Co, Ben Scott-Robinson and head of robotics, Joe Allnutt to discuss the business case for agribotics and just how agricultural robots will transform farming. Read the feature here.

Through the robot’s data collection, the Small Robot Company will develop its machine learning in a variety of scenarios, such as differentiating between weeds and terrain, while building new prototype machines in the process.

This type of innovation reportedly has the potential to increase revenues by up to 40% and lowering costs by as much as 60%.

With farming costs rising by almost 8% year on year, this new technology could help relieve some of the pressure and costs within the agriculture sector, improving yields, reducing the use of chemicals and helping to apply big data in agricultural practices to drive efficiency.

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