Polygon mapping is critical to support smallholder agro-forestry and deforestation programs

What is polygon mapping? 🌎🗺️ Technoserve is using this innovative technology to support sustainable agriculture and land use planning in developing countries.

Geotagging – marking the latitude and longitude of farms where we work – is no longer enough. For the past two years, TechnoServe has been implementing polygon mapping for its large agricultural programs.

First – what is “polygon mapping”?

Polygon mapping involves taking a smartphone with Google Maps or other GPS enabled for offline use and walking around the boundaries of a farm to map the farm perimeter. For a 2ha smallholder farm, this is a 600m walk with the farmer around the edges of their property, a task that might take 20-30min.

Last year Mars published an article making the case that “Polygon mapping is critical to a deforestation-free cocoa supply chain“. Their argument, which I agree with, is that farm boundaries, aka polygons, must be recorded so that farms can be properly monitored. GPS tagging – simply recording the latitude and longitude of the farms but not farm boundaries – is not sufficient.

The use of precise and accurate GPS polygon mapping, which traces the entire perimeter of a farm for increased transparency and traceability, would provide an additional layer of insight and vigilance.  – Mars article in Politico in 2022

The new EU rules for deforestation-free products state that “Operators will be required to collect the geographic coordinates of the land where the commodities they place on the market were produced.”

Industry-wide, with the increasingly common use of geospatial information systems (GIS) in agricultural programs, polygon mapping is rapidly becoming a requirement.

Some examples –

  • Nespresso is already requiring some of their AAA Implementers to upload polygons of farms into their traceability system, and now includes a question about the percentage of farms mapped with farm polygons in their partner assessment.
  • To participate in the Rabobank ACORN agroforestry/carbon sequestration program, it is a requirement that smallholder farm perimeters must be mapped. On a World Bank webinar, ACORN claimed that  they had 10,000 farmers already enrolled (with farm polygons mapped!) in the ACORN program in LatAm, with plans to ramp to 100,000 in the near future.
  • I recently talked with someone at a startup providing insurance for smallholders. They map farm boundary polygons for all farms that they insure.
  • For Labs’ work with the University of Minnesota, precise mapping of a sample of 1,900 farm polygons was instrumental in the development of the algorithm to map cashew production across Benin.
  • Mondelez has mapped 167,000 farms as of 2020 in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, Brazil and India, and even geo-locates individual trees planted as a part of their agroforestry programs.

Polygon mapping is rapidly becoming a de facto best practice for farm-level agronomy programs in the developing world, and will become a requirement for programs involving carbon sequestration, insurance schemes, and traceability systems.