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Impacting Smallholder Farmers: A Sustainable Model for Traceability, Verification, and Compliance

Updated: May 27

Smallholder farmer

A staggering 75% of the world’s poor are farmers.

Small farms (less than two hectares) are estimated to account for 84% of all farms worldwide. They produce roughly 35% of the world’s food.

Smallholder farmers (up to 10 hectares) work hard to feed us yet struggle to achieve fair market value for their produce and earn a living income. They are often exploited by buyers who flex their financial muscles, drive prices down or delay and even refuse payment.

Advocates for labour and human rights are working hard to raise public awareness and lobby for farmers. Many multi-stakeholder organizations have started offering certifications to farms that follow ethical practices. They aim to promote responsible business practices and encourage consumers to be more conscious of their choices. You may have noticed ethical labels on various products, from bananas to berries, coffee to cacao.

Nonetheless, gaps remain. Good intentions don’t always lead to better outcomes. Human rights continue to be compromised. As a result, the food in our supermarkets may not be as honest as the labels would like us to believe.

At ECOSHIFT, we believe strategies to stimulate sustainable agricultural production for smallholder farmers, workers, their families, and communities are critical. That’s why we’re introducing a transparent, verifiable model for sustainable agricultural growth and production, starting with smallholder cacao farmers in Thailand.

Ethical Labels and Certification

Organizations promoting and certifying ‘fair trade’ and ‘responsibly grown’ products aim to support worker rights. They claim to fill regulatory gaps, fight exploitation, and combat weak enforcement.

But certification and ethical labels come with costs.

Membership fees, an endless sea of forms, and establishing and monitoring formal policies cost money and time. Most smallholder farmers can’t afford certification and aren’t interested in filling out forms. They want to focus on farming.

Big farms supplying major retailers, however, benefit from ethical certification. They can afford the time and money to attain certification. It boosts their image and lets them charge higher prices. And with consumers willing to pay more for what they believe to be ethically sourced products, profits increase.

However, the Corporate Accountability Lab argues that “social compliance initiatives, including multi-stakeholder ones, are majority financed by corporate money: membership fees from brands, registration fees from supplying factories, training fees, or a share of the profit from the auditing companies. The need to recruit and retain corporate members to make these initiatives financially

viable represents in itself a serious conflict of interest.”

Even worse, large multinationals are moving away from independent organizations and writing their own human rights and environmental due diligence policies.

Dutch advocacy group SOMO says that EU proposals to allow corporations to take charge of their human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD) is “a dangerous cocktail” because it “relies heavily on unregulated, largely self-serving industry schemes and industry-influenced initiatives as a means of discharging HREDD duties along the supply chain.”

As European regulations like EUDR, the proposed Green Claims Directive, the Proposal for a ban on goods made using forced labour, and Corporate Sustainability Reporting become law, compliance will be essential.

For smallholder farmers to truly benefit, they need the tools to comply with regulations without the hassle of fees, forms and filing reports. Consumers deserve to know the source of their products and can verify the data independently.

Certifications and Labels Don’t Eliminate Bad Actors

Hit the fruit and veggie aisle in your local supermarket, and you’ll find all kinds of products with certifications and labels highlighting ethical production. The Ecolabel Index lists over 450. But a darker reality lurks behind the sticker on your fresh berries, bananas, pineapples and other products.

A recent investigation in Baja, Mexico, reported “twenty-first century slavery” conditions, challenging the certification model.

Oxfam recently accused two German supermarket chains of human rights abuses in Latin America, testing that country’s new Supply Chain Act. The companies defend themselves by relying on certifications and seals of approval. But the report notes, “Certifications and seals of approval provide a semblance of assurance, yet their effectiveness in ensuring fair working conditions remains doubtful. More robust regulations and enforcement mechanisms are essential to hold companies accountable, protect workers’ rights, and to confront the systemic issues perpetuating human rights abuses within global supply chains.”

“The European Parliament’s March 2021 recommendations to the Commission on a corporate due diligence Directive is very clear in this respect, stating that “relying on certified industry schemes does not exclude the possibility of an undertaking being in breach of its due diligence obligations, or of being held liable in accordance with national law.”

There are other documented cases where certified companies failed those they claim to support.

We need an updated model that promotes sustainable growth and protects farmers and labourers. ECOSHIFT re-thinks sustainability with a new traceability, verification, and compliance model.

A New Model for Transparency

ECOSHIFT introduces a new model for traceability, verification and compliance. By putting farmers first, we advance sustainable growth in agricultural production, fusing traditional farming techniques, modern practices, and technology.

We introduce modern practices and technology to build on traditional knowledge so farmers can participate in building a transparent, verifiable supply chain. Traceability to the farm level and digitizing the first mile is the foundation.

Our team of expert advisors helps improve on-farm techniques, boost yields, and streamline post-harvest processes for high-quality production. ECOSHIFT products comply with international standards.

How it Works:

1. ECOSHIFT geo-locates partner farms and uploads the coordinates to our technology partners for EUDR compliance. According to the regulation, plots under 4 hectares require at least one GPS point coordinate, while plots above 4 hectares must have a polygon.

2. ECOSHIFT tracks the supply chain from farm to buyer for verification and compliance.

3. Our expert advisors support partner farms with environmentally responsible soil

management techniques to boost yields and companion crop recommendations to provide a secondary income source.

4. Introduce composting and green waste management techniques to reduce pesticides, phase out fossil-fuel-based agrochemicals, and shift to agroecological approaches.

5. Partner with ethical chocolate brands to realize premium prices for traceable cacao for improved household living standards and knock-on benefits in the community.

The proposed ECOSHIFT Centre will streamline and standardize post-harvest processes to produce high-quality cacao, turn green waste into natural fertilizer, and redistribute it to our partners, building a virtuous cycle.

With support from Chulalongkorn University’s ISTC, we are connecting with over 2000 farmers in the north. And our team on the ground is building partnerships with over 1200 cacao farmers in southern Thailand.

Using Data to Measure Impact and Build Trust

The data-centric supply chain management approach records all transactions and collects data to help measure and report our impact on social, environmental and economic issues in real time. From the farmer to the buyer, nothing is hidden, creating a sustainable cycle where our stakeholders understand the processes and support the outcomes. Solid data and stakeholder engagement help fine-tune objectives to deliver the best possible outcomes. Our accountability and credibility build trust with farmers, families, and communities.

Accurate Data Leads to Responsible Decisions

Accurate data can yield critical numbers and deliver the most substantial impact.

Here’s a look at the typical smallholder cacao farm data we will collect in Thailand:

  • geo-location - according to the regulation, plots less than 4 hectares require at least one GPS point coordinate, while plots above 4 hectares must have a polygon (our tech partnership confirms the plot is EUDR compliant)

  • report the number of trees

  • identify secondary crops for additional income potential

  • record annual average yields for all crops

  • track crop prices

  • report revenue generated

  • itemize operating costs (labour, fertilizer, equipment, etc.)

ECOSHIFT scalable supply chain for smallholder farmers

This helps determine the average annual household income.

Qualitative Analysis: Measuring Environmental, Social, and Economic Impacts

Qualitative analysis helps us better understand the real-life impact, develop a broader understanding, and pave the path to positive change. It adds the critical human context to the landscapes, creating an effective tool for inclusive and sustainable growth.

Collecting and analyzing social data helps us understand the impact of our model on individuals, households and communities. It can capture experiences, amplify voices, and shed light on challenges often overlooked by economic indicators. It helps identify specific needs and fine-tune policies to address them.

ECOSHIFT’s data-centric model aligns with UN SDGs. It fosters trust with stakeholders and builds a blueprint for a sustainable future.

ECOSHIFT IMPACT: the triple win

ECOSHIFT: re-think sustainability

ECOSHIFT is a socially and environmentally responsible company committed to managing its supply chain to create a transparent and sustainable model. Our technology partnerships support a transparent, verifiable, sustainable supply chain from seedling to sale, ensuring regulatory compliance and building a better cocoa lifecycle that benefits smallholder farmers.

We measure, monitor and manage the impact of our program for each farmer.

As a first-mile supply chain specialist, we give our farm members tools to take control of their planting, growing, harvesting, and post-harvest processes. We provide farmers with expert guidance to enhance soil health and improve output and overall product quality. Working with buyers, we establish long-term contracts that reflect fair-market prices. ECOSHIFT member farmers can confirm the payment and prices to certify the transaction.

Our purchasing practices eliminate pricing pressures, fast delivery requirements, last-minute order changes or cancellations, and the absence of secure contracts.

Best of all, smallholder farm members receive these tools at ZERO COST.

ECOSHIFT: tech-driven sustainability

ECOSHIFT is working hard to gain the trust of our member farmers. Although we are in the early stages, farmers have been overwhelmingly eager to learn more, join and support our mission.

ECOSHIFT Reports demonstrate our commitment as a responsible organization. We are dedicated to being open and honest with all stakeholders. Our reporting helps us understand and better manage various impacts on people and the planet. It can help identify and reduce risks, seize new opportunities, be transparent and sustainable, and become trusted by all participants.

Our mission is to build social, environmental, and economic integrity.

ECOSHIFT produces premium, sustainably grown, and ethical cocoa using a comprehensive model that benefits farmers, chocolatiers, and the environment.

Follow us and support our mission.

For more information, contact Linda Chevrier at

by Tim Morch, Freelance Writer


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