Sparking a Data Revolution in the Peruvian Andes


Using tablet-based technology to conduct farmer-level surveys allows cooperative managers to analyze trends that inform better management decisions. 

In 2014, Root Capital was conducting routine household surveys with farmers in the Peruvian Andes to assess the impact of its work with UNICAFEC, a local coffee cooperative. Noting the tablets and digital surveys used by Root Capital’s research team, Alfredo Alarcón, UNICAFEC’s manager, made a simple request: could Root Capital teach his staff how to use similar technology to perform annual farm inspection audits, a burdensome requirement for organic certification?

For a cooperative that sources from over 400 producers, carrying out these inspections every year is anything but easy. Says Alfredo, “We visit 100% of our producers in order to verify various stages of the production process. And we’ve always done this internal management system by hand.”

Imagine the time and labor required for a team of surveyors to travel the muddy backroads of hundreds of farms in this remote region of the Andes. With paper-based surveys, only a fraction of this valuable information ever made it into a centralized database (and at great pains to input on the computer), and virtually none of it was used for any level of analysis.

Alfredo saw mobile technology as a possible solution to this issue: not only could his staff streamline data collection, but he and his management team could more efficiently analyze the data to help them understand membership trends and make informed decisions about the services that the cooperative brings to its producer-members.

Inspired by Alfredo’s request, what began as a pilot in the highlands of the Peruvian Andes two years ago has grown into our Mobile Advisory Program, which aims to:

  • Inform management decisions by digitizing farmer surveys and automating dashboards with analysis around key indicators;
  • Improve transparency within our client’s supply chains by uploading up-to-date information to a shared digital platform;
  • Make it easier for business managers to monitor farm-level improvement projects — for example, the replacement of aging or diseased coffee trees — through easy-to-navigate GIS mapping and cloud-based software.

By using simple, tablet-based survey technology and Excel-based dashboards, clients that participate in our mobile advisory programming are able to save a great deal of time and staff resources while simultaneously improving data quality and analysis. And it’s transformative: according to the World Bank, businesses that use ICT (information and communications technologies) experience a +750% difference in growth of sales and a +113% difference in profitability (compared to those that do not use ICT).


UNICAFEC General Manager Alfredo Alarcón (third from right) with Root Capital and UNICAFEC staff. 

For Alfredo, Root Capital’s tablet-based questionnaire allowed him to turn an otherwise cumbersome inspection process into a powerful engine for insight into farmer practices and perspectives.

“The information we collect now is more trustworthy, and we can analyze it much more efficiently than we ever could before,” says Alfredo. “This high-quality data not only allows us to make opportune management decisions, but also allows us to develop key performance indicators for ourselves as an organization.”

Today, Root Capital has worked with over 20 coffee cooperatives in Latin America to digitize the collection and analysis of farm-level data to inform business management decisions

Following the success of our mobile pilot program in 2015, we trained more than 100 cooperative field staff to conduct digital surveys. Together, those field staff have used the platform iFormBuilder to survey more than 16,000 farmers.

As we continue to grow this innovative part of our work in different geographies and value chains, we are committed to identifying new ways to use simple, accessible mobile technologies to meet client needs. Going forward, we will continue to empower our clients to deploy effective mobile technologies in pursuit of growth, profitability, and greater social and environmental impact.


Want to learn more about how mobile technology is impacting farmers around the world? Read this blog post about our work with the Ford Foundation to create value for both coffee cooperatives and smallholder farmers in Rwanda.


Topics: Advisory Services | South America |

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