U.S.-based GeoPoll is partnering with Control Union, an international provider of agricultural inspection and safety services, to reach out to African farmers and bring them into global supply chain networks while ensuring compliance with standard business practices.

GeoPoll provides technology for data collection, using mobile platforms for surveys. Control Union will be able to use GeoPoll technology to reach small-holding farmers to gain more information about their practices. The idea is to bring increased transparency to food supply chains globally, with a focus on key products such as cocoa, coffee, cotton, fruits and vegetables, palm oil, rice, and tobacco. 

Control Union will use data gathered via GeoPoll to connect with rural farming communities to educate, certify and link them to a global marketplace through its network of inspection operations, dedicated laboratories and independent worldwide cargo surveying. 

"Right now, it is very difficult to reach smallholder farmers and those in the surrounding communities to ensure social compliance," said GeoPoll Director of Communications Roxana Elliott via email. "International exporters and suppliers want this information so they can buy from smallholder farms with the knowledge that they are engaging in suitable business practices."

The surveys are meant to allow commercial organizations including suppliers, exporters and governments to monitor compliance with standard food safety practices, and help ensure farmers operate ethically and adhere to set policies regarding issues such as employee rights, child labor and suitable work conditions.

A 2014 Deutsche Bank report, "Agricultural value chains in Sub-Saharan Africa" concludes there is increasing investor interest in sub-Saharan Africa along the whole food supply chain, given the region's untapped potential for both domestic sales and exports.

Agriculture accounts for up to 70 percent of the workforce in Africa, but it is a difficult sector from which to obtain information, as Internet penetration is low and face-to-face surveys are time-consuming and expensive.

GeoPoll has designed its platform to be flexible. It allows the transmission, for example, of SMS and voice messages to farmers with only basic mobile phones, which may not have Internet access.

The mobile products to be launched by the partners will include surveys to monitor farmers' compliance with programs such as Global GAP and Organic Certification; one-way push messages promoting agricultural compliance; and custom surveys for clients in the food supply chain to collect data that can enhance their operations in local markets.

The global strategic partnership will focus initially on selected African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda.

"We believe that these programs could greatly impact the agricultural industry in Africa, and both GeoPoll and Control Union have extensive experience on the continent," Elliot said. "But imagine this as a long-term partnership which will expand to many regions of the world."