Think of women and digital transformation and you’ll most likely picture a high-powered female executive in a high-tech office in the heart of a high-rise city. Luker Chocolate sees something different: an agricultural expert connecting women farmers with the latest insights on sustainable cocoa growing. While the setting might be more rural, the outcome is every bit as powerful as anything brokered in the urban jungle.
Maria Luisa Orozco Perez is a 41-year-old agronomist from Manizales, Colombia, specializing in agricultural development at Luker Chocolate. Maria develops and designs educational materials for farmers, helping them to understand and adopt best practice for greater productivity and sustainability.
In 2020, the pandemic hit, and Maria Luisa feared that, with the country locked down, she wouldn’t be able to meet with farmers and continue her important educational outreach. The danger was that, without access to the latest data and guidance on sustainable cocoa growing practices, farming insights and economic opportunities would be lost. With face-to-face meetings impossible, Maria Luisa decided to get creative.
Maria Luisa immediately set about transforming hardcopy materials into digital formats, sharing them with farmers on tablets that were rotated across the Urabá, Bajo Cauca, Tumaco, and Huila regions. Maria’s quick thinking ensured that 640 extra farmers received training annually between 2020 and 2022.
One of these people was Eugenia Jimenez, a 62-year-old cocoa farmer working in Urabá. Thanks to the practical advice and insights shared via Maria’s tablets, Eugenia was able to expand cocoa production from 300kg a year to over 1,500 kg. This figure is likely to grow still further once new planting becomes productive. Eugenia has also shared her newfound knowledge with her family, including her grandchildren, who are interested in farming.
Significantly, the digital transformation in farms is spreading best practice across communities and generations, expanding digital literacy and cocoa farming education in female farmers, their families and the rural communities they live in.
Eugenia said: “Participating in Luker's workshops has been a game-changer for me. Over the past four years, I have learned so much and received valuable advice on how to properly maintain my crops. What's more, the experience with the tablets has been a joy for my whole family. I learned how to use technology to improve my farming skills, and my grandchild taught me along the way. We all participated in the training sessions, and we learned how to identify and control pests and diseases. It has been a truly enriching experience that has made a significant impact on our lives."
Maria Luisa has big plans for her digital education programs in the future, “I plan to create a chatbot for WhatsApp and teach farmers how to use it and interact with it to receive real-time responses. Furthermore, I aim to create microsites or an app where farmers can find answers to urgent and specific situations.”
Both women are leading the cocoa industry to a better future, using technological advancement to spread information on progressive cocoa growing for a better future for rural communities in Colombia.