Groundtruth data collection at scale with Rabobank’s Acorn

As a flagship programme of Rabobank, Acorn’s mission is twofold: improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers while simultaneously combating climate change through agroforestry. Agroforestry is a practice of land management which encourages the cultivation of trees along with agriculture crops. Over time, this practice can improve the quality of the soil as well as the yield of crops. As the trees grow, they sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

The Acorn programme helps smallholder farmers transition to agroforestry by offering their sequestered carbon as carbon removal units to responsible corporations, with 80% of the sales revenue going directly to the farmers. Akvo is the ground truth data partner of the Acorn programme, ensuring that the data collected around the world is high quality and used to boost impact.




Latin America




Ground truth data collection

The challenge

Acorn uses biomass modelling - in which the growth of trees and vegetation is monitored - in order to assess the sequestered carbon and reward the farmers. This type of biomass modelling requires a high precision methodology with multiple different sources of data, including data from the ground. This means gathering ground truth inputs from local partners. 

In short, enumerators are tasked with collecting samples on the number, size, and species of trees. In remote and rocky terrains, this process can be complex and time consuming, requiring training, technical knowledge, and problem-solving skills. What happens when some trees can’t be reached due to rough terrain? Do enumerators in Ghana and Guatemala measure a banana tree in the same way?


The solution

With local hubs and staff across the globe and over 15 years of experience in data for development programmes, Akvo is uniquely positioned to optimise the ground truthing process. 

As the ground truth data partner, the Akvo team trains enumerators to capture data on the different characteristics of the vegetation - from the number of different species to the height and diameter of the trees - in a standardised and accurate way. Acorn then feeds this data into the biomass model which helps it to become more accurate and create predictions for future growth. In essence, the ground truth data enables the models to learn how much biomass to associate with the pixels in satellite data. This means that we are able to qualify what we are seeing in satellite imagery - the species, the size, the amount of growth, and ultimately, how much carbon each tree is storing. 

Importantly, the Acorn programme is being implemented all over the globe, from Peru to India, and accurate, standardised data is needed across the board to improve decision making. With local hubs and staff on five continents, Akvo is able to supervise the data collection and ensure data quality regardless of the location and context, while saving resources in travel and training.

The impact

Through this work,  Acorn can achieve high accuracy and reliability in estimating tree biomass from satellite imagery, anywhere in the world. 

By partnering with Akvo on the data collection, Acorn can make informed decisions that lead to the development of sustainable practices in agroforestry, improved livelihoods for the farmers they work with, and less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ultimately, working with Akvo enables acorn to scale to more and more projects and reach more and more smallholder farmers.