This site shows my humanitarian and social design portfolio. I do process design, so optimisation of social and humanitarian processes, through system design and product design. I strive for Efficiency of humanitarian actors, through a needs based approach. I research, teach and talk about that.
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A symbiosis,
of technology
and humans


creating a cacao value chain, with higher financial, social and ecological values 

Bio.Co is a holistic concept, of how to make the work of small farmers more efficient, financially, and economically sustainable. The project focuses on small cacao farmers in Equatorial Guinea, where it got developed with Bösöppe e.v. and the Agricultural Ministry of Equatorial Guinea.  The name references that. The development was based on the aim to empower farmers living on the island of Bioko. Combining the island’s name, with the perspectives of ecological sustainability (bio) and economical empowerment (co), Bio.Co highlights how permaculture agriculture can be financially promising, less labor-intense, and therefore more attractive to conduct. It is enabled by a symbiosis between technology, humans and nature.


Bio.Co makes the field of small farming more attractive, based on economical empowerment and less labour intensity.  Furthermore, it makes the process of food production more sustainable through the application of permacultural principles, which diversify and quantitatively increase the harvest. The efficiency of the small farming agroforests plantation gets increased, by a network of sensors surveilling and mapping out the forest-like plantation. The data collected gets evaluated and presented to the farmers on their App-Interface.  But also there they get permacultural advice on improving the growing conditions. The app also allows them to communicate on the topic to other farmers in the area, seeking advice and help. Furthermore, they can now prove the quality of the production process to achieve better prices and also have access to world market prices and other online available data like the weather prognoses. As a matter of facts Bio.Co centralizes all needed information to efficiently, economically, and ecologically sustainable and managed plantation. This increases the product quantity and quality leads to higher income and creates a food production value chain that is fair and ecologically sustainable.

Complexity through politics, social structures and a depletion based

Equatorial Guinea has a complex history and political system. 

The economy is similarly set up as in other African countries. The former centuries exploiting the continents’ resources are still visible and structures coming from this are still established. 

The bill on this picture visualises the same. The higher the bill, the visualised industries on the bills, gets more and more socially and ecologically exploitative.

In the case of Equatorial Guinea, there are mostly two industries predominant: Construction, conducted by outside forces and oil plants. The former cacao small farmers find their own business, based on their needed labour input in relation to the share of the value chain little attractive. 

The individual small
Farmer and Farm worker

It is hard to harvest and grow cocoa without machines, e.g. almost 50kg heavy bags of cocoa nib have to be carried using human labour. The harvest itself is dirty. The local climate causes nibs to get fermented inside the fruit on the plantation. The rotten fruit needs to be dug with a machete which can hurt the doer. All of it does not even bring enough wage for the workers. The only reason to do this job is the lack of employment opportunities. 

It affects the quality of production, expects high outcomes, low customer prices, which eventually results in the use of pesticides in small farming systems, that otherwise could have been the most sustainable agricultural option.

The small farmers
local community

The local communities on Bioko, outside of Malabo live closely together. Everybody knows each other in the small villages.

Some of the citizens find work in Malabo. Others open up small shops for groceries, tools, street food or hairdressing. The ones being working in the farming sector mainly specialised in Kakao, due to it being historically present, and brought by the Spanish colonial force. When there is harvest, they come together and offer each other helper jobs. They even share the communal roasting tables. But they let others’ nibs burn because it’s not of concern for them. This naturally cooperative conglomerate could be a resilient and sustainable social mechanism and can create capacities. Enabling efficient cooperation between the different farmers and helpers would create common benefits. And the already existing connection between them would be an easy starting point to implement training on the concept of Bio.Co.

The benefits of
permacultural agroforests

Already today 70% of our global food production is created through small farmers‘ work. These small farmers create not exclusively a lot of food. They also work more sustainably than the industrialised food production sector. Especially agroforests show a high degree of sustainability, through their incorporation of various life forms, creating a nearly natural ecosystem. This highlights that global sustainable food production is possible. Intensifying this through permacultural principles would allow this kind of production, to create diverse harvest outcomes all year and let the number of outcomes even increase. It would also open doors to market the products as qualitative and sustainable. It would create food production that creates more value for us as a global society, but also for the farmers themselves.

The symboisis,
Bio.Co bridging the gap

Most of the needed elements to create an efficient, ecologically sustainable, and financially attractive cacao sector on the island were existing.

We identified within the project, that these elements just needed to be set up in the right way and ultimately connected.

Bio.Co achieves it. The efficiency of the small farming agroforest plantation gets increased, by a network of sensors surveilling and mapping out the forest-like plantation. The data collected gets evaluated and presented to the farmers on their App-Interface. There they get permacultural advice on improving the growing conditions. This app also allows them to communicate on the topic to other farmers in the area, seeking advice and help. Furthermore, they can now prove the quality of the production process to achieve better prices and also have access to world market prices and other online available data like the weather prognoses. As a matter of facts Bio.Co centralises all needed information to efficiently, economically, and ecologically sustainable manage the plantation. This increases the product quantity and quality and leads to higher income.

One sensor,
one permacultural
plant island

The sensors are designed to be usable in the surrounding of a jungle, relatively cheap to produce, and easy to use and install.

The main use of the sensors is to collect the data at certain symbiotic „plant islands“. This concept is based on permacultural principles and describes a group of differently useable plants, that benefit from each other. Implementing these islands increases the diversity of harvested products, but also increases the quantity, through the creation of biologically adequate relationships between the plants. 

Once installed on each plant island, the sensors are highly visible through their white color.

They create an autonomous mesh network that allows connectivity between the sensory and different interface devices.

Furthermore, it allows more efficient work on the plantation. Firstly the usage of sensors, allows the farmers to just intervene when the natural system really needs support. This decreases the need for natural fertilizers. Secondly, it lowers the labour intensity, and thirdly the plantation, that was previously difficult to oversee with its forest-like appearance, now gets mapped out.

The simple

The sensors are simple to install. They can be screwed in the ground with a similar interaction to opening a wine bottle. Its spiral geometry and the digging end of it lower the momentum needed to screw them in. Afterward, they stay secured in place and are taking turned on with all functions using a one-button UX.

Collecting data
from the air

To allow qualitative judgment over the conditions the plants are growing, a needed parameter is the air quality. This concerns for example the temperature and humidity. Sensory in the upper pipe geometry measure these. Perforated caps allow the air to reach these sensors. A parametrically designed perforation is intricate enough to keep insects and water outside.

Collecting data
from the soil

The end of the spiral geometry has a circular cutout. Screwing the sensor in the ground the cutout with its sharp edges enables this process without the application of huge forces. Furthermore, the inner metal coat is connected to the soil measuring sensors. These sensors measure and evaluate the soil parameters, e.g. ph, nutrition, humidity.

The Technical

The technical requirements for a sensor system, including these many functions are high. In the design of the sensor, it was primarily tried to lower the complexity of parts and therefore make production more economical. Most technical components find their place in the upper metal cylinder. These are e.g. the chips, antenna and the battery.

Taking the example of the battery: This is a standardised AA-battery that is rechargeable and globally cheaply available. Also, the sensors are broken down to the minimum and are mostly currently affordable for each less than 1 USD.

The second basis was not to make any compromises in the quality of the product. Therefore the technical components are all cased in metal bodies.

The Data interface,
Information and
community app

Here the interaction happens and all information gets centralized. Turning the wheel in the lower corner, similar to using a phone with a dial disc, let the users choose between the five different main sections:

  • a permacultural lexicon
  • world market information
  • community chats and forums
  • plantation surveillance
  • weather reports

centralising online
Accesible information

Efficiently managing a small plantation is just possible with access to information concerning the weather and world market prices. Having the weather information lets them plan their interaction with the plantation based on prognoses. Knowing at which time which product can be sold for higher prices allows them to harvest within the time window, to the time when they can get the most for it.

Additionally to the huge knowledge the farmers have, giving them access to a free library with permaculture agriculture advice increases their knowledge and therefore capacity to create a more quantitative and qualitative harvest. They can also add to this open-source library what they found out and share this knowledge with other farmers.

Creating a community,
That leads to closer

But sharing the agricultural advice in the open-source lexicon is just the first part of the community fostering aspect of Bio.Co.

Users signing up, get added to a 3W map of small farmers of the region with their ID and location. On a subsection of this map, they can start discussions with the other small farmers. They can ask for advice, practical help, clarification.

surveilling the plantation

The main section remains still the plantation surveillance and monitoring one. There, all information from the sensors gets centralised, automatically evaluated, and presented to the farmer via push messages. He can then decide how to interact with the plants.  These push messages can be about a potential threat or a grave miss conditioned surrounding. This information gets described, with possible causes, but also permacultural remedies.

Furthermore, a subsection saves all data and statistics on the plantation, that can be used to plan, qualify actions working on the plantation and prices selling the harvest.


"There is a world
possible, in which
original and the manmade
Nature can
be symbionts"

Dipl. Des. Thomas Jäger