GENEVA, Switzerland — A group of leading companies from the global coffee supply chain announced a collaboration with Farmer Connect – a tech startup building farm-to-consumer traceability solutions for enterprises based on the IBM Food Trust Platform. Farmer Connect aims to create efficiencies in the supply chain while connecting consumers to the farmers who grow the products they enjoy.
The major partners of the platform’s initial phase include the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), Itochu Corporation, The J.M. Smucker Company, Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE), RGC Coffee, Beyers Koffie, and Sucafina. This diverse group of actors will work together to further build out an intelligent ecosystem for the coffee supply chain.
The platform will be available to the entire coffee community and expansion into other commodities starting in 2020.
The coffee supply chain is complex, from planting and growing the trees to harvesting, hulling, drying, packing, bulking, blending and finally roasting beans before they are ready to be brewed. Integrated into this process are several intermediaries including export sellers, international transporters, importers, roasters, and retailers such as grocery stores, cafes and specialty shops.
These intermediaries all have their disparate ways of tracking information, which can make value and information exchanges across the supply chain more manual, more labor-intensive and less transparent than they could be.
Blockchain is ideally suited to help address these challenges because it establishes an immutable, transparent environment for transactions. Growers, logistics providers, traders, brand owners, retailers, regulators, and consumers can use Farmer Connect’s platform to share permissioned access to information. This can enable coffee members of the ecosystem to trace products to their source and share sales and customer feedback with the growers.
“Global coffee prices recently hit the lowest price in over a decade, and many farmers are being forced to exit the industry entirely by turning to new crops or migrating. If this trend continues, it will severely impact the broader supply chain, and it will likely be consumers who ultimately shoulder the burden of higher retail prices or a reduced number of coffee producing countries,” said Dave Behrends, Founder and President of Farmer Connect SA.
“Blockchain technology, combined with digital identity and the ability to support sustainable projects across borders, is poised to bring radical transparency, efficiency, and data-driven sustainability metrics that have the possibility to birth a new, more equitable economic model in one of the world’s most vital commodity markets,” he added.
With the Farmer Connect enterprise solution, coffee that travels across the supply chain can be tracked and traced in near real-time, across every transaction, all the way to the consumer. The solution recently completed months of testing, tracing coffee originating in Colombia and Rwanda from production to delivery. The provenance of each bag of exported coffee was captured in detail.
Farmer Connect SA has worked with IBM to develop an application named “Thank My Farmer” that gives consumers a full description of the coffee they are drinking and pulls data from the blockchain to highlight the journey that the coffee has taken through an interactive map.
The app also allows consumers to learn about, share, contribute to and follow sustainability projects that are linked to their coffee or by region, variety, or brand. “We believe that Farmer Connect will be the platform of choice for the coffee industry. Through the innovative approach to supporting all stakeholders in the industry ecosystem, we know that both farmers and coffee lovers everywhere will benefit from transparent connectivity,” said Rajendra Rao, General Manager for IBM Food Trust.
“Our participation in the Farmer Connect blockchain initiative demonstrates our commitment to providing consumers with the transparency they crave while also creating new ways to support smallholder coffee farmers,” said Joe Stanziano, Senior Vice President and General Manager for The J.M. Smucker Company. “We’re excited to pair our coffee expertise with the other great companies working on this initiative to ensure Farmer Connect is a success for everyone involved.”
“Farmer Connect complements JDE’s coffee supplier engagement program Common Grounds, by enabling consumers to reward the farmers who provide the coffee they love. We are excited to join this pilot and determined to better connect coffee consumers and coffee farmers,” said Nadia Hoarau-Mwaura, Sustainability Director, JDE.
The first version of the “Thank My Farmer” app will be available to test users in select markets of The J.M. Smucker Company, JDE, and other partners before opening up for general availability in 2020. Farmer Connect is developing a farmer-owned decentralized digital identity with Streetcred ID based on the Sovrin Network that will allow tracing to the individual farmer and the ability to use a feature within the “Thank My Farmer” app to contribute directly to their favorite growers or communities. Farmers will also benefit by having a digital track record of production and payment data that will, in turn, make many of them bankable for the first time.
And Farmer Connect doesn’t intend to stop there. The platform is able to work with any commodity or asset. The company plans to expand to other smallholder farmer commodities, such as tea and cocoa, once the blueprint for the coffee industry has been validated.
The Advisory Board of Farmer Connect includes Ric Rhinehart, the emeritus executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association, and Mauricio Cardenas, the former Finance Minister of Colombia.