Farmer Connect to Bridge the Gap Between Consumers and Smallholder Coffee Farmers through Blockchain
At the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Farmer Connect and IBM (NYSE: IBM) announced a new consumer mobile application called “Thank My Farmer,” which will allow coffee drinkers to trace their coffee to understand its quality and origin, and even support the farmer who grew the beans. Developed with leading companies across the global supply chain including Beyers Koffie, The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), ITOCHU Corporation, Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE), The J.M. Smucker Company, Rabobank, RGC Coffee, Volcafe, Sucafina and Yara International, Farmer Connect is a traceability platform powered by IBM Blockchain designed to help increase traceability, efficiency and fairness in the coffee supply chain.
Coffee drinkers today consume more than half a trillion cups per year, and as many as two-thirds of consumers aged 19-24 surveyed say they prefer to buy coffee that is sustainably grown and responsibly sourced. But despite progress by international certifying bodies, there still a lack of knowledge around the need for coffee farmers to earn a sufficient living for bringing their product to market.
Its large, global supply chain makes tracing coffee difficult. Once grown, beans make several stops, including at coops, exporters, shippers, importers, roasters, distributors, and retailers before finally reaching the consumer. Each participant in this complex system tracks only their small segment of the journey, and each uses its own system to log data. This means that information about the product is fragmented.
Consumers hoping to close the gap between their neighborhood barista and the farmer who grew their coffee now have a solution, thanks to the same blockchain technology behind IBM Food Trust. Farmer Connect is introducing the “Thank My Farmer” app, a consumer-facing application that pulls information directly from the blockchain in a standardized way that can be used across the industry. It connects the user to farmers, traders, roasters and brands. The information is presented on an interactive map, allowing each product to tell a story in a simple and scalable way. The “Thank My Farmer” app also presents sustainability projects in coffee communities and an opportunity for consumers to support them.
Blockchain technology brings all the parties in the coffee supply chain together, simplifying the exchange and tracking of information and payments, and enabling greater trust. It creates a permanent digitized chain of transactions that cannot be altered. Each network participant has an exact copy of the data, and additions to the blockchain are shared throughout the network based on each participant’s level of permission. Farmers, wholesalers, traders and retailers can interact more efficiently using comprehensive, near real-time access to this data, and consumers can have new insights about the origins of the products they consume.
“The aim is humanizing each coffee drinker’s relationship with their daily cup,” said David Behrends, Founder and President of Farmer Connect. “Consumers now can play an active role in sustainability governance by supporting coffee farmers in developing nations. Through the blockchain and this consumer app, we’re creating a virtuous cycle.”
The new mobile application will launch to the general market at the beginning of 2020. Users in the U.S. and Canada will be able to scan QR codes on 1850® brand premium single-origin coffee. European consumers will be able to access the “Thank My Farmer” app through a new single-origin brand, Beyers 1769, roasted at Beyers Koffie.
As the app expands in 2020, large and small companies will be invited to join, and coffee drinkers will be able to support the communities where their coffee is grown by funding local projects. Farmer Connect is currently incorporating self-sovereign identity, a new form of digital identity built on distributed ledger technology, in collaboration with the Sovrin Foundation. This closes the loop on a circular economy that will enhance smallholder livelihoods while delivering transparency and a better experience for the consumer.
This work with Farmer Connect is another example of IBM’s impact extending blockchain technology adoption across many industries and use cases, transforming entire business processes and providing consumers with more trusted insights. IBM has convened groundbreaking blockchain networks in areas including food safety, global shipping, trade finance, responsible mining and many more.
“This project is another example of how blockchain technology can enable a channel for real change,” said Raj Rao, General Manager, IBM Food Trust. “Blockchain is more than aspirational business tech, it is used today to transform how people can build trust in the goods they consume. For business, it can drive greater transparency and efficiency.”