Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

IBM blockchain lets Farmer Connect trace coffee supply chain

Steve Rogerson
January 14, 2020



At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Farmer Connect and IBM announced a consumer mobile application that lets coffee drinkers trace their coffee to understand its quality and origin, and even support the farmer who grew the beans.
 
Called Thank My Farmer, it was developed with companies across the global supply chain including Beyers Koffie, Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), Itochu, Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE), JM Smucker, Rabobank, RGC Coffee, Volcafe, Sucafina and Yara International.
 
The traceability platform is powered by IBM Blockchain and 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 to 24 say they prefer to buy coffee that is sustainably grown and responsibly sourced. But despite progress by international certifying bodies, there is 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 information about the product is fragmented.
 
Consumers hoping to close the gap between their neighbourhood barista and the farmer who grew their coffee now have a way, 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 standardised 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 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 digitised 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 near real-time access to these data, and consumers can have insights about the origins of the products they consume.
 
"The aim is humanising 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."
 
Users in the USA and Canada will be able to scan QR codes on 1850 brand premium single-origin coffee. European consumers will be able to access the app through a 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 incorporating self-sovereign identity, a 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 blockchain networks in areas including food safety, global shipping, trade finance and responsible mining.
 
"This project is another example of how blockchain technology can enable a channel for real change," said Raj Rao, general manager of 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."