There has been a growing trend to close the ‘communication gap’ between farmers and consumers, with manufacturers and retailers meanwhile looking for ways to differentiate themselves and enable clients to have greater transparency and knowledge of where, how, and who is growing and making what is being bought. This has led to several firms turning to technology-driven solutions (including Blockchain-powered platforms), with one specific market being that of the coffee drinkers.
According to IBM, coffee drinking is a huge market, with more than half a trillion cups being drunk per annum and interestingly, in the age group of 19–24-year-olds, 66% of those that took part in an IBM survey stated, “they prefer to buy coffee that is sustainably grown and responsibly sourced.” This possibly explains IBM’s initiative in association with Farmer Connect (called ‘Thank My Farmer’) which gives coffee drinkers the ability to have greater insight as to the provenance of the coffee they are consuming, i.e. where it has come from. Thank My Farmer also enables coffee drinkers to support the farmer who grew the beans. Raj Rao, General Manager of IBM Food Trust, said, “This project is another example of how blockchain technology can enable a channel for real change. 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.” Whilst this is a 3-minute promotional video, it does help to illustrate the Thank My Farmer initiative, and who knows how many other foodstuffs will also start producing such audiovisual content? After all, a picture paints a thousand words…….
Another initiative in the coffee sector is Starbucks which now allows customers the opportunity to see from where the coffee beans they are buying come from, using a Blockchain-powered platform developed by Microsoft. This coffee bean ‘track and trace’ service is accessible using a mobile phone and QR codes, and enables coffee buyers to see from which of the 30 countries Starbucks sources its coffee and, in effect, ‘digitally meet’ the coffee farmer.
Source: Sustainable Fibre Alliance
Meanwhile, in Mongolia, a UN agency is working with an organisation called Sustainable Fibre Alliance which uses Blockchain technology to track the cashmere herds. The intention is to limit production from overgrazed areas and so create a more sustainable and environmentally- friendly supply of cashmere. The herders, using a mobile phone, register their cashmere with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag which is regularly updated — from the goats to the processing facilities. This enables greater transparency, assuring consumers, and retailers that the cashmere is coming from sustainable sources. Coffee and cashmere are just two sectors which are using Blockchain technology to ‘shine a light’ on what can be complex and transnational boundaries but, in turn, enables consumers to get closer to the farmers digitally. It will hopefully create a more tangible (all be it, remote) connection between farmers and consumers and ultimately a better understanding of the challenges and, in some cases, plight of those who farm and produce many of the goods that we take for granted in North America and Europe!