From bean growing to bean counting: Farmer Connect launches coffee provenance app with IBM blockchain

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CES Farmer Connect, a startup which aims to tackle traceability in the farm-to-fork journey though IBM’s blockchain, has announced the launch of a new consumer-facing provenance app.

The app, called ‘Thank My Farmer’, will allow coffee drinkers to trace their coffee, as well as support the farmer who grew the beans. It will pull information directly from the blockchain – in this instance the same technology behind IBM Food Trust – to present information around farmers, roasters, and brands. It will also offer information on sustainability projects in coffee communities, and an option for consumers to support them.

The companies cited research – albeit from 2017 – by the Rainforest Alliance which argued two in three millennial consumers preferred to buy coffee which was sustainably grown and responsibly sourced. David Behrends, founder and president of Farmer Connect, said in a statement the aim was to create a ‘virtuous cycle’ with consumers playing an active role in sustainability governance.

There are various stakeholders who comprise Farmer Connect representing the stages of the supply chain, including The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), Rabobank, and Sucafina. The latter is the initiator of the project.

Food traceability and provenance as part of the supply chain remains one of the most enduring use cases for blockchain technologies. As Douglas Horn, chief architect at Telos, put it at the Blockchain Expo Europe event last year, the paradigm has changed from companies building ‘inherently private and permissioned’ solutions to going as far as possible the other way – from farming, to manufacturing, to retail, and then back to farming.

Hence the virtuous cycle. Indeed, with its defined processes and geographies, coffee can be seen as a standout use case. As this publication has previously reported, in April the Indian Commerce Ministry announced the launch of a blockchain-based coffee e-marketplace, while Starbucks has been experimenting with Microsoft’s blockchain, focused more on customer experience.

The launch at CES is something of interest given the year-starting Las Vegas extravaganza has previously been less-than-committal on blockchain technologies. Aside from Bitcoin billionaires showcasing their wares at the event’s digital money forum, products and exhibitors were thin on the ground.

IBM was an exception to this last year, with CEO Ginni Rometty delivering a keynote featuring Charles Redfield, executive vice president of food at Walmart, one of the most well-known IBM blockchain customers.

Jason Kelly, general manager for blockchain services at IBM, said there should be more to come at this year’s CES. “CES has indeed been a showcase for more blockchain technology this year, which is yet another indicator that the ‘blockchain tourism’ phase is over,” Kelly told The Block. “More than just a technology, this business capability for data is driving real business value today for enterprises and consumers beyond the early days when it was just associated with the world of crypto.”

Kelly said that IBM sees CES as ‘a great way to showcase’ the company’s blockchain technologies, both on its own and in concert. “IBM is seeing blockchain act as a catalyst for AI, IoT, and automation across the industry at large, from provenance of electronic components in the supply chain, to consumer confidence and trust in products and services, including ethical sourcing and sustainability of what makes up those products,” he added.

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