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Coffee Industry Turns to Blockchain for Transparency

Several coffee companies joined a blockchain collaboration with Farmer Connect.

Farmer Connect is a tech startup that is building farm-to-consumer traceability solutions for enterprises based on the IBM Food Trust Platform. The major partners of the platform’s initial phase include the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, Itochu Corp., The J.M. Smucker Co., Jacobs Douwe Egberts, RGC Coffee, Beyers Koffie and Sucafina.

The companies will work to 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.

Growers, logistics providers, traders, brand owners, retailers, regulators and consumers will be able to use Farmer Connect’s platform sharing permissioned access to information that enables 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,” said Dave Behrends, Founder and President of Farmer Connect SA. “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.”

Behrends noted that blockchain technology, combined with digital identity and the ability to support sustainable projects across borders, is expected to bring transparency, efficiency, and data-driven sustainability metrics to create a new, more equitable economic model in the market.

With the Farmer Connect solution, coffee that travels across the supply chain can be tracked in near realtime, across every transaction, all the way down to the consumer. It recently completed months of testing, tracing coffee originating in Colombia and Rwanda from production to delivery.

Additionally, Farmer Connect 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 coffee’s journey. The first version of the 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.

Meanwhile, FDA will have a public meeting on Oct. 21 to discuss its New Era of Smarter Food Safety—which involves blockchain, reported The Packer (Sept. 17).

“We intend for the strategic plan to outline how this new approach will address public health challenges, including being able to trace sources of contaminated foods and using new predictive analytics tools like artificial intelligence to assess risks and prioritize the agency’s work and resources,” read the FDA release.

FDA announced plans for its food safety campaign in late April following E. coli outbreaks traced to California and Arizona leafy greens. During investigations, traceability became an issue due to lack of digital records.

“The emergence of blockchain technology…has enabled food system stakeholders to imagine being able to have full end-to-end traceability,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response. “An ability to deliver accurate, real-time information about food, how it’s produced and how it flows from farm to table is a game-changer for food safety.”