IBM Blockchain App Promotes ‘Virtuous Cycle’ for Sustainable Coffee

IBM is launching a new app that uses blockchain to allow consumers interested in sustainability to trace the coffee they buy along the supply chain.

Jan 6, 2020 at 4:33 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 12:06 p.m. UTC

IBM is launching a new app that uses blockchain to allow consumers interested in sustainability to trace the coffee they buy along the supply chain.

IBM said its new "Thank My Farmer" app will allow consumers to track their morning joe from the store where they buy it back to the farm where it was grown. Built in collaboration with traceability platform Farm Connect, which also uses IBM's blockchain, the app is expected to launch sometime this year. It was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The app has the support of 10 leading organizations in the coffee industry, including Beyers Koffie and the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), the largest association of its kind in that country.

The app helps consumers interested in supporting sustainable coffee businesses to make informed choices. In particular, it can be used to promote ethical and environmentally friendly coffee suppliers.

"The aim is humanizing each coffee drinker's relationship with their daily cup," said David Behrends, Farmer Connect founder and president. "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." 

Coffee has a long and complicated supply chain. Once grown it has to be shipped, roasted and packaged before finally ending up on retailers' shelves. With so many participants, supply information can become fragmented, making it extremely difficult for consumers to discover where their coffee originated from with any great accuracy.

Thank My Farmer isn't the first initiative using blockchain to make the coffee supply chain transparent. The Ethiopian government last year said it was exploring how to use blockchain to track its coffee exports together with IOHK. Starbucks said last May that it would begin using Microsoft's Azure blockchain providing consumers with a "complete view" of its supply chain.

Thank My Farmer uses IBM's blockchain to standardize the information and make it accessible in one place. Consumers scan QR codes on the side of the coffee jar to look at the origins of their purchase and can choose to make additional payments to the farmers who grew the beans.

"This project is another example of how blockchain technology can enable a channel for real change," said Raj Rao, IBM Food Trust general manager. "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."

Initially available for selected brands in North America and Europe, IBM plans to expand to other coffee producers as well as offer new initiatives, such as support pages for consumers to donate to the local communities where their coffee is grown.

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