Most coffee ads show steaming cups of coffee. But in Nespresso’s latest campaign, actor George Clooney can be seen with an empty cup of coffee. Why? The Empty Cup, a new campaign from the global coffee brand, aims to raise awareness of the risks coffee farmers face from the threat of climate change. “The threat of climate change is real and coffee farmers are on the front lines. It is vital that we enable these communities to build financial and environmental resilience so that they not only survive, but also thrive and prosper.” say clooney as Nespresso’s global brand ambassador.
Since most coffee growers are poor smallholder farmers, their ability to adapt to climate change alone is limited. Various public and private initiatives are underway to help farmers adapt by developing more resilient production systems, diversifying crops and moving to higher elevations – all of which need support. Digitization is another way to facilitate this effort.
Collecting data such as production costs, yields, prices and information on diseases can help reduce risk, increase transparency and improve traceability in the global coffee supply chain. This data also serves as an important communication tool to build trust among consumers seeking high-quality coffee and to help industry players be seen as buying coffee fairly and sustainably.
However, most of the data collection effort rests with individual producers and farm workers answering detailed questions using tables and smartphones. It is often a cumbersome process, requiring farmers to input the same data into four or five different systems, given today’s data and system interoperability challenges. While many systems grant producers ownership of their data, most do not provide access to other data in the system or a comparative overview that could provide farmers with best practices and better insight. There is no doubt that digitization has many advantages; According to Joseph de Villiers of the World Coffee Alliance, the key question is “how can technology be used to make the coffee industry more equitable.”
In a recent discussion on the topic of digital interoperability, several experts in the coffee industry shared their insights. Making digitization work involves designing a producer-farmer-centric approach, and using technology to support these efforts.
According to Carolina Castaneda of the Colombian Coffee Growers Association (FNC BV), putting farmers first means focusing on their well-being. FNC undertakes initiatives aligned with United Nations Development Goals (SDGs) by providing technical services through virtual channels (emails, WhatsApp, calls, SMS) and physical visits to ensure stable harvest volumes; coffee growing education, improving social infrastructure and promoting gender equality. To support such efforts, digital technologies must be easy to use and developed in the language of the user. It should also provide encryption and enable connectivity, especially in remote areas.
For Ward de Groote of FarmersDirectCoffee, a Netherlands-based social enterprise that helps coffee farmers integrate forward into the supply chain, data and blockchain technologies can benefit farmers as long as the process is simplified and best practices are shared. De Groote explains: “It is important to share knowledge about best-in-class practices related to good agricultural and regenerative practices. That’s where the value of data comes from. Global regenerative coffee production is crucial to minimize climate impact.”
Darrin Daniel of Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE) agrees. “We value product excellence for coffee in quality and use. We must value the sharing of information and the time commitment required to collect this data. Without the farmers there would be no coffee sector.”
But what is the most important data that is needed to make digitization work, and that is also beneficial for the farmer?
Production costs and cost are important data for farmers. “What is at stake is a farmer’s dignity,” explains Castaneda. Key data points can also be targeted by regions, elevation, and product variety, providing greater granularity to help develop best-in-class practices that aid awareness and benchmarking. “Benchmarking information also facilitates access to loans,” explains de Groote. “Benchmarking leads to better production performance which certainly leads to better access to loans.”
“We are trying to figure out how to achieve a place of equality and balance in the global coffee supply chain,” explains Daniel. Digital technologies have the potential to facilitate the process as long as it is used properly.