These four innovations are a good start.
Coffee is facing a lot of challenges. Rains have become unpredictable, rising temperatures are making high-quality Arabica harder to grow, and low commodity prices (around $1 per pound) have made it economically unfeasible for farmers to grow the crop. According to Hanna Neuschwander, communications director for World Coffee Research, “The basic challenge is the supply chain itself.” Some companies are focusing on technologies like blockchain, mobile payments and wireless weather stations as potential solutions. According to their proponents, these new technologies will help farmers grow better coffee, streamline their distribution and make more money.
The coffee supply chain can be complicated and expensive for growers, and conscious consumers don’t always know where their coffee comes from. A number of companies, including Bext360, are using blockchain to trace the supply chain from field to cup. The company says that using blockchain eliminates uncertainty on the part of farmers, who rely on middlemen. In addition, it allows consumers to see exactly where their coffee comes from by simply scanning a QR code on their bag of beans. Only time will tell if blockchain will provide promised financial gains to farmers.
2. Mobile Payments
Getting coffee from field to market takes time, and often farmers aren’t paid until months after their harvests. With mobile payments, farmers can be paid for their haul on the spot instead of waiting until the beans arrive at their final destination. The United Nations Mobile Money for the Poor team in Uganda worked with coffee exporter Kyangalanyi Coffee Limited to digitize payments of the crop to promote transparency and expedite compensation. The project is ongoing, and the practice of mobile payments is gaining traction in the area. But, according to a recent paper on the first phase of the project, gaining access to rural communities is difficult and, of course, farmers need mobile phones to participate.
3. Weather Stations
A lack of information is another problem faced by farmers. With climate change making precipitation and weather increasingly unpredictable, companies like Climate Edge are creating mobile weather stations that farmers can put in their fields. The stations give real-time weather calculations, and custom software assesses weather conditions and offers support and advice to farmers using mobile data. Of course, this technology isn’t free. But, even though the company has not yet finalized a price, cofounder Paul Baranowski says, “We’re trying to make sure that this is a minor cost that has major benefits for farmers.”
4. Phone Apps
While some companies are focusing on trendy new technologies, the cellphone can still be one of the most important tools in a farmer’s toolbox. WhatsApp allows farmers to message other farmers, buyers and agronomists for advice, diagnostic apps like Plantix and Plant Doctor help them identify new pests and diseases in their fields, and weather apps let them know if they should be preparing for rain or shine. However, since many farms are in rural areas, they may be out of range for phone and data networks.