It’s no secret: Americans love — and I mean, love — coffee. According to the NCA, more than 70% of Americans drink coffee, and each of them drinks an average of 3.1 cups per day (!). That’s a lot of coffee, you guys, but there’s some good news to ease the minds of anyone considering the potential environmental impact of that much coffee consumption, and that’s that a growing number of coffee-drinking Americans seem willing to pay a little bit extra for Fair Trade coffee that’s grown organically and sustainably, while ensuring that the growers themselves receive a livable wage. But, like, how do buyers know that the coffee that says Fair Trade is actually fairly traded? That’s the very question that Farmer Connect was created to solve.
Farmer Connect was founded in 2019 by David Behrends, who saw the blockchain as a means to allow coffee drinkers to trace the source of their coffee from the store, to the distributor, and on down to the farmer who actually grew and harvested the beans. What’s more, because the blockchain is transparent and immutable, consumers could be sure that the premium they paid for a product carrying an organic or fair trade label actually went toward the cause they support.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Behrends and “pick his brain” a bit about the project, and was incredibly impressed by the guy. The corporate “suit” that I expected to talk to me about using the data collected by the Farmer Connect platform — a universal data-gathering platform that’s built around IBM’s blockchain core — to inform large-scale commodity and future trades didn’t talk about any of that at all. Instead, he told me about growing up in Iowa and his time in the Peace Corps, where he fell in love with South America, and how that experience inspired him to help build the kind of real change that’s needed to improve the lives of coffee farmers throughout the developing world.
“I’m reminded of something I heard Jeffrey Sachs say somewhere, about a cup of coffee that you pay $1.95 for,” offered David (and, please note: I’m paraphrasing here). “If you pay $1.95 for a cup of coffee, after you take out the cost of the barista, the store, the shipping of the beans from the roaster, and all the other steps on the way down to the actual farmer, the farmer might only get a nickel for his work. Imagine you knew that, and that you could choose to pay $2.00 for that same cup of coffee. It would mean almost nothing to you, but it would effectively double the farmer’s income. That’s a huge impact.”
Rather than build up Farmer Connect as a tool to support a trading platform, Behrends is using it as an authentic storytelling tool, using the blockchain to tell a story that the farmers themselves are unable to tell, in a way that is open, honest, and 100% verifiable. “A lot of brands can tell a story,” he says. “But is it entirely truthful?”
So, OK, Farmer Connect has ideals and seems utterly credible, but is it successful? As I write this, the company is less than 90 days out from a €7.5M series A fundraising round, where the initial investors were Sucafina, a multinational coffee vendor based in Switzerland, and the Itochu Corporation, a $44B Japanese import/export firm founded in 1949. It’s assumed that those companies want to make money on this thing, but when asked directly how the company might measure success, Behrends said that, “it is a bit chicken and egg. We have to prove to brands that openly sharing traceability and transparency data will yield stronger consumer engagement and even a willingness to pay a higher price. This in turn gives them courage to scale. On the flip side, you need farmers and other actors in the supply chain to drive growth, but they will only join if there is a buyer and belief that there is some benefit in doing so. So, number of farmers and defined benefits received from being on the platform is a medium term metric (that we are looking at).”
Humanizing The Supply Chain
David was very generous with his time, and admittedly, most of my questions for him revolved around the technology platform and how the Thank My Farmer™ app that it powers might include the addition of a microloan feature to support causes local to the farmer or reward additional sustainability efforts made by the farmer directly using some kind of crypto token. I came away a believer, though, and I’ll close out the article with something David said to me in a follow-up chat. He said, “Yes, it’s for profit and we’re trying to run a business, but that’s not the ‘why’. This is about empowering farmers and humanizing that. To put a face, build empathy, and appreciate the things that we take for granted (when we order a cup of coffee).”
Sounds good to me — what about you guys? Do you think ensuring that the fair trade and organic products we buy actually deliver on the promises of ethical business and sustainability practices that they make is a natural use for blockchain, or is there a better way to keep tabs on the corporations? Scroll on down to the comments and let us know!
Original content from CleanTechnica.