Studies have shown that the price consumers pay for green specialty coffees often does not cover its full production cost. That means farmers are increasingly challenged in sustaining their families and the future of their farms. Tackling an issue at the heart of this challenge is a Geneva-based startup called Farmer Connect, a SaaS platform powered by blockchain, Self-Sovereign Identity, and artificial intelligence that allows the traceability of products across the supply chain.
Founded in 2019, the startup, which is focused on coffee, cocoa and tea farms, is trying to provide an answer to the question of how much of our purchase actually goes back to farmers. It aims to foster the economic growth of rural communities while helping the end-consumer in gaining a better understanding of the products they buy and the impact of their choices.
In March, the startup announced a $9m Series A funding round led by the ITOCHU Corporation, a Japanese trading company for the supply of raw materials, along with other investors from Europe and Americas, and founding partner Sucafina, a leading trade house that supports the global coffee supply chain.
The capital injection, to be mainly invested in new product development, will also be used to staff Farmer Connect’s team with specialists in coffee, cocoa, tea, spices and fragrances. “With this money, we can capitalize on the demand for sustainable, inclusive and efficient agriculture supply chains that benefit everyone, from farmers to consumers,” the startup said.
Smart supply chains
Built upon the IBM Food Trust blockchain, the Farmer Connect platform enables farmers to plug into the supply chain through the Farmer ID app which, according to the company, enables farmers to safely store and manage digital versions of identification documents, transaction receipts or (agricultural) certifications in one place.
“The aim is to support SME access to finance to invest in businesses and improve living conditions. No matter the terrain or continent, producers can participate in our ecosystem through Farmer ID,” the company said.
At the other end of the supply chain, consumers can use the startup's Thank My Farmer app to scan the QR code on the pack of the finished good to access information on crops, products and farmers’ stories. The app traces the origin, quality and ethical standards of the product purchased. The information is presented on an interactive map, allowing each product to tell a story in a simple and scalable way. An in-app function also enables consumers to donate directly to sustainability projects in the farmers’ communities.
According to the company, the Farmer Connect platform enables all transactions to be done in a secure environment with digital confirmation that donations have indeed reached their intended destination. “We think everyone benefits when consumers know where their products come from, and we make that possible at scale.”
Boosting ethical footprint
Initially focused on areas that have been, and continue to be challenged by ethical standards and fair trade practices, like coffee and cocoa, Farmer Connect’s short-term objective is to expand into other product categories.
In March, the startup announced a collaboration with Dutch variety store HEMA, helping the company in coffee traceability and to later expand into another 27 products, such as beans and pods. “Now 70% of our range is traceable,” said Lian Enting of HEMA; the company’s next goal is to transition the entire range of coffee products, nearly 41 SKUs, to fully traceable coffees.
Massimo Zanetti, a leading Italian coffee producer, announced in the same month a collaboration with Farmer Connect to launch a new line of sustainable coffee where its supply chain will be traced using Farmer Connect’s blockchain solution. Fifty-one farmers in Honduras have already joined the project supervised by the Rainforest Alliance. The brand, named Segafredo Storia, will shortly be launched in 11 European markets, and worldwide by 2022.
Farmer Connect is also actively working with governments, industry, technology companies, and service providers to further boost its ethical footprint in the global food chain. CEO, Michael Chrisment, who joined the company in July 2020 has extensive experience in digital marketing and media for FMCG and food companies like Nestlé, Mondelēz (former Kraft Foods), and agencies like TBWA and Ogilvy.
Farmer Connect is overseen by an Advisory Board that includes the former Minister of Finance and Public Credit of Colombia Mauricio Cárdena, entrepreneur and coffee expert Ric Rhineheart and Souleïma Baddi, former Managing Director at the Société Générale Corporate and Investment Banking.
As a sign of the growing importance of products’ traceability from start to end, Amazon recently launched a new range of single-origin Happy Belly coffees that are also traceable on the Farmer Connect platform.
Farmer Connect’s other notable partnerships include the ITOCHU Corporation, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), Beyers Koffie, The J.M. Smucker Company, and Cooxupé in Brazil, one of the world’s biggest coffee cooperative.