Originally published in the ITC Trade Forum in December 2021.
A new International Trade Centre (ITC) pilot uses blockchain technology and digitized traceability systems to support women coffee farmers in Rwanda.
Coffee is central to Rwanda. It is a key driver of economic growth, stability, and improved income for over 450,000 coffee farmers. As the country’s leading export crop, it has contributed an average of 24% to total agricultural exports over the last decade. Agriculture contributes 26% to GDP, with 79.5% of the population reliant on mostly subsistence agriculture.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, a strong digital presence has, more than ever, become a key element for small businesses in the coffee sector to access new buyers and benefit from international markets. However, as consumers increasingly lose trust in food supply chains, buyers are also under pressure to increase traceability and provide full transparency to consumers on where their goods are sourced.
Traceability along the coffee value chain is indeed crucial for inclusiveness and the lives of coffee producers. Moreover, they encourage better risk management in terms of climate change, poverty, and environmental degradation.
An innovative pilot offers new opportunities
To help small businesses in addressing traceability, we started a new pilot at ITC: digitizing the traceability records of close to 1,000 women coffee growers in Rwanda. Offering traceability records in a digital format is essential for farmers and processors: it helps them improve their visibility to buyers as well as the sales value of their coffee produce.
Ultimately, with this pilot, we wanted to understand how we could link women coffee producers to markets and thus, promote inclusive trade. We use two advanced technology solutions and partners for this: FarmerConnect uses blockchain technology while OLAM uses its AtSource traceability system.
Let’s look at an example: Nova Coffee
Agnes Mukamushinja is the owner of Nova Coffee, which she founded with her husband, Felix Hitayezu, in 2015. They grow, process and export exquisite single origin Arabica coffee from the mountains of northern Rwanda. With over 25 years of experience in the business, Nova set out to become a coffee enterprise that leads the way in socially responsible practices.
How? Agnes immediately understood the potential of digitizing the farmer transactions of 80 women growers using the Swiss-based Farmer Connect traceability software (powered by IBM).
The pilot required a lot of work from her and her team, but it has enabled Nova to log and validate data on all the farmer transactions to produce one container of coffee thanks to the Famer ID wallets. By capturing this information using blockchain technology, the consumer buying coffee from the roaster supplied by Nova Coffee is assured of the data’s validity.
Moreover, they will be able to know, for example, if farmers producing the coffee were paid fairly or the coffee was mostly produced by women farmers. The pilot activity is documenting and reviewing the impact of digitizing this information on the value chain. Our goal is to demonstrate whether this new technology can build better market access and promote inclusive trade.
It is still early days. However, it has been a great learning experience so far for the women-owned coffee businesses, coffee producers, ITC as well as for the coffee buyers. We learn to better understand how new technology solutions and data traceability can improve the visibility of small-scale farmers, in particular women, increase buyer linkages, and go a long way to ensure a more gender-inclusive coffee value chain.
The pilot is part of the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades Rwanda project, funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework.