Heifer International and IBM announce digital initiative to provide Honduras coffee farmers with market access

Heifer International

Sustainable not-for-profit Heifer International has partnered with International Business Machines (IBM) to launch the digital IBM Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture.

This platform aims to improve Honduras’ coffee and cocoa farmers access to global market data, increasing transaction speed and improving decision making at a farm level. The new platform will use IBM’s Food Trust blockchain technology to do so, increasing supply chain transparency.

Jesús Pizarro, Vice President of Financial Innovation at Heifer International says, “For 18 months, we’ve worked alongside farmers to identify the best ways to improve production processes, digitise the value chain, and ultimately open market access to smallholder farmers so they can secure premium prices.”

IBM’s blockchain technology will allow coffee buyers who are buying coffee from the COPRANIL cooperative in Honduras and cocoa from Chocolate Halba to better understand the product’s supply chain and why products are sold at a certain price. Chocolate Halba sources its cocoa from farmers that are also part of Heifer International’s Honduras’ Chocolate4All initiative.

“As one of the first cooperatives in the world to deploy the system, COPRANIL is leading the way, equipping its farmers with the tools and technology they need to build and sustain profitable farm businesses,” says Pizarro.

This technology also allows buyers to trace the coffee and cocoa beans from the farm to the point of sale. Not only does this improve market access for both farmers and buyers, providing a competitive advantage for farmers in the marketplace, but it allows farmers to receive a fair price for their beans, improving economic sustainability in coffee farming communities.

Jorge Lopez, Vice President of coffee-producers cooperative COPRANIL says, “When the people drinking our coffee know where it comes from, the farmers in our cooperative benefit. Food Trust can help our network of farmers command a better premium for their beans, and potentially improve their livelihoods.”

To trace the beans, each user along the supply chain uploads data and documentation to the digital platform. The process begins with Heifer international uploading information about the nurse plants it has shipped to the farmers on Honduras. After harvest, the farmers will then tag and ship the beans to COPRANIL processers.

The platform will also trace cocoa beans in pulp, prior to fermentation, through the volume of dried beans that are sold to Chocolate Halba.

Further information like how the beans are cleaned, dried, and roasted, along with their classing such as whether they are Fairtrade or organic are also uploaded to the platform. This is then shared with corporate buyers. By providing this information, buyers are expected to have a greater understanding of product prices.

IBM and Heifer International will also be working together with CATIE, a Latin America focused sustainability and human rights organisation, to launch the IBM Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture.

The digital platform also utilises artificial intelligence technology combined with geospatial information and weather, environment, and field data to benefit the farmers. This is done through presenting all the information on a dashboard that farmers can tailor to their land.

This data can then be programmed to deliver weather alerts, indicate optimal planting patterns, expected yields, and resultant market pricing. This information will help farmers and agriculture businesses to make more informed decisions and increases food safety and sustainability.

Heifer International predicts this technology will play a crucial role in increasing coffee and cocoa farmers’ incomes, and can help coffee and cocoa farmers and processors verify certifications and treatment processes, resulting in higher quality beans.

Kareem Yusuf, PhD, IBM General Manager AI Applications and Blockchain says, “Our work with Heifer International and COPRANIL is an important test of how AI and blockchain technology can advance social good and support sustainability by helping even small-scale producers.

“With predictive AI working to help increase crop yield, and blockchain establishing a record of provenance and proof of quality, these farmers are empowered with new data and insights so they can command more at market.”

It is hoped that the digital platform will eventually extend to include traders, exporters, invoices, purchase orders and certifications.

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