Debra Rosenthal, Director of Technology Development for Sustainable Harvest, says we are often quick to judge what is appropriate technology for a community. “iPads are thought of as something for jet-setting CEOs, not for people working on farms,” she says. “In the same way a CEO in New York can find a use for a tool that’s innovative and versatile, the CEO of a coffee cooperative in northern Tanzania can have the same uses.” Sustainable Harvest, a specialty coffee importer, sees the value in this interactive form of technology and is using it to take agricultural education at origin to a new level. “We’ve started introducing the second generation iPad as a resourceful training device for coffee farmers. It’s a way to get rich training materials into regions that might not otherwise have technological infrastructure,” says Rosenthal. “These farmers can’t search YouTube for information about farming techniques the way we can, it’s not a reality in these communities with less infrastructure. We thought what better way to make use of all the training videos we had available, than to make them accessible on the iPad and introduce them directly to the people who would most benefit from this type of information.” Sustainable Harvest invests more than US$1.2 million per year into farmer training and management systems that aim to increase coffee quality, strengthen the supply chain and help producers thrive in the specialty coffee market. Rosenthal says Sustainable Harvest’s CEO David Griswold is an avid supporter of technology, and that when he finds something that’s useful, he wants to share it as broadly as possible. “Investing in technology and mobile solutions for Sustainable Harvest suppliers has been one of the top priorities among the company’s efforts in the past four years,” says Rosenthal. In 2009, Sustainable Harvest began rebuilding its database and tracking all of its coffee transactions in a full supply-chain traceability system called the Relationship Information Tracking System (RITS). A producer-focused version of this system was piloted in the Kilicafé cooperative in Tanzania, as well as several cooperatives in Peru. The software tracks coffee from farm to port and keeps records of farm locations, coffee volumes, coffee quality and pricing data. “Through this rebuilding process, we started thinking creatively about how we can share the tools that we have in our database more broadly. We thought about our audiences that need the information and how we can bring our peer-to-peer trainers together and provide hands-on training for farmers,” Rosenthal says. “Generally, most coffee cooperatives don’t have the tools to collect and organise information about their coffee, which is vital to quality improvement.” After careful planning, Sustainable Harvest began focusing on an interactive training realm and invested in the Apple iPad. “Its easy navigation and intuitive design has allowed farmers to learn the system quickly and become proficient users with just two days of training, compared to seven days of training for farmers to become proficient laptop users,” says Laura Tilghman, Communications Director at Sustainable Harvest. The iPad allows farmers to access information about weather patterns, record production and harvest data, and take and share photos with other regional farmers to identify plant diseases. Since 2010, 18 iPads have been distributed to coffee farms and cooperatives in Tanzania and Peru, and a number of iPads have been supplied to farms in Mexico.
Sustainable Harvest staff members at origin conduct training with cooperative managers on how to use the iPad. In turn, the staff can then reach out to individual farmers with peer-to-peer training. “We’re not attempting to put an iPad into the hands of every farmer in Tanzania, we’re creating a network of trainers and surveyors that then have a much more significant reach than we can with our small staff,” Rosenthal says. A peer trainer in a Tanzanian cooperative, known as Mamma Grace, was taught how to use the iPad in just two training sessions. In that same week, Rosenthal says Grace learned on her own how to operate the iPad’s video camera and created her own training video on her method for caring for her coffee trees. “We know that teaching six to seven or even eight people can impact thousands of farmers,” Rosenthal says. “We can reach a pretty significant number of people, but if we can equip the people who are closer to those farmers, who are from that region, who are also coffee farmers, who know their neighbours, cohorts and cooperatives – if we can equip them with the tools to make their training even more effective, then we can significantly scale the reach of these materials.” Since 2011, Boss Farijallah has been training farmers, washing station managers and workers at the Association of Kilimanjaro Specialty Coffee growers (Kilicafe) in Tanzania on how to use the iPad. Farijallah says he’s trained about 342 farmers thus far. “I feel like we have transformed how the training can be done at the field level and empowered groups with technology that transform their situation,” Farijallah says.
Before the introduction of the iPad, Farijallah says common problems at cooperatives included poor cherry quality delivered at washing stations and the improper use of coffee byproduct, like pulps. Now, thanks to the program, Farijallah says there’s been a great improvement and farmers have a tool to change their own situation for the better. “We have put this tool into the hands of farmers, and trained farmers can go around and train other farmers, including women, who in most cases have very low participation,” Farijallah says. “Farmers will be able to improve the production and quality of the products and will benefit from increased income generated from the sale of quality products.” Tilghman says the iPad has not only become an educational tool for origin farmers, but a valuable means of data collection for Sustainable Harvest. The group assess where the need is for people in the supply chain based on scientific data and can see how it can best support farmers to produce quality crops. A portion of the iPads are funded by Sustainable Harvest, with strong support from supply-chain partners and third-party funded grants from companies such as Mars Drinks and Ben & Jerry’s, who are helping introduce this cost-heavy device to cooperatives and farmers in countries including Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Tanzania. Tilghman says by introducing cooperative leaders and farmers to this advanced form of technology, they are hoping to see the long-term value, and fund the device themselves. Andrew Barker, Social Mission Specialist at Ben & Jerry’s, says after seeing Sustainable Harvest’s Griswold present the company’s use of iPads with cooperatives in Tanzania and Peru at the Sustainable Food Lab conference in 2011, he saw the potential for Ben & Jerry’s to support the cause. “When we saw that Sustainable Harvest was using iPads to help some of its other cooperatives understand the needs of their membership better, we asked if we could work with them to bring this technology to Huatusco (Mexico),” says Barker. “It’s an opportunity to be on the leading edge of efforts to use mobile technology to understand smallholder supply chains better. It’s an opportunity to fully live out our ideals with respect to Fair Trade and it’s a way that we can start to measure the actual social impacts of our social mission efforts.” Ben & Jerry’s has worked with Sustainable Harvest since 1994, importing Fair Trade coffee from the region near Huatusco in Mexico for its coffee-flavoured ice-creams. “We both share the attitude that partners in the supply chain should be working together to create social and environmental benefits – especially for small farmers,” Barker says.
Ben & Jerry’s has funded eight iPads at the Huatusco Union and have seen the new technology become a valuable tool that connects farmers to educational information. “They (the iPads) will help the cooperatives complete a large number of face-to-face interviews with farmers and therefore understand the needs of its members in a more comprehensive and quantitative way than they have before,” Barker says. Currently, the iTunes app store has more than 20,000 educational apps available for all kinds of learning segments on an iPad, from maths to mechanics. In early 2012, Sustainable Harvest added its own app to the educational pool, unveiling the free RITS Ed app for coffee farmers, available in English and Spanish. With a focus on cupping education, the RITS Ed app allows farmers to take advantage of the iPad’s multi-touch screen for an interactive learning experience. The app features more than two hours of instructional footage in specialty coffee processing and quality control from Sustainable Harvest’s Q Grader-certified staff. The app contains information about cupping rules and protocols, how to deploy a fully equipped quality control lab, how to perform a cupping session and prepare green coffee for shipment, with grading and defect evaluation information.
Tilghman says the app aims to increase the impact and reach of Sustainable Harvest training in origin communities. Once the app is downloaded onto the iPad, the training material can be accessed offline in regions without internet connection. “It’s about helping the farmers improve their coffee livelihood,” Tilghman says. “Traditionally, farmers are people who have had the least information of anybody operating in terms of the global coffee market, so part of this initiative was about finding ways that are simple, inexpensive and functional to share information and to give the kinds of resources farmers or cooperatives don’t often have access to.” Tilghman says Sustainable Harvest maintains the motto that iPads are a ‘tool and not a toy’ and are aware the device is just one level in a larger education mission.
“We understand technology alone isn’t going to solve everybody’s problems, it has to be in context with other training and other kinds of resources farmers need in order to maximise output from farms and produce really high quality coffee,” Tilghman says. However, with the new tool in-hand, Rosenthal says the device will aim to ensure cooperative staff are better prepared to enter and compete in higher-paying specialty coffee markets. “We want the farmers to be empowered in the supply chain, and that can only happen by providing them with information,” Rosenthal says. “We’re seeing a renewed appreciation that the leaders of these communities are being recognised as consumers of technology. People who should be using this form of technology, are finally using it, and it’s making a real difference.”