Coffee Plantation in India and the need for blockchain technology

Agriculture is the architect of not just the economy, but also the very social fabric of our country. The food we consume, and crops we export carries with it our traditions, festivals, and the flavor of India. With nearly 58% of the population depending on agriculture as a source of livelihood, India is indeed a land of farmers. But as technology has come knocking on the doors of almost every sector and the consumers are increasingly tech-savvy, how do our farming practices and farmers rank? Dependence on monsoons, coupled with outdated farming practices has continued to create uncertainty and economic instability in the lives of our farmers. While technology is bringing the world closer, Indian farmers have been largely left behind. While the government is promoting and incentivizing best practices in irrigation, pest control, and the use of high yield seeds and fertilizers, the issue of supply chain management and quality control needs to be addressed simultaneously.

“We at ACVISS wish to be the harbingers of innovation. But when we talk about bringing in technology for the benefit of farmers, we need to ask ourselves extremely basic questions. Does the farmer have access to the network and Wi-Fi? Is the farmland in an area that has network coverage? Are our application’s user friendly for someone with limited technological literacy?”, asks Vikas Jain, founder of ACVISS. A new-age company founded to harness technology to promote fair business practices, ACVISS has worked with blue-collar workers in the past. Yet, the two-year-long association with the Coffee Board of India opened unique learning opportunities.

Coffee Plantation in India and the need for blockchain technology:

 

In India, we have around 250,000 coffee growers, most of them are in the hilly areas of Karnataka (approximately 71), followed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Of these, around 98% are small-time farmers who work in silos. The two main variations of coffee produced in India are Arabica and Robusta. The strong-flavored Robusta has made it a preferred choice for blends in the international market. On the other hand, the aromatic Arabica is steadily marking its presence in the global market. “The importance of coffee productions lies in the fact that it is an export-oriented commodity. Given that coffee is largely produced by relatively poorer nations, and has a low import intensity, coffee export can be an economic bridge between the developed and underdeveloped nations. On the flip side, few big brands dominate the market share and the profits from the coffee plantation are subject to economic undulations. Small-time farmers in India are disintegrated and isolated from the complex supply chain. In association with the Coffee Board of India, we at ACVISS wished to create a unifying platform for the unsung heroes of coffee production. By building and implementing a blockchain, we wanted to bring out the brand story, while ensuring complete transparency in the payment process.” 

Defining the problem statements and goals:

 

Coffee Board of India formed by the Government of India under the “Coffee Act VII of 1942” aims to:

  1. Enhance the quality and productivity of coffee plantations
  2. Promote export of coffee blends and beans to ensure high-profit margin for farmers working in the coffee estates
  3. Support farmers achieve greater share and visibility for their produce in the domestic markets

With the global ‘third wave of coffee’, consumers want to know the story behind their drink. Experimentation and the emotions that coffee carries for the consumer is the hallmark of the third wave. However, coffee processing is a series of steps that are disintegrated. To build a coherent story, brand identity, and fair pricing, we need to weave every step with the next and bring all the stakeholders under a single platform. Seamless integration and transparency thus became the primary goal of our app and blockchain technology“, said Vikas.

Process integration and stakeholder involvement can be a challenge when the supply chain is complex. Right from Farmer Producer Organisations, the quality control labs, to the mills, brewing units, and roasting units, a single bag of harvested coffee beans change many hands. “To put it simply, the reputation of a brand of coffee beans and blend depends on its purity. In a brewing or a roasting unit, produce from different farmers gets merged. Unless we capture information about every unit of the produce, at every stage of processing, it is impossible to trace the journey of the harvest. This, in turn, complicates remuneration a farmer receives for his/her produce”, Vikas elaborated.

In association with Karnataka Maharshi Valmiki Scheduled Tribes Development Corporation Limited and the Coffee Board of India, ACVISS’s blockchain technology aimed to provide the following solutions:

  • An integrated platform for stakeholders across the coffee processing cycle
  • Capturing information across processing units to ensure zero data loss as different units of produce get merged
  • Building a user-friendly blockchain solution that works in tribal areas and farmlands devoid of network coverage and internet.

Hyper-ledger blockchain solution by ACVISS:

 

ACVISS’s hyperledger blockchain solution ensured that every node in the blockchain is independent of the other. With a user-friendly application, every processing unit captures the information for every unit of produce. Thus, with blockchain technology, one can capture the data across the processing cycle, to know the journey of a single unit of produce. “Coffee is a GI produce and hence capturing the location of the farmer and farmland is important” explained Vikas. Geotagging is one of important features of ACVISS’s blockchain solution.  In coffee harvesting and processing, it is necessary to allow picking only from a polygon location. “Polygon is defined as a part of the application and any picking that happens outside the polygon is rejected”, explained Vikas. The application allows to capture pictures of the farmland as well. Additionally, leveraging IOT to capture the various parameters of coffee at the farm level itself helps in quality control and fair compensation. “With IOT, one can capture various parameters of coffee like moisture, outturn, type of produce, weight and size, age of harvest, age of roast, and more. We developed an application that could capture all the possible parameters at the farm level. With this, one can reduce discrepancies down the processing cycle.”

ACVISS’s blockchain helped with:

  • Ensuring no loss of data for every unit of produce when it reaches aggregating units
  • Fair payment to the farmer, depending on the various predefined parameters. Capturing important data points at the farm level
  • Geo tagging of the produce with predefined polygon regions.
  • Integrated platform that ensured data is captured at every step, thereby reducing conflicts and mismanagement across the supply chain
  • A user-friendly application that can be easily used by farmers who are less exposed to technology. To add to this point, Vikas said, “because the app was user friendly, and worked even without Wi-Fi, we received a lot of positive feedback from users on the field. The technology was easy to adopt.”

“The two-year-long association with the Coffee Board of India has been a success story for ACVISS, despite the economic hardships brought in by the COVID year,” said Vikas. “It would not have been possible without the relentless support of many people, especially Mr. Ashwin.”

 

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