BeanLedger is using Blockchain to improve traceability throughout the coffee industry, and People of Coffee is leading the charge to support it.
When Amelia Franklin entered the coffee industry in 2006, she did so because she viewed it as an opportunity to make a living while making a positive contribution.
She operated as Amelia Franklin Coffee Roaster for 12 years, and in 2018, began the company’s transition to People of Coffee in Bellingen, New South Wales, to better reflect its community values.
“The roaster is a social business, and always has been, with profits going into projects local or globally. It’s about everyone in coffee and having my name on it doesn’t represent that,” Amelia says.
This transition is not just in name. People of Coffee uses a corporate structure popular among Australian not-for-profit organisations.
“Changing the company’s structure is representative of our goals and mission to make a big impact on how we do business. There’re better ways of pushing on those boundaries of social business and social enterprise,” Amelia says.
Proceeds from People of Coffee roasting operations are largely used to fund BeanLedger, a blockchain-distributed ledger solution Amelia helped establish that provides traceability throughout the global supply chain.
Blockchain technology links batches of transactions, called blocks, and stores multiple copies of these blocks on a decentralised network of independent computers. This removes the need for a third party to make transactions, prevents one single entity from controlling the ledger, and ensures traceability.
“The industry needs a relationship between the nursery, farmer, importer, and roaster. BeanLedger provides that for a minimal fee, like 0.0007 per cent of the transaction, which is pulled into projects around research and development of coffee,” Amelia says.
“That fee is so small it’s not going to hit anyone’s bottom line, and for it, people receive a more traceable system.”
To assist in the management and development of the platform, Amelia has partnered with Griffith University in Queensland to ensure its good governance. Griffith University’s Dr. Timothy Cadman, whose key fields of research include environmental policy and administration, advises BeanLedger on ethics, governance, and sustainability.
Members of the coffee supply chain are able to sign up as ambassadors of BeanLedger, allowing them to have a say in how the platform is run.
“Every single person using BeanLedger can become a decision maker. It can be anything you want it to be,” Amelia says. “If you participate in BeanLedger, you effectively own it.”
BeanLedger was developed with the assistance and consent of farmers, ensuring the system is accessible and beneficial. BeanLedger Technical Advisor Christophe Demangeot travelled to Papua New Guinea to speak directly with farmers about if and how they would use the platform.
“The farmers have a dialogue with us. We don’t want to just go in and tell them how to farm or that they have to use our platform. We get the consent of the farmer and communicate with them in a respectful manner to learn what they want to get out of BeanLedger,” Amelia says.
One way BeanLedger is helping producers directly is by allowing roasters to send out a Tip the Farmer QR code. This code provides retailers and customers with the ability send money directly to the farmers that produced the coffee, or a project to help support them.
“Roasters can flag a project within the BeanLedger ecosystem that they want to encourage donations towards. These are not limited to research and development, and can address other issues, or go towards a certain region,” Amelia says.
“We can track and trace all the money spent on that project right down to where and for what it was used, as well as the financial outcomes. This includes what the results of the project were, and what the return on investment was – financially and in terms of social and environmental sustainability.”
Amelia says that although the Tip the Farmer program is useful and easily understood by consumers, BeanLedger’s real focus is on raising money for research into genetic coffee varietals.
In recent years, the project that BeanLedger has directed most of its attention to is variety verification at the seedstock level. Amelia says that World Coffee Research (WCR) first brought this issue to her attention in 2014.
“When the nursery sells the farmer the seedstock, 50 per cent of the time they’re selling the farmer the wrong seeds. Now we have this global problem where farmers think they’re planting a rust-resistant varietal, or one that’s really good for the growing conditions, when they’re not,” Amelia says.
“They do their best with no information, and it’s really just trial and error. Most of the time, [farmers have] planted the wrong coffee, which leads to crop failure becoming more prominent.”
BeanLedger supports WCR Verified, a certification program designed to provide independent, science-based quality control and assurance at the start of the coffee supply chain.
Amelia says verification is not the only problem the coffee industry faces beginning at the seed level. Coffee’s small number of varietals compared to other crops has made the crop vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“When you don’t have a diverse set of varietals in a crop, you get this problem we’re having now where six out of the seven genomes that prevent disease in coffee have collapsed in the last 10 years,” she says. “We have one genome left protecting the entire coffee supply chain, and WCR believes it will collapse in four to 10 years.”
Amelia compares coffee crops to the potato industry. Potatoes have more than 3000 individual varietals, whereas WCR says only 52 varietals are registered.
“This screams volumes about the lack of coffee breeding that has been done. Coffee is the orphan crop of the world. It is the most underfunded, neglected, and under-researched crop,” she says.
“The potato industry has a small fee per transaction which ensures there is research and development done into the crop. They’re developing rigorous and strong varietals, which will protect potatoes through climate change. Coffee needs a system like this.”
This article appears in FULL in the February 2019 edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe here.