How Blockchain Might Help the Coffee Supply Chain

Sebastian Smeenk
Sep 5 · 6 min read

Through my personal observations -thus biased inherently- I was (nevertheless) strongly influenced by the many wrongdoing I had seen within the coffee supply chain. For me personally, this was witnessed while I working with a coffee export company in Tanzania. Here I started my journey through the holy land of coffee which, better yet said, had me fall through the rabbit hole of the many wrongdoing within this billion dollar industry. Coffee surely is the land of the rich and celebrated, but this can only be seen at the end spectrum of the supply chain. It is there where big corporate celebrate their marketing campaign successes. Yet succeeding in another campaign making believe us, the consumer, that everyone is given an equal share. That was, to my understanding, from bean to cup. Unfortunately, all seems otherwise and I’m surely guilty as charged in buying into this believe. Yet another victory for wonderful world of falsely made-up storytelling, just another pride of many marketeers. Here, I mean the ones that work to cover up.

It’s quite a harsh stance I take here. I do see that. This could almost imply that I believe that people are in essence influenced by practicing the evil. Thus, raising a finger and pointing towards the devilish machine we call: corporates. But frankly, it is not all that easy. Actually, these corporates are made of people. People who either strongly believe in that what they do is actually contributing, or maybe just not even have the actual knowledge or the insight, and really just go about their days. Either way, they surely live in a certain construct that they believe in, the social paradigm that they have created. Probably operating to the best standards they know. Just making ends meet, like the rest of us.

I can respect that.

But.

It is time that we collectively look at the richer problem that is underlying the surface, and to what we have all contributed. Coffee is said to be the second most traded commodity in the world. Which it is not entirely true, and just to clarify, according to MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) it is actually the world’s 98th most-traded product. All with all, it takes a pretty prominent place in our day to day lives. With coffee shops popping up on every corner in our city streets, we all like our fancy cup of Latte’s, Frappuccino’s, Ristretto or any-other variance that you enjoy on a daily basis. It’s the worthy engine of many office spaces, keeping everyone focused and ready to produce to their maximal effort. Which actually differs not that much from the times (1582s’s or so..) when it was just discovered for it positive benefits on body and mind by captains to sober up their sailors.

I see you thinking, ‘How is this all adding up to blockchain and all…?’.

Well.. for all clarification, this great product of import to the (not so beloved) Dutchman -who basically shipped it anywhere to its colonials in the world- also lead to great extents of exploitation. Fast forward, couple hundred years later and.. We’re basically still doing the same thing. Differents to it now? We are actually aware of something called human rights, pretty much all agree to it too. But we still close our eyes to most parts of it. And we are guilty as charged. I know I am. Luckily there is a rise for change. Great change.

Call it blockchain

I guess by now, you have learned a little bit about the way blockchain is working or have the slightest impression of what it is about. To sum it up to our best and latest understanding:

Blockchain is the way data is organised, through a decentralised system which stores a growing list of records called blocks. All blocks contain a cryptographic hash of the previous block, timestamp, and transaction data through which we are finely capable of putting some trust. (Since, it is actually something greater than the influences of a single human mind).

This creates a tremendous amount of possibilities to think in new ways, ultimately: creating more transparency, traceability, visibility and efficiency across supply chains. No longer do we need trust in the many ‘someone’s’ within a supply chain, but we can actually start trusting the data. Or at least, that would be the brightest of futures.

In regards to coffee, there are still a lot of variables we are not capable of solving at this point. I assume this applies to most supply chains that are managed for the most part in emerging countries. Meaning here, that throughout the supply chain - thus the moment the actual berry is picked from the bushes to be washed, fermented, shipped and roasted- there still are a lot of people involved to make this happen. Which kind of adds up to a system that is set up for failure, in terms of transparency, traceability and overall reliability.

So how do we go about this?

In all honesty? I have the slightest of clue… We wish we had a straightforward answer, but it would be a marketing scheme just to make you believe that we have the answer. But we don’t. At this point, I’m pretty sure that no one has.

Blockchain is all about creating a system that is decentralised, as described previously, this simply means that neither I or anyone else for that matter is owner of the data. With the awesome benefit that everything is out in the open. Fully naked, it is that what we call ‘transparency’. And we do strive for that. I’ll personally keep on pursuing for making that happen. But till that moment we have to find ways, honest and thus transparent ways, to do our best. Here at the core of BEANY we believe that blockchain should not be used for its marketing benefits. Just because it so outrageously complicated to integrate, and that by just trying to do so one automatically implies to the outside world that they are capable and knowledgeable for being the frontiers, it doesn’t mean communicating. Not till we actually found a way to integrate it to its full capacity. No, to us this feels just outright wrong. And we are pretty sensitive like that. I know I am. This wave of full transparency that blockchain is creating, should not be used for the benefit of marketing efforts. It should be used for creating a technological future where we can implement for the full benefit of its possibility, where full transparency, traceability and reliability in a decentralised system should be the absolute norm.

And until that moment, we’ll just keep experimenting and go our ways to create an honest difference for everyone within the coffee supply chain. For us, this means that the farmer should be fully rewarded for all of his efforts. Furthermore, they should be praised! It is to her and him that I am enjoying this fine beverage, which keeps me going just a little longer. Are we capable of backing this up with upfront decentralised data? We are not. But I am happy to share our journey. Even if this means that we are failing to do so. I guess that’s just human transparency.

BEANY Coffee

Sebastian Smeenk

Written by

BEANY Coffee

BEANY’s vision is to create the most sustainable, transparent and traceable coffee brand from bean to cup in the world. We firmly believe that the current model for the coffee supply chain is lacking in all of these aspects.

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