Most advertisements for coffee feature steaming cups of coffee. In contrast, the latest advertisement for Nespresso depicts actor George Clooney holding an empty cup of coffee. Why? The global coffee brand’s newly launched campaign, titled “The Empty Cup,” aims to draw attention to the threat that climate change poses to coffee farmers. “Climate change is a real threat, and coffee farmers are on the front lines. As the global brand ambassador for Nespresso, Clooney emphasizes the importance of empowering these communities to build financial and environmental resilience so that they not only survive, but thrive and prosper.
Given that the majority of coffee farmers are impoverished smallholders, their capacity to adapt to climate change on their own is limited. Several public and private initiatives are currently underway to assist farmers in adapting by creating more resilient production systems, diversifying crops, and relocating to higher ground, all of which require assistance. Digitalization is an additional method for facilitating this endeavor.
Collecting data such as cost of production, yields, prices, and information about diseases can help reduce risk, increase transparency, and improve coffee supply chain traceability. This data also serves as an important communication tool to instill confidence in consumers seeking high-quality coffee and to promote the perception that industry participants source coffee in an equitable and sustainable manner.
However, the majority of data collection is performed by individual producers and farmworkers who answer detailed questions using tablets and smartphones. Given the current challenges in data and system interoperability, farmers must frequently input the same data into four or five different systems, which is a cumbersome process. Even though many systems grant producers ownership of their data, the vast majority do not provide access to other data in the system or a comparative overview that could provide farmers with better insight and best practices. There is no doubt that digitalization has many benefits; according to Joseph de Villiers of the World Coffee Alliance, the most important question is “how technology can be utilized to make the coffee industry more equitable.”
During a recent discussion on digital interoperability, a number of coffee industry experts shared their insights. To make digitalization effective, it is necessary to design a strategy that places producers and farmers at the center, and to utilize technology to support these efforts.