Silicon Valley to Sidamo: A Tech-Based Traceability System for Ethiopia
Nick Brown | September 30, 2015
Ethiopia, the birthplace of Coffea Arabica, has long been among or atop the short list of premier coffee origins among quality-focused coffee buyers from the East and West alike.
Yet for many of those same buyers, discovering and routinely sourcing single-origin coffees from Ethiopia has become a decidedly muddled affair since the establishment of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) in 2008. The subsequent centralization of coffee production that has led to widespread mixing and the dissolution of direct relationships between producers/mills and potential buyers has made quality-focused sourcing from Ethiopia a challenging game.
In short, the demand for traceable Ethiopian coffees remains strong, and has grown even stronger among larger buyers. Recognizing this, and with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the ECX is in the process of building a supply chain management system designed to ensure traceability of coffees from the farm and mill levels all the way through to the end buyer. While the system would not open the door to new direct relationships between producers and smaller buyers, it may serve to assist larger-volume buyers through the Exchange in meeting more advanced traceability goals.
The ECX has enlisted the services of Palo Alto, Calif.-based tech company Frequentz to implement the supply chain traceability solution that is being described as one of the first commodity serialization projects in all of Africa — meaning coffee will be given serial numbers and associated bar codes, much in the same manner as a package from FedEx or UPS.
“This fully integrated supply chain visibility solution will assure cross-channel visibility starting with coffee, from origin through the coffee processing (milling), sampling, grading/cupping, deposit, delivery, further milling by buyer/local exporter, and export to international buyer/roasters,” Frequentz said in a recent announcement of its involvement.
Frequentz plans to implement several of its own proprietary tracking technology systems, while also employing technology from Wavetec and IBM for the custom project, where the end goal is to securely ensure traceability back to the farm level in order to meet the needs of roasters or brokers who have a vested interest in single-origin sourcing beyond merely listing names like Sidamo, Harrar, or Yirgacheffe.
“The international coffee trade industry is constantly changing as consumer preferences and needs evolve,” Frequentz said. “Major roasters are increasingly seeking traceability solutions enabling precise origin back to the actual coffee farmer.”