Artificial Intelligence & Blockchain Can Make our Coffee Tastier and Ethical
It is no secret that coffee consumption is at an all-time high – 64% of Americans drink coffee on a daily basis, with the average consumer taking 3.1 cups per day(1) . And as demand for gourmet varieties rise, quality has become more important than ever.
However, the coffee exporting industry is riddled with malpractice and corruption, particularly in developing countries. For instance, in The Democratic Republic of Congo, coffee farmers often sell their beans on credit, only to never be paid back. When they are paid, they earn about 55 cents per pound, a highly unfair price. Even worse, government officials forge documents and fabricate arbitrary taxes on coffee for personal gain – practices which often go untracked(2) .
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can improve coffee quality through intelligent agricultural practices, while also ensuring that farmers directly profit using blockchain technology. Coffee agriculture is a labor-intensive industry, so the application of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is no surprise. There is a high demand for increased efficiency and cost reduction, and ML helps meet those needs. Through image detection and neural networks, AI systems can detect pests, plant disease, and poor soil conditions – a practice known as precision agriculture.
Coffee farmers can simply upload photos of the coffee cherries in question to obtain highly accurate analyses of their crops. This could reduce the need for fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides, which are environmentally expensive.
AI can also be used to predict weather conditions, which would help coffee farmers adjust irrigation levels accordingly. All these applications would improve the quality of coffee at a time when gourmet varieties are becoming more popular: 61% of coffee drinkers in 2018 said they often drank gourmet varieties, up from 48% in 2015 (3) . A general increase in coffee quality would help meet this growing demand and (theoretically) increase profits for individual farmers.
However, farmers cannot profit from higher-quality coffee if transactions are not securely recorded and tracked, and this is causing corruption on exporting countries. This is where blockchain technology comes in.
At its core, a blockchain is an immutable, decentralized system used to store data. With the implementation of blockchain in coffee farming, the supply chain could be accurately recorded, removing intermediaries and ensuring that farmers receive the pay they deserve.
AI systems could also be put in place to detect unethical payments using blockchain data. If the data shows that coffee farmers are not being paid enough, the issue could be exposed to companies and consumers through the removal of Fair-Trade labels.
Currently, the only company known to couple AI and blockchain in the coffee industry is Bext360, a small business in Denver that rates coffee beans and uses blockchain technology to ensure ethical payments (4) . If industry giants such as Lavazza or Starbucks invested more in intelligent coffee farming and applied blockchain technology, it would not only make our daily cup of joe tastier, but also ensure that it is ethically sourced.
1. Nikolovska, Hristina. “33 Coffee Statistics to Wake You Up.” DisturbMeNot!, 23 Dec. 2019, disturbmenot.co/coffee-statistics/.
2. Wexler, Alexandra. “The Most Dangerous Cup of Coffee in the World.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 14 Oct. 2016, www.wsj.com/articles/the-most-dangerous-cup-of-coffee-in-theworld-1476453922.
3. Carman, Tim. “Americans Are Drinking More 'Gourmet' Coffee. This Doesn't Mean They're Drinking Great Coffee.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Mar. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/news/voraciously/wp/2019/03/28/americas-growing-affection-forgourmet-coffee-and-other-takeaways-from-a-new-national-survey/.
4. “Every. Single. Step.” Bext360, bext360.com/