News & Blog

Deploying technology to help thousands of coffee farmers

Alexander Gershenson

August 23, 2017

The flight from San Francisco to Kigali is long, but landing in the city only a few degrees south of the equator is quite a special experience. And while taking in the sites and culture of Rwanda is incredibly enlightening, the focus of this trip was to begin the data collection project set upon by the SupplyShift – Relationship Coffee Institute partnership.

Over three days, we worked with stakeholders from Rwanda and the US through the goal to finalize our deployment plans for the SupplyShift offline mobile application. The SupplyShift app will serve as the primary data collection tool in a project run by local and US-based NGOs and commercial organizations to improve the livelihoods of over 10,000 female smallholder Rwandan coffee farmers. The project’s goals are to increase levels of education, to assess and improve coffee-growing practices and land management techniques, and to ultimately create pathways for increasing incomes resulting from higher quality, more sustainable coffee.

Of course, it is challenging to adapt a technology platform built for professional auditors to the needs of a team of people who have had few opportunities to use smartphones. The challenge is even greater in a country where the predominant cellular networks are on 2G or EDGE standards with very low bandwidth. But over the next three days, we worked closely with users, examining their feedback on the mobile application and resolving interesting first-time smartphone interactivity hiccups. We then ventured out into the coffee farms of Rwanda’s Northern province for additional field testing, where we received even more valuable feedback. It was hugely gratifying to see the SupplyShift mobile data collection app performing so well in an environment so incredibly different from the one where it was developed, for far more than distance separates Santa Cruz, California, and Kigali, Rwanda. After three days of road testing with novice and experienced users alike, the platform was ready to deploy. The effort to train and assess thousands of coffee farmers is well underway for auditors within 52 coffee co-ops across Rwanda.

For the next three years, we will continue to enable seamless data collection and analysis for our partners in Rwanda, doing our part to realize a shared goal: more sustainable coffee and a better life for every Rwandan that makes their living from it.

Alexander Gershenson

August 23, 2017