Innovative Technology Application Gives Tanzanian Coffee Farmers Tools to Improve Livelihoods and Food Security
Today’s high-quality coffee dealers sell more than just great- tasting coffee beans; they also sell the stories behind the beans. USAID Competitiveness and Trade Expansion Program (COMPETE) grantee, Sustainable Harvest, developed the Relationship Information Tracking System (RITS) to help rural Tanzanian coffee cooperatives collect the data they need to “connect” and compete in a global specialty coffee market.
RITS is proprietary tracking software that uses a suite of iPad apps to provide transparency and logistical clarity to all members of the coffee supply chain.
Through Sustainable Harvest, rural coffee co-ops provide iPads to their washing station managers. Using the RITS iPad app, these managers efficiently track the smallholder coffee farmers who contribute to each coffee lot and important data such as when and where the lot was washed, dried, and stored. The co-op quality control team then tests each coffee lot and adds the average cupping score, farm productivity and payments. All this information is uploaded into the larger RITS system, a cloud-based application to which every co-op member has access. Any farmer can view their own batches or the batches of their peers. This transparency allows farmers to replicate or improve upon the steps that produced the highest cupping scores, and it allows coffee buyers to trace coffee beans back to the farm level. The end result is better-tasting coffee with a story – a winning combination for establishing long-term buying relationships with coffee buyers.
To build on its success with RITS, Sustainable Harvest recently launched RITS Ed, an iPad app that delivers training videos to educate farmers on coffee agronomy, food security, and managing the coffee business. Videos are available in English and Kiswahili and can be shown to farmer groups for immediate training on the fly. Says Sustainable Harvest’s RITS Program Manager Carly Griggs, “The iPad has proven to be an excellent agriculture extension tool for these trainings; the team has uploaded presentations and visual aids on pre and post-harvesting techniques which encouraged a very interactive environment. In 2011, seven Tanzanian farmers used the app to train their fellow local farmers; they were able to train an incredible 106 farmers in a month.”
Accolades have poured in for the RITS. USAID’s Global Broadband and Innovations Program named the RITS apps one of the “FIVE Most Fascinating Ag Apps of 2011!” hailing it as “the most anthropologically astute ag app on the market today.”
USAID was eager to partner with Sustainable Harvest on the Relationship Information Tracking System program and disseminate innovative tools among coffee producers and cooperative leaders. The RITS program helps to improve the efficiency and traceability of coffee production and supports cooperative leaders to manage volume and sales contracts transparently. The program fits well in USAID/COMPETE’s mission to increase competitiveness and trade in the region,” says Matthew Rees, USAID East Africa Regional Trade Adviser.
RITS is an
example of how USAID grantees are using innovative technology to encourage best
practices across East Africa. Tanzanian coffee farmers who use RITS estimate
that they have reduced their data collection time by 65 percent. They also show
significant cost savings on stationery. The added RITS efficiency and RITS Ed
learning translates to increased coffee income, food security, and an improved
environment through learned soil and water conservation.
Photo courtesy of Sustainable Harvest