• Mapping technology in coffee marketing


    Not only can authoritative information about where or how a coffee is grown contribute to making it a successful specialty or organic coffee, but it can also help prevent misrepresentation. Modern technology enables one to show on a map not only where a coffee is grown, but also the special characteristics of that area such as altitude, soils, vegetation type, slope, rainfall and special environmental attributes. By demonstrating this information in maps or graphics producers can show why their coffee is unique, or at least different from the majority of other coffees in their country or region. If in addition producers seek an authorized, enforceable ‘appellation’ for their coffee then they also need the spatial information necessary to legally or formally define the extent of the appellation zone and thus lead to the authentication of the appellation and the coffee in question. A growing number of consumers on the other hand also demands more assurance that the coffee was produced in an environmentally friendly way, that is was properly harvested and processed, and as well that it actually comes from a specific region or farm.

    Technologies are now available and are being applied in the field to help producers’ and farmers’ organizations address these issues and many more.

    Actual projects

    The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded/is funding projects in Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and some African countries that use the following approach to address these issues.

    • The physical location of each farm is mapped and recorded by project extension agents using a global positioning system (GPS) unit.
    • Data are collected on how producers grow their coffee including varieties, altitude, application of pesticides, and other details that may be important for marketing or certifying. Extension agents also collect data on practices and quality and whatever else defines the ‘uniqueness’ of the coffee at the farm, farmers group, or ‘appellation zone’ levels. Socio-economic data are collected as well.
    • This information (production and location) is entered into a spatial database or geographic information system (GIS). This works like a more traditional database, but includes location information for each record.
    • Maps are created showing not only where the farms are located, but also whatever characteristics are of interest about each farm and the coffee produced on that farm.

    These projects are implemented by the US Geological Survey’s National Center for Earth Resources and Science (EROS), national coffee agencies and agricultural research institutions, and the Tropical Agricultural Centre for Training and Research (CATIE) for Costa Rica. The initiative is called GeoCafe due to its combination of geographic and coffee information. The GeoCafe systems being developed lead to better overall production management, promote the establishment of mechanisms that facilitate coffee monitoring and trace-back, and facilitate access to information over the Internet on coffee production, processing and marketing. At the same time they provide information about the coffee to potential buyers, thereby assisting the marketing effort. For example: Where is a particular type of coffee produced and by whom? Which farms are located at a certain altitude? What are the climatic and soil conditions on these farms? What forest cover is there? And so on.

    Although for individual small farmers the need for such systems is limited, it is a very useful information and management tool for farmers’ organizations, cooperatives and estates, particularly those promoting their coffee under specific logos or appellations.

    The results of the GeoCafe projects can be viewed on the Internet. Any user can look at the maps, zoom in and out to see details, or even ask to see all of the farms meeting some criteria (e.g. ‘show me all farms in this zone growing arabica at an altitude over 1,000 m’).

    Visit the sites below to view actual maps and other information:

    The technology underneath GeoCafe is well known and mature. GeoCafe is fully customizable and no complex programming is needed to operate and maintain a basic application. The costs of implementation are not high, since the technological platform has been already developed, and most of the data acquisition is done by partner agencies using internal resources (when available). With minor adaptations, the GeoCafe system can be adapted to other crops or other uses (e.g., watershed management and conservation, environmental monitoring).

    The website of the US Government Geological Survey provides information on a large number of different applications that are of interest to those working with GPS and GIS – see http://www.usgs.gov/

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