News / Culture, Remezcla

Bringing iPads to the Farm, But Only Abroad?

Co.Exist recently published an article called Can the iPad Revolutionize Rural Agriculture?, detailing the efforts of organizations like Exprima and Sustainable Harvest to change the way agricultural companies conduct business in developing nations.

Over the past two years, Exprima and Sustainable Harvest have unveiled a suite of efficiency and traceability iPad apps–the Relationship Information Tracking System (RITS) suite–for coffee farmers in the developing world. The companies don’t market directly to farmers; instead, they sell to coffee co-ops, which either purchase the iPads themselves or seek out third-party-funded grants.

The RITS Ed app, piloted this year, features over two hours of training videos in a variety of languages related to everything from agronomy best practices to growing protein-rich mushrooms out of coffee production waste. “The people we work with have limited infrastructure, and dialing up YouTube is not a reality,” says Debra Rosenthal, Director of Technology Development for Sustainable Harvest. “The training videos featuring industry experts, so we’re putting experts in the hands of trainers that work for those co-ops.” 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.

The RITS Producer app, a supply chain management program that has been used in Tanzania since 2010, allows producers to track the coffee they process–how much is produced, how it’s milled, payments received, and where its final destination is located. This past year, Sustainable Harvest sold some raw coffee beans to Allegro Coffee (the Whole Foods coffee brand) for sampling. The company stuck a QR code on the back, so that when the quality control manager at Allegro received it, he could see scan the bag and see all the coffee roasters involved, the ratings of various coffees that came from the co-op, and more. “It’s an unprecedented level of transparency in what has historically been an opaque supply chain,” says Rosenthal.

We see in the video examples of this being used in Peru, although the article itself centers heavily on Tanzania. Our question at Remezcla is: how could this be integrated into the currently existing, heavily Latin American supported agricultural systems already functioning in the United States? The conditions are poor, the workers often have no support system…what are companies like these doing for people working in Third World conditions in the First World?