The Coffee Board on Thursday launched the pilot of the country’s first blockchain-based marketplace app for trading in Indian coffee, aimed at getting growers better returns by removing myriad middlemen.

Known as the Coffee Blockchain initiative, the pilot was activated simultaneously by Jose Dauster Sette, executive director of the International Coffee Organisation from Nairobi and Anup Wadhawan, India’s commerce secretary from New Delhi.

The project was announced by Suresh Prabhu, minister for commerce and industry, in Delhi last September. So, why did it take six months for the project to go live?

“There were more than 20 stakeholders from three different countries. We had to get all of them on board, and then test the platform. We believe this is perhaps only the third attempt at a coffee blockchain after France and Ethiopia," said Srivatsa Krishna, chief executive officer and secretary of the Coffee Board, a government organisation tasked with promoting Indian coffee.

The blockchain platform will allow a coffee producer to directly transact with multiple buyers.

In India, coffee is cultivated in about 454,000 hectares by 366,000 coffee farmers -- 98% of them small farmers -- whose returns are meagre. Krishna said the aim of using blockchain is to “premium-ise" coffee, add “bean-to-cup traceability" and cut the role of middlemen.

The blockchain-based solution was developed in coordination with Eka Software Solutions. Manav Garg, the company’s CEO and founder, said the idea of using blockchain is to “record the first smart contract on a blockchain with the 20-odd stakeholders, and establish trust in the marketplace".

“With this activation, we are confident that the Coffee Board of India will help the Indian coffee trade make more inroads into the premium market internationally and make India one of the top three coffee producers in the world," Garg added.

Krishna said the Coffee Board is also “testing" blockchain-based solutions from a couple of other vendors but added that “the one from Eka Software was the most suitable at this moment".

Blockchain is no longer a technology that is just about powering cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether. A distributed digital ledger technology (DLT), it is also being used by manufacturing companies to improve their supply chains; by healthcare and electricity companies; and by the financial sector to make transactions more transparent.

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