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Adapting Coffee Supply Chains To Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is the proverbial straw that broke the back of global supply chains. The pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of supply chains—from production to transportation to distribution. It exposed the fragility of outdated record-keeping systems and revealed the opacity of a good’s journey. As global focus on sustainability intensifies across all sectors—from consumer demand to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing—the pandemic has rendered travel a non-viable solution for gathering reliable supply chain information.

Travel bans pose an intractable challenge to third-party certification and verification practices. Especially for complex agri-food supply chains like coffee—where standards, labor, and environmental practices vary across geographies—in-person verification by a buyer themself or a trusted third party is the gold standard.

Digitalization and increased transparency have emerged as salient buzzwords in the conversation around mending and reinforcing shattered supply chains. However, these concepts do not account for the fragmented reality presented by the disparate actors along global coffee supply chains. Each of the many actors along the supply chain, from the farmer, to the washing station, to the exporter, may have competing incentives, which can affect the data they log at each step of the product’s journey.

While both digitalization and transparency are certainly critical, neither alone offers a seamless solution to presenting proof of data and inducing trust without sharing sensitive information.

These challenges are not temporary. While many countries in the Global North have accelerated COVID-19 vaccinations, countries in the Global South, the source of nearly all coffee supply chains, may not see a vaccination rollout until 2023. With new variants cropping up regularly and the potential for another global pandemic perpetually on the horizon of our increasingly globalized world, travel disruptions may become more of a norm than an aberration.So, how can we ensure every actor along coffee supply chains, from the farmers to the consumers, can be included in the process and trust the data produced, without verifying the claims made with their own eyes?

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