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Oscar Magro

By: Oscar Magro on September 8th, 2015

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Strengthening Coffee-Growing Groups

Data Management | Business Insight | Reporting | Project Monitoring

Written by Oscar Magro, Chief Technology Officer at Sustainable Harvest 

Since 1997, Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers has sourced beans from around the world using the Relationship Coffee Model, a unique sourcing initiative that enables transparent supply chains and builds capacity among coffee-producing organizations.Let's Talk Coffee Geisha 2

Innovation is one of the key tenets of Sustainable Harvest: Not only do we innovate by operating under a model we created, but also in our use of technology. For example, 13 years ago we created a program called RITS (Relationship Information Tracking System) that tracks all of the coffee we buy and sell, and this year we launched the Tastify app for evaluating coffee quality (a process known as cupping) that ensures our supply chain is calibrated.

While we’ve developed many of our own programs and products, we’ve also embraced other innovative offerings and integrated them into our business: That is the case with Zerion, which has helped transform the way we collect and organize data.

Our transparent model fosters direct relationships between roasters and producers, and we strive to provide as much information about those producers as possible to roasters; we house that data in a website called Growerspace that only our customers can access. In years past, we would gather much of the information that populates Growerspace by calling producers directly and entering their data into spreadsheets. While that was a useful way to acquire accurate information, it wasn’t as efficient as it could be.

A few years ago we began using Zerion to collect the data, sending surveys to our coffee producers and importing the data into our system. But we found we got even more out of Zerion when we started using its Application Programming Interface (API) features, which allowed us to populate Growerspace more efficiently and also expand our data-collection efforts.

In 2014, we launched our nonprofit entity in Rwanda called the Relationship Coffee Institute (RCI), which aimed to improve the livelihoods of rural smallholder women farmers through training and market access. Data collection was a necessity to measure our impact via RCI, and Zerion has enabled that process for us with surveys that help us gauge factors such as women’s attendance in training courses and change in income. Zerion’s offline data-collection abilities have been vital to us in Rwanda, where reliable Internet connections can be hard to come by.

One of the things we most appreciate with Zerion’s survey feature is the easy interface and ability to make frequent changes to the questions. Another way we’ve used the surveys in the last year is through the Checkmark, our responsible-sourcing program that ensures that the producers we work with meet certain standards ranging from labor to quality. We collect this information from our producers via iForm surveys that are streamlined to efficiently collect growers’ data; some sections autofill based on responses, which moves the process along more quickly.

Let's Talk Coffee Geisha 1

We’ve also used Zerion for data collection of a different kind. Each year Sustainable Harvest holds a conference called Let’s Talk Coffee that brings together our entire supply chain for three days of thought-provoking lectures, relationship building, and discovery of amazing coffees. At our 2014 event in Panama, one of the lectures told the story of the Geisha variety, which is world-renowned for its high quality and is famously grown in Panama. Following the presentation, we had attendees try several different Geisha coffees in a blind tasting and attempt to identify which farm produced it from a master list. Using Zerion-created surveys on iPads, we collected attendees’ guesses during a coffee break, and when the program resumed, we projected the resulting data for all to see. The real-time abilities of the data collection provided immediate gratification to our attendees and made for a truly dynamic cupping event.

Zerion has had a hugely positive impact on our ability to quickly develop and implement surveys, as well as our ability to collect the resulting data and apply it to our varying needs—in particular we appreciate the ability to export collected data across a range of programs and formats, from XML to JSON to XLS. With Sustainable Harvest’s business built on the power of relationships, we’re happy to have such a strong and long-lasting partnership with Zerion.

About Oscar Magro

Oscar Magro is Sustainable Harvest's Chief Technology Officer.