Blog Post

Webinar Insights: Challenges and opportunities of digital technologies for coffee value chains in Central America

Digital technologies are transforming the agricultural sector and the global food system in innovative ways. From farm machinery automation to digital traceability tools to remote satellite data, the range of digital solutions available for different parts of the agri-food value chain is diverse.

These technologies show great promise in shaping more resilient, productive and sustainable agri-food value chains to better meet the needs of a wide range of stakeholders. However, the digital agriculture landscape is not without its challenges. Many smallholders and small-scale enterprises face enormous obstacles in accessing these digital technologies and services. 

To explore this topic further, KISM - the Knowledge Platform for Inclusive and Sustainable Food Markets - hosted a virtual webinar on 15 June 2023 to explore the digital innovation landscape for agri-food value chains and how these technologies can be tailored to the needs of different stakeholders, specifically in the case of the coffee value chain in Central America. The webinar focused on a new study emerging from the CGIAR research initiative on Rethinking Food Markets. Jenny Melo, researcher at the University of Missouri’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture shared key findings from the study, followed by practical insights on digital agriculture from an expert panel including Andrea Gardeazábal Monsalve from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Néstor Javier Meneses Chacón from the Honduran Institute of Coffee (IHCAFE).  

The following key take-aways emerged from the webinar:

    An emergent digital agriculture sector in Central America 

    • The digital agriculture sector in Central America is still at an emergent phase. In the case of Honduras and Guatemala, the sector is extremely nascent and faces infrastructure challenges that are holding back wider digital transformation. However, both countries have an enabling environment to support digital innovation. 
    • In Honduras, smallholder farmers are the backbone of the country’s coffee industry. Technologies that offer advisory services to farmers are the most abundant digital agriculture service available, but farmers often face numerous challenges in the adoption of new digital services and tools. Limited access to funding and technology, poor quality internet coverage and low levels of digital literacy and skills are key bottlenecks. 
    • The research study identified 23 digital technologies that are currently available for the coffee sector in Central America. These include digital advisory and extension technologies, digitized on-farm tools and digital financial services. Most technologies offer digital market linkages that promote traceability and farmers' access to transactional interactions along food chains. These offerings promise opportunities for food value chains in the long-term. 
    • Many of these technologies are in the prototype stage and are close to being ready for the market. Most of them are developed through public-private partnerships between international development organizations and private companies. More research is needed on how these technologies are beneficial for coffee farmers and producers in different local contexts.

    User-centricity is key

    • The availability of digital agriculture technologies does not guarantee successful uptake and adoption. Digital solutions must be tailored around the needs of key stakeholders along agri-food chains, and should be assessed on what type of service they deliver and how they will create value for different parts of the value chain.   
    • Co-designing digital solutions with key value chain stakeholders can help finetune and tailor technologies to better operate within different contexts. For farmers, digital technologies that are tailored to their income, levels of data literacy and data access, as well as their local context, will also determine the types of devices and services that farms and households can afford or will adopt.

    Challenges of data governance and the digital divide

    • From monitoring crop irrigation and growth, to promoting the traceability of a product, data-driven digital technologies can provide access to high-quality data. This data can deliver valuable insights to inform decision-making and can add value for different stakeholders along agri-food value chains. However, the diverse types of data collected by different digital technologies will bring their own specific challenges along the value chain.
    • There are concerns about data privacy, data ownership and protection, and how the data collected from farmers should be shared and used by different stakeholders. The lack of compatibility between different data sources can also make it difficult to see a complete picture of the market.
    • Many parts of the world have poor access to digital services. This digital divide means that certain stakeholders across global agri-food chains will miss out on the benefits that such technologies bring. Ensuring digital inclusivity is key, such as by providing in-person training to supplement digital services or using accessible digital platforms like mobile phone apps. 
    • It is critical that these data governance and data access issues are considered before introducing a digital solution to an agri-food value chain, and to ensure that everyone has fair access to the information that is produced and gathered.

    Watch the recording of the webinar.

    Vi Nguyen is a Senior Coordinator for Innovations and Learning with ISEAL. Swati Malhotra is a Communications Specialist with IFPRI’s Markets, Trade, and Institutions Unit.

    To find out more about the challenges and opportunities for digital technologies in global food value chains in Central America, read the scoping study from the CGIAR ‘Rethinking Food Markets’ Initiative that this webinar was based on.