Japanese tech students develop quality measuring app for Rwandan coffee farmers

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Japanese tech students develop quality measuring app for Rwandan coffee farmers

Noa Soyama, a third-year student at the National Institute of Technology, Kitakyushu College, right, shows local coffee farmers how to use the sugar content measuring app. (Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Technology, Kitakyushu College)

FUKUOKA -- A group of tech students in southwestern Japan is working on a sugar content measuring app using photos taken with smartphone cameras to help Rwandan coffee farmers improve the quality of their beans.

Five students at the National Institute of Technology, Kitakyushu College in the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Kitakyushu have been tackling the project since 2019 after the Japan International Cooperation Agency that is working toward the betterment of developing countries called for an innovative development.

Coffee is a major export product for Rwanda. While the desirable sugar content in coffee cherries is at least 20% at the time of harvest, the tools for measuring sugar content of the juice from coffee cherries are expensive and are hard to come by for local farmers. This has hindered efforts to improve the quality of Rwandan coffee.

The student group came up with the idea of using smartphone cameras to take pictures of coffee cherries and invented a system in which sugar content is determined by their colors. Their prototype accumulated data from 500 photos of coffee cherries to compare the colorings, making it possible to tell if the cherries were up to the desirable sugar content standard.

In July 2019, the group interviewed local coffee farmers in Rwanda. The students learned firsthand that it was not easy to have farmers operate smartphones when their coffee farms don't even have access to electricity or water as there was a wide gap in living standards between urban and rural areas.

Still, local farmers are interested in the idnitiative. Noa Soyama, 18, a third-year student at the Kitakyushu tech school who made a presentation in the city of Fukuoka on Dec. 18, said in addition to determining the sugar content, local farmers also wanted a system to assess the quality of coffee beans, which is hard to determine just by looking at coffee cherries or from their photos, such as damage or wormholes in the beans.

The group aims to improve the app through cooperation with private firms and ultimately put the technology into practical use. Soyama expressed her determination, saying, "I want to help (the farmers) through the technology."