We’re all familiar by now with the cryptocurrency technology that introduced the blockchain ledger system. And we’ve seen how blockchain has influenced both the profit and nonprofit sectors - so let’s turn our attention to one of the oldest traditional industries.
Land cultivation and farming is a market area currently seeing a particular opportunity in blockchain technology. From farm to plate our food passes through channels of various intermediaries, producers, and brokers on a voyage to its eventual dining table destination. During that journey the nature of events is traditionally a mystery to both the consumer and owners/shareholders of the original food source.
Nowadays, in a time when customers and shareholders are becoming increasingly curious about their food’s origin and destination, the details of the supply chain, and the eventual destination is now accessible to forward thinking companies on a blockchain ledger.
During the covid pandemic weaknesses in the global food chain networks were revealed. While noticing these chinks in the overall armour of traditional farming methods, improvements in the production, distribution, and consumption the agricultural industry has looked towards the harnessing of blockchain technology. And why not? A linked decentralised database is potentially a true game changer in food manufacture and distribution.
Trust among shareholders can be achieved in these difficult times while transparent and traceable accountancy breeds confidence among shareholders and consumers. Information from the quality of the seed to growing history and transportation routes can all be lodged in a blockchain system.
One online marketplace Grain Discovery does just that. With a heavy focus on malt barley they believe in harnessing blockchain to capitalise on market opportunity and bring an additional value to their products.
Blockchain can be used to collate quality information of the seed, track how the crop grows, and record the distribution path. The transparency allows consumers to protect vulnerable producers and even reward smallholdings farmers who are among the most environmentally friendly and the most economically vulnerable.
Recording the journey
For blockchain tracking to really work producers and processors are required along the supply chain to input information into the blockchain ledger for the process to be observed by consumers and shareholders.
The blockchain ledger - a list of accounts and transactions - are inputted and stored by each and every participant. Used correctly this ledger should prove a reliable resource showing clearly the condition of farms, transportation networks, inventories, and details of business contracts. It also allows consumers to make better choices, reducing instances of illegal production and paving the way for more sustainable practices.
Data-driven technologies streamline market sectors making them smarter and more efficient. Skeptic observers, however, have pointed out that privately owned blockchains might be less secure as the information will need to be input by humans who are often prone to error and/or not averse to manipulating systems in search of profit. Traditional blockchains are decentralised and democratised in order for trust between users to be cultivated.
The more open and transparent the system is the more likely it is to work ethically. Like all systems controlled by humans it is subject to human error but unlike most accountancy systems it is subject to review by all interested parties. With blockchain trust is placed on the majority rather than on the authority.
Smart Agriculture utilises ICT (information and communications technology), IOT (internet of things), a number of modern data collecting methods and analytical tech including UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles i.e drones) sensors and machine learning technology. Key to the establishment of smart agriculture is the development of a security system that facilitates and manages data.
Blockchain technology serves just that purpose by storing information that participants and stakeholders both generate and have access to. A decentralised model is secured through its lack of obscurity – timestamped transactions and activities are locked to certain products.
A recent example of blockchain technology in action inside the nonprofit is SmartAgro, who work with Cambodian farmers in remote regions of the country. Donations are sent direct to the beneficiary using Stellar blockchain.
Stellar is an open source, decentralised protocol for digital currency to fiat money transfers which allows cross-border transactions between any pair of currencies. Stellar has now an owner – it is run by the public who invest in it. The software runs across a decentralised, open network and handles millions of transactions each day. Like bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies Stellar harnesses blockchain to keep the network flowing.
Farmers at SmartAgro access money using cyber wallets and use funds to activate regenerative farming techniques such as crop covering. Many different species of plant and foliage perform different ecological functions while protecting the topsoil from erosion, increasing fertility and suppressing weed growth on these remote Cambodian farms.
At SmartAgro farmers are supported and coached in farm field schools where water and soil management skills are taught alongside the crop covering. This process is environmentally friendly, helping both the farmers, the land, and the surrounding communities.
Increased globalisation has led to intensified competition in turn leading to longer and more complex supply chains. Blockchain makes it possible for the consumers to interact with the producers and follow the supply records from provenance to the retail store. DNA of livestock, use of pesticide on fruits, grains, and vegetables, can all be recorded on the blockchain ledger.
The transparency of such information can help detect and eliminate events such as the 2013 horse meat scandal in Europe. This technology can also prove priceless in the event of professional indemnity litigation and insurance claims negotiation. Long-tail complex legal cases requiring countless depositions, mediations, and trials in order to discover cause and blame can now be solved in seconds.
Food fraud is expected to hit the global food market to the tune odd somewhere between $30 and $40 billion in 2021. Food allergies and food-related illnesses are more common today than they ever were – consumers are beginning to demand both traceability and accountability. This pressure may force major food players to adopt blockchain technology by insurance and legal representatives.
At the same time public relation officers will understand that those growers and producers who adopt blockchain will no doubt be rewarded with a competitive advantage in the Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market. Farmers exploring and implementing blockchain will also be ahead in the food safety arena which is a positive step forward for all concerned. Blockchain solves issues in several departments of most business structures.
The current blockchain technology in the food supply chain is in the infancy of development demanding widespread participation by a range of players in the agriculture sector if the technology is to be fully harnessed. The potential of incorporating big data through a transparent and decentralised food production and distribution system is not to be overlooked.
Bitcoin and Ethereum have risen meteorically and set the financial industry aflame. Putting aside, for a moment, the future of cryptocurrencies, it is unquestionable that the underlying blockchain technology will thrive within other industries and marketplaces. Could agriculture join the energy, retail, and entertainment sectors and become the next industry to be revolutionised by the new technology? It looks more than likely.
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