Since the meteoric rise of Bitcoin at the end of 2017, most people have heard the word blockchain. However, many see it almost synonymous to cryptocurrency, while it’s so much more. Blockchain can, for example, make a significant impact on agrifood. I will highlight a few examples here to illustrate how this technology is already generating value for food and farm.
But, what is blockchain then? The blockchain is essentially a dataset of transactions, a ledger. Different from the ledger as you know it, is that it is open, and public. Anyone who is authorised can read and write the data.
In order to let multiple users input data, this database needs to be auto-synchronised. All copies of the database are identical and synchronised immediately and simultaneously. The information is distributed across the network. However, that doesn’t mean that someone can secretly change the data. A core characteristic of blockchain is that it is immutable. Once information is entered it can’t be deleted or changed.
Blockchain for agrifood
The transparent and immutable aspect of blockchain makes it very suitable for tracking supply chains. It’s particularly efficient for agrifood supply chains.
Blockchain and agrifood are centrepieces in the Amsterdam based Food Integrity Blockchained (FIB) meetup. Hosted by The Fork, some of the 1.350 professionals in this network, from agrifood, tech and research, gather to learn from blockchain applications in agrifood. This makes blockchain much more concrete. These meetups facilitate collaboration and peer to peer learning.
Blockchain can improve the agrifood supply chain in 3 areas: risk reduction, optimisation and integrity. I will explain this with example use cases, some of which have been previously discussed at the FIB meetup.
The first way in which blockchain can contribute to agrifood is by reducing risk. By tracking a product from farm to fork it is easier to prevent foodborne diseases.
You can for instance use blockchain to monitor the temperature of a product during its journey from farm to fork, ensuring product temperatures don’t exceed pre-set limits required to keep the product safe for consumption. ZetoChain is such an example that fixes special labels to food products and uses blockchain to monitor the temperature of its labels.
Another use case is monitoring ingredients and appliances used to manufacture a product to prevent allergens slipping in. ClearKarma collects data on ingredients and production processes, stores these with blockchain, preventing that undeclared allergens end up in food. Their data can show that there are no peanuts in a jar of pesto and that the appliances used in the production process of this jar weren't previously used to create peanut butter.
Blockchain can also serve for fast and effective recalls when something goes wrong with a product. You can track precisely and fast where products come from and recall only a fraction of a certain batch. Walmart uses blockchain for that, to increase food safety and ensure recalled products are taken off the shelves.
With real-time information, knowing exactly what products are where at a certain time, you can manage your supply chain more effectively. There are blockchain solutions especially designed for supply chain management. One of those is OriginTrail. It enables data sharing with blockchain technology for supply chain optimisation.
A faster supply chain can be achieved by digitizing and automating paper trails involved in supply chains, such as certification. This has been explored by Wageningen University’s pilot study on table grapes, as well as CargoLedger, which uses blockchain technology as sort of a digital passport during a product’s journey through the supply chain.
There’re multiple ways to contribute to improved integrity. Optimisation makes supply chains more effective and hence leaves lower levels of waste. Since it’s easier to plan how much of a product should be at a certain place at a certain time, food waste decreases. Blockchain can also be leveraged to re-distribute surplus food, like the Goodr app does. Goodr helps restaurants send their leftovers to charities.
Another way in which blockchain can help to improve integrity in agrifood, is by settling farm payments with this technology, like Moyee coffee does. By making the supply chain more transparent with less intermediaries, larger shares of the profits can remain at farm level. Blockchain provides ways to inform consumers about payments throughout the chain and can go even further, consumers could for instance tip farmers directly.
A final interesting example that empowers farmers through blockchain is AgUnity. It provides smallholder farmers with a mobile phone to manage in- and outputs more efficiently.
More blockchain for agrifood
Of course, the examples mentioned in this article are just a few of a growing number of agrifood use cases. A good starting point to further educate yourself on this subject and discover new use cases is The Fork’s youtube channel.