If the food industry is not in crisis, it certainly contains an increasing level of complexity and associated risks. A recent analysis suggested 50% of US food production is wasted, with global estimates above 30%.
Retailers want perfect produce, leading to wastage occurring throughout the food supply chain. They also seek low prices, leading to industrialisation of processes.
Food scares such as mad cow disease (BSE) and cross contamination mean many consumers have less trust in their food, increasingly seeking information on authenticity and production practices.
Over 80% of antibiotics used in the US are used in food production. Farming practices lead to environmental issues and may exacerbate to climate change. Alternate “real world” models are being developed to address some of these issues. For instance, farmers’ markets can reduce food miles, and demonstrate localism. Gleaning, where people collect leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested, is becoming popular. There is ever increasing legislation and standards, though these tend to be national or regional, and often onerous to implement.
Recent developments in the digital economy could help. Among these are a growing use of sensors providing information to allow more intelligent practices to reduce costs and improve flexibility. Real time temperature monitoring and smart fridges in homes can help reduce waste. But a relatively new innovation, the Blockchain, is seen by many as offering significant opportunities within agricultural supply chains.
Blockchains are the technology that underpin cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, but they have uses other than currencies. They record information in a distributed ledger in a way that is both secure and immutable; by being distributed among many users these ledgers are resilient with no single point of failure, and they can be (depending on design), transparent to all users.
Blockchains and trust
Described by the Economist as “the trust machine”, Blockchains provide supply chain transparency and data integrity, allowing a visible assurance of authenticity.
A number of startups are exploring the potential for Blockchains in agriculture. Most notable is Provenance.org, a small UK B2B software startup using the Blockchain to establish the authenticity of high value goods, including food. They are experimenting with proving the supply chain of tuna caught in Indonesia being delivered to Japanese restaurants. They will use information on sensors or RFID tags and local certification, recorded in the Blockchain, to track the fish along its journey from “hook to fork”; creating in the words of one of their founders, a “reputation system”.
Other software firms are developing similar off the shelf solutions for global tracking. Innovators are researching ways in which DNA can be recorded and tagged to an animal, and recorded in the Blockchain. This information can easily be made available to end users and customers using mobile phones and apps.
BlockCrushr Labs is a Canadian startup addressing issues of local food poverty and is using the currency and transparency aspects of Blockchain technology to increase donations to homeless people, and also to ensure these donations are responsibly spent.
Farmshare is using Blockchain to evolve community-supported agriculture, where a local “currency” can be used to purchase locally produced food within a natural community.
A wireless sensor firm, Filament, is developing sensors to monitor crop health and recording results in a Blockchain. Others are embedding sensors in the harvested crop to record temperature and humidity. These make it easier to trace damaged crops. Linking these sensor records to other connected equipment in the internet of things, such as transport and storage coolers ensures end to end monitoring and safe handling.
Skuchain is developing improved barcodes and RFID tags, and Blockchain technology with the aim of protecting end to end global supply chains against counterfeiting.
Firms such as sandwich chain Subway have pledged to remove antibiotics and preservatives from their ingredients. If the wish to deliver these promises, a transparent Blockchain where product origin and contents are visible to all would seem to be a suitable approach.
We may typify these proofs of concept and ideas as using the Blockchain to provide a permanent audit trail, where visibility leads to accountability and trust, without the need to establish local reputation. This philosophy is obviously not restricted to agriculture.
However Blockchain solutions have their own limitations. Principal among these are the need to ensure a tight coupling between the product and its digital representation, and the ongoing need for some form of reputable local certification system in the first mile to, for example, establish the fact of ethical practices.
The inevitable mixing of products and supply chains is another factor complicating easy adoption and implementation. For these reasons current proofs of concept tend to be high value and low volume, and often stimulated by strong social motivations of their founders. Blockchains can only be part of a wider solution, and may remain limited to niche markets where establishing provenance can command higher returns.
- Commodities Behemoth Testing Blockchain Tech with Crude Oil Cargo - January 21, 2017
- Berlin’s Neufund Blockchain Fundraising Platform Raises $2 Million - January 21, 2017
- Alibaba’s Ant Financial Aims for 2 billion Users by Bringing Blockchain Technology to Alipay - January 20, 2017
- ChronoBank Plans to Use Multiple Blockchains - January 20, 2017
- Hyperledger Welcomes New Blockchain Platform Partner Cello - January 20, 2017
- WISeKey and Stratumn Join Forces to Use Blockchain for Real-Time Accountability and Traceability in Enterprise Processes - January 20, 2017
- Blockchain Report – European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) - January 20, 2017
- FINRA Seeks Comment on New Report on the Potential Implications of Blockchain - January 18, 2017
- Finlync Designs ERP Integration to Distributed Ledger and Blockchain - January 18, 2017
- European Central Bank Considering Digital Currency – Cryptocash - January 18, 2017
- US Homeland Security Testing Blockchain To Track People, Goods Across Borders - January 17, 2017
- Israeli Tax Authorities Might Go After Bitcoin - January 16, 2017
- Senior US Regulator David Blaszkowsky Joins Canadian Blockchain Intelligence Group (BIG) Advisory Board - January 16, 2017
- Seven European Banks Cut Blockchain Deal to Facilitate Easier Cross-Border SME Commerce - January 16, 2017
- Marketforce to Host 2nd Annual The Blockchain Summit on 28th March 2017 in London - January 15, 2017
- Waves Platform Implements New Blockchain Scalability Approaches - January 14, 2017
- China’s Puerbank Group Launches Global Node for A Standardized Blockchain-Based Digital Currency in the UK - January 14, 2017
- DU and Guardtime Partner with Dubai’s NMC Hospital to Revolutionize Electronic Health Records with Blockchain Technology - January 14, 2017
- Report: Blockchain Slated to Become $8 Billion Global Industry By 2024 - January 14, 2017
- Blockchain Could Save Financial Services $110 billion over Next Three Years - January 14, 2017
- Russia Embraces Bitcoin – No Plans to Ban Cryptocurrencies - January 14, 2017
- Canadian BTL Group Completes Blockchain Pilot With Major Global Energy Company - January 12, 2017
- Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance and NTT DATA Cut Blockchain PoC For Insurance - January 12, 2017
- HfS Research Recognises VirtusaPolaris for Emerging Blockchain Services in BFSI - January 12, 2017
- Deloitte Launches Blockchain Lab in New York - January 12, 2017
- SWIFT launches Blockchain Proof of Concept In Hyperledger - January 12, 2017
- Blockchain VIP’s to Gather for Major Retreat This Month - January 12, 2017
- IBM Watson Health and US FDA Announce Blockchain Healthcare Data Project - January 12, 2017
- Equibit Development Corporation Sets $7 million Funding Target, Crowdsale Date - January 12, 2017
- US National Science Foundation Offers $8.5m in Funding for Blockchain Proposals for Cyberinfrastructure Security - January 11, 2017
- China Poised to Dominate Fintech and Blockchain Markets in 2017 - January 10, 2017
- Respectonomy Social Network To Tackle Censorship Using Blockchain - January 10, 2017
- South Korea Plans to Launch a Full-Scale Pilot Project on Blockchain-powered Financial Services - January 10, 2017
- Postal Savings Bank of China (PSBC) Announces First Blockchain Financial Service - January 10, 2017
- Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Releases Bullish Report on Blockchain for Clearing, Settlement - January 10, 2017
- Blockchain TV – TED Talk | How the Blockchain will Radically Transform the Economy | Bettina Warburg - January 10, 2017
- Alfa-Bank and S7 Airlines Close Blockchain Deal in Russia - January 10, 2017
- Life.SREDA and the Russian Republic of Tatarstan To Introduce Blockchain Technology For Public Administration System - January 10, 2017
- Union Square Ventures Leads $4M Funding Round for Blockchain Startup Blockstack - January 10, 2017
- US Department of Energy Eyeing Blockchain Solutions for Security – Seeking Proposals - January 10, 2017
- India’s Axis Bank to Use Ripple Blockchain for Cross-Border Remittances - January 10, 2017
- Georgia to Store Real Estate Documents in Blockchain System with Bitfury Group and Hernando de Soto - January 10, 2017
- US Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation Selects IBM, AXONI and R3 to Develop Derivatives Processing On Blockchain - January 10, 2017
- Grantcoin Foundation Expands Board of Directors – Distribution Rescheduled to Late January - January 8, 2017
- UNICEF, UK Home Office and BTCC to speak at London Blockchain Week 2017 - January 6, 2017
- American Company The Seam to Form Cotton Blockchain Consortium with IBM on Hyperledger Fabric - January 5, 2017
- Move over Bitcoin – MIT Cryptographer Silvio Micali and his Public Ledger ALGORAND… The Future of Blockchain? - January 5, 2017
- Blockchain to Play Role in Future of Transportation? UBS Teams up with ZF and innology SE to Make it Happen - January 5, 2017
- Blockchain Group Hyperledger Expands into China - January 5, 2017
- The Evolution Of Casinos – Next Generation Transparent Ethereum Smart Contracts Based Casino “Edgeless” - January 5, 2017