The food blockchain can restore trust
Shoppers in Carrefour supermarkets in France can scan a code on a package of chicken, with their smartphones, for information entered by farmers on where and how the chickens were raised and the meat was processed. They can trust the information, because it is protected by the same kind of blockchain technology used for transactions in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Blockchain is described as a digital ledger
In computing terms, it is a “distributed governance system through a peer-to-peer network that offers validation of transactions in a decentralised way”, Carrefour originally turned to blockchain technology to trace the production of chickens in France’s Auvergne region.
It plans to expand its blockchain traceability programme to eggs, cheese, milk, oranges, tomatoes, salmon and hamburgers, by the end of the year. It can be key to satisfying the increasing demand in society for greater information about food, which is partly due to an increasing risk of fraud (selling unqualified product with high-quality labels or claims) and adulteration.
Blockchain technology provides a means to ensure permanence of records, and potentially to facilitate sharing of data across a food production chain. Famous for its enabling role in the cryptocurrency boom, this technology may yet have much wider application in the world of agriculture.
It may offer a better way of establishing ownership of land, which is a controversial topic in countries all over the world, leading to substantial conflicts which can last for decades.
Jaclyn Bolt is one of the experts at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, which is a leading authority on blockchain for agriculture.
She says: “Even registration through a certified authority does not always guarantee property rights. “A title deed should be clear and secure and handed over from owner to owner. “But this transaction could be hampered by flawed paperwork, forged signatures, and bribed politicians. “Creating an infrastructure for land registry on the blockchain could fix these problems as transactions related to land ownership would become publicly available and verifiable. “This would lower the transaction costs and would increase efficiency and reliability.
“BenBen Ghana is an example of a platform created to capture transactions and verify land ownership data, enabling smart contracts through the blockchain. In Ghana, land-records are paper based, which are easily lost, destroyed or corrupted. The lack of trust in these records leads to long court cases and often violent disputes.
Without trusted land records, financial institutions are unable to provide loans, individuals cannot prove ownership, and land investment stays stagnant. BenBen is an interactive map platform and consensus database that aims to tackle the inefficiencies of land administration, to promote investment, reduce poverty and encourage transparent natural-resource management. Jaclyn Bolt at Wageningen University & Research also explains how blockchains offer the possibility for each link in the food chain to work on the same digital infrastructure for sharing data. “The data moves with the product through the value chain, to which each of the value chain players has access. This would also offer new possibilities to include certification or other labelling information with the product, so that the consumer can see the steps the product has gone through till it reaches the shelf.”
She says: “One of the strong potentials for blockchain technology is to establish a cost effective reward system for services that might otherwise not be monetised.”
For example, so-called public goods provided by farmers, she says. “Farmers could be motivated to invest in field borders with trees if nearby citizens can reward them in a cost-effective way through tokens. “Tokens can be online monetary units that can be programmed for specific purposes. As they are online, they can be accessed from any device with internet access. “This creates more direct payments where ‘payers’ could be assured that their spending is distributed to the right cause or person depending on the setup of the program. Tokens can be used to pay, to reward or to create a new type of funding.”
The blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin is being used to provide trusted food information for shoppers, and blockchain may have numerous other applications in the world of agriculture.