Q&A: Nigel Gopie

IBM helps agri­cul­ture un­der­stand, adopt blockchain.

Successful Farming - - CONTENTS - By Lau­rie Be­dord, Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor, Ag Tech­nol­ogy

While Nigel Gopie says the ben­e­fits seen by each par­tic­i­pant in the food sup­ply chain may be unique, blockchain tech­nol­ogy en­ables ev­ery­one to re­ceive value. As the lead for IBM’s Food Trust blockchain so­lu­tion, he shares how the com­pany is work­ing to cre­ate a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of this tech­nol­ogy’s po­ten­tial in agri­cul­ture.

SF: How can agri­cul­ture ben­e­fit from blockchain? NG:

As food trav­els from farm to fork, there are many dif­fer­ent points of con­tact through­out the agri­food sys­tem. There is cur­rently lim­ited knowl­edge of the path of in­gre­di­ents, what they touched, how they were changed, and more. Blockchain pro­vides the vis­i­bil­ity of what is in our food, how it was pro­cessed, and where it has been. It also en­ables trust due to the im­mutable na­ture of the tech­nol­ogy, be­cause data en­tered into the blockchain is not able to be changed and is se­cure.

Trusted data of where food came from and where it went pro­vides the ben­e­fit of con­fi­dently trac­ing back­ward and for­ward.

This ad­dresses the con­sumer de­mand on the in­dus­try to pro­vide trace­abil­ity and trans­parency. It also bet­ter equips pro­duc­ers with in­for­ma­tion about where they are send­ing their prod­ucts.

Pro­duc­ers would not just be able to prove their prod­ucts were safe dur­ing a re­call, but they would also be able to use in­sights fur­ther down­stream in the sup­ply chain to make bet­ter busi­ness de­ci­sions (e.g., mod­ify pro­duc­tion prac­tices based on knowl­edge of their car­cass ef­fi­ciency). For ag, there are count­less ad­van­tages to fill­ing knowl­edge gaps and em­brac­ing a fully vis­i­ble, dig­i­tal sup­ply chain.

SF: Why should farm­ers pay at­ten­tion to blockchain? NG:

Dur­ing re­calls, all items of a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct are called into ques­tion. Even non­con­tam­i­nated pro­duce will be con­sid­ered un­safe to eat, pulled off shelves, and go to waste. Although ro­maine let­tuce is safe to eat again, the ef­fects of the E. coli out­break ear­lier this year are still hav­ing an im­pact. As of early June, let­tuce prices had dropped by more than half, and grow­ers were leav­ing acres of ro­maine to rot. De­spite tainted let­tuce be­ing off the mar­ket, the in­abil­ity to pin­point the source of con­tam­i­na­tion and only re­call im­pacted prod­ucts is hin­der­ing the en­tire let­tuce sup­ply chain. The re­sult is an ex­treme eco­nomic loss in ad­di­tion to the neg­a­tive ef­fects on so­ci­ety.

Blockchain gives pro­duc­ers prove­nance so their fresh, good greens are left on shelves, while only con­tam­i­nated prod­ucts are re­called. Con­sumers will feel con­fi­dent and as­sured their food is com­ing from a trusted farm, and pro­duc­ers will know their pro­duce is not go­ing to waste. The U.S. pro­duce in­dus­try is al­ready mov­ing in the di­rec­tion of adopt­ing trace­abil­ity tech­nol­ogy by in­vest­ing in projects like the Pro­duce Trace­abil­ity Ini­tia­tive (PTI). It is a vol­un­tary ini­tia­tive cre­ated by grow­ers, pack­ers, ship­pers, and buy­ers to im­ple­ment a more ef­fec­tive whole sup­ply chain trace­abil­ity process. Formed in re­ac­tion to the spinach out­break in 2006, there has also been a lot of de­mand for the FDA to cre­ate and im­ple­ment more trace­abil­ity pro­to­cols.

Work­ing syn­er­gis­ti­cally with blockchain tech­nol­ogy, these ini­tia­tives can achieve their vi­sion way above and be­yond in­dus­try stan­dards to build the most se­cure sys­tem pos­si­ble. It’s es­sen­tial for pro­duc­ers; it’s es­sen­tial for us as a busi­ness.

SF: Why should farm­ers trust this tech­nol­ogy? NG:

With IBM blockchain, farm­ers can trust that their data will be theirs. Users can con­trol per­mis­sions and de­cide who to share data with. More­over, pro­duc­ers will know their data is se­cure. IBM Food Trust pro­vides the high­est level of com­mer­cially avail­able, tam­per-re­sis­tant pro­tec­tion for food trans­ac­tion data, em­ploy­ing the se­cu­rity ben­e­fits of the un­der­ly­ing IBM Blockchain Plat­form and Hyper­ledger Fab­ric.

Pro­duc­ers can also de­pend on a re­li­able and tested so­lu­tion. Our team has al­ready pi­loted this tech­nol­ogy and is in pro­duc­tion. We’re work­ing with large in­dus­try play­ers and their sup­pli­ers to dig­i­tize dozens of their SKUs, and we’re rep­re­sent­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of trans­ac­tions and grow­ing!

We are build­ing re­la­tion­ships with key stake­hold­ers in dif­fer­ent re­gions of the world, who can bring ecosys­tem part­ners to­gether to build and ex­pand upon our net­work to en­sure that we re­al­ize the vi­sion of im­prov­ing trust and trans­parency from seed to farm to fork.

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