By Jodi Smith
In early October 2017, I attended a CTA ICT4Ag Outlook Workshop with a group of 33 agri-tech colleagues from ACP countries in Rhenen,the Netherlands. We were gathered to learn and assess the opportunities, benefits and possible adoption approaches and models for 3D printing and blockchain in ACP agriculture. Fiji was represented by myself and Dr Bibhya Sharma, Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of the South Pacific (USP).
There has been much noise recently about the blockchain and its relationship to other much-hyped terms, including cryptocurrency and bitcoin. Blockchain was invented for bitcoin, and it makes the existence of bitcoin possible. But what exactly is this techonolgy and what is its potential importance in agriculture? Having worked in organic- and GAP-certified agriculture and exports, and having experienced first-hand the challenges and high costs of compliance, record keeping and reporting for private companies and smallholders, I was interested to learn more about the opportunities presented by the blockchain, specifically for the database system my company,The Earth Care Agency, is developing.
A blockchain is a tamper-proof record of transactions distributed across all participants in a blockchain network. Using digital verification and authentication, the blockchain technology removes the need for intermediaries, also reducing transaction time and the potential for fraud, and, in the process, increasing trust between those in the network or ecosystem. That is all very well, but how does it actually work?
A blockchain is a decentralised ledger of all transactions across a peer-to-peer network. Using this technology, participants can confirm transactions without the need for a central certifying authority (a bank, a third-party auditor, any transactional intermediary). Potential applications are far wider than cryptocurrencies, and include fund transfers, settling trades, voting and many other uses.
In agriculture, blockchain has the potential to transform transparency in the supply chain, compliance, rural farmer financing and cold storage. Blockchain will be able to track information about food and all participants along the supply chain, giving consumers confidence about where their food has come from and how it was produced. Blockchain will also enable real-time payment on delivery. In the area of cold storage, blockchain will be able to give buyers the ability to track their orders, providing real-time information on temperature throughout transit, the number of units, the estimated delivery time and the real time location, as well as a host of analytics, including revised product expiration dates.
The opportunities for breaking down barriers to export (and even local) market entry for countries like Fiji are clear – this technology will provide the data and trust required by consumers.
A number of hurdles exist – infrastructure and internet connectivity being the major two –but new business models and technologies are emerging to address connectivity issues and disrupt traditional networks. The Earth Care Agency and USP are looking forward to collaborating together on an innovation hub to promote these models and technologies in the Pacific.
For further information contact:
Jodi Smith, Director, The Earth Care Agency Pte Ltd