5 Potential Use Cases for Blockchain in Agriculture
Warning: this is NOT another post about speculating on bitcoin.
Blockchain — the technology that makes bitcoin possible, can also be used in a variety of different ways including in agricultural supply chains.
What’s special about blockchain technology is that through cryptography we can create an ledger of assets and transactions that cannot be tampered with or “hacked”. That ledger allows for peer-to-peer transactions of currency, commodities, or really anything else of value to take place transparently. All of this can happen without the need for an intermediary like a bank (such as in cryptocurrencies) or a middleman in some agricultural examples.
I just published the second episode in what will be a eight part series on blockchain in agriculture. The first two episodes below will give you a basic background for the general concept of blockchain in agriculture.
For those of you who’d rather read (or more likely skim), I have included five potential use cases for blockchain in agriculture in this post. I have also included some examples of companies already making headway in each category.
5 Potential Use Cases for Blockchain in Agriculture
Food Safety. This seems to be the area where the most work has already been done because there clear vested interest from both producer and consumer. IBM along with companies like Walmart have started leading the charge in this capacity. You can learn more this in the video embedded in my LinkedIn post. Origin Trail, which (spoiler!) will be featured in episode 83 of the podcast is building a protocol that has been used in food safety as well as product journey (see #2). Bringing transparency to the supply chain will allow us to identify and remove bad actors and poor processes. This ensures ideal conditions from farm to market, and we can pinpoint source quickly in the event of a food safety outbreak. This could save time, money, and lives.
Traceability. The benefit to buying local food is always described as “you know exactly where your food comes from and who grew it. You know it’s fresh”. What if we could make this happen at scale? Meaning, no matter where you bought your food, you knew not only where it came from, but when it was harvested and processed, and even who produced it. Companies like Ripe.io are working to solve this very problem. This could also go far to prevent food fraud, false labeling, and redundant middlemen.
Transaction Costs. In episode 82 I shared my experiences as a grain merchandiser, and the challenges of the agricultural supply chain. Namely, that it is both fragmented and dependent on personally knowing a counter-party before you could trust them to do business. Companies like AgriDigital are making headway in creating more transparent and efficient supply chains through the use of blockchain technology. They are applying the technology directly to the grain trade and also plan to expand into other agricultural commodities, such as cotton.
Opening New Markets. In a future podcast episode, I am excited to share what AgriLedger is doing to open new markets to farmers in the developing world using blockchain. The premise here is that if we can create trust and accountability among market players, there is reduced need to evaluate each person individually on their trustworthiness and ability to execute. This means that market players that couldn’t establish trust before for any reason (they didn’t live close to each other, they didn’t have a protocol for if things fell apart, the time to develop a new relationship didn’t justify the value, etc.) now could do business without someone needing to broker trust (and take a margin) in the middle. This also means that disadvantaged market participants can have a sort of “seat at the table” through this technology.
Logistics. Anyone who has worked in the agricultural supply chain knows the challenges that come with logistics. Dealing with products that often have a very short shelf life in uncertain conditions in high quantities with a lot of dollars on the line. Also, often the supply can be uncertain (it’s not like a factory producing widgets). Companies such as UPS are joining the Blockchain in Transport Alliance to play a central role in the smart logistics network of the future, built on blockchain technology. As we see this materialize in other industries, agriculture will no doubt be next.
Those are by no means the ONLY potential use cases for blockchain in agriculture. Just my opinion on five that seem to make sense.
Reshaping the framework for a supply chain is a MASSIVE undertaking. This effort will not revolutionize the industry right away. We are likely at least five years away from any of the above happening at scale. But it’s fun to think about!
Subscribe to the “Future of Agriculture” Podcast to hear from some of the companies mentioned above and others that I will profile as part of this series on blockchain.
Please find the “Future of Agriculture” Podcast on any podcast player, including iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or any of the other multitude of podcast players (We are even on Spotify!). You can also just subscribe to this Medium publication or to receive email updates below.