Real-world blockchain technology has many people excited, and for good reason. From managing electrical grids to securing medical records, it appears there’s nothing this revolutionary technology can’t do.
Now, blockchain is popping up in the last place you’d expect: the world’s poorest farms. Coined Times spoke to Angus Keck, Chief of Staff at Australian start-up AgUnity, to find out how distributed ledger technology is changing the face of agriculture.
The small farmer’s eternal struggle
Agriculture is one of the world’s biggest, most important, and most underrated industries. Without it, we’d all starve.
Despite that, hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers worldwide struggle to survive. Bad planning, insufficient resources, and systemic corruption leave many farmers trapped in a poverty cycle. Indeed, smallholder farmers often lose up to 50 percent of their crops’ value by the time they go to sale.
Some agricultural communities try to fix this by creating farming cooperatives. According to Keck, that’s a good start. But it doesn’t solve everything.
“Farming cooperatives are the most effective and equitable way to increase farmers’ incomes by overcoming these inefficiencies,” Keck told Coined Times. “However poor record-keeping and a lack of transparency often result in corruption and graft.”
AgUnity aims to fix this problem with (you guessed it) a real-world blockchain application.
Changing agriculture with blockchain
Blockchain is an ideal tool for solving the agriculture industry’s problems. It’s secure. It’s transparent. And, most importantly, it’s trustless.
AgUnity’s app uses the advantages of real-world blockchain to create a virtual cooperative for smallholder farmers.
“This app enables farmers to easily record all transactions in an immutable ledger so they can plan better, buy and sell together, and cooperate to share resources,” Keck told Coined Times.
Of course, in poor and isolated communities, access is the first hurdle. AgUnity solves that by giving free smartphones – with the AgUnity blockchain app already installed – to farmers in the developing world.
The company has already tested the system out in Kenya and Bougainville. So far, the results are promising.
“In our pilot projects in Kenya, we increased farmer incomes threefold on average from a single season to the next,” Keck said.
In April 2018, AgUnity won the Future Agro Challenge Global Championship (FAC). The award fields entries from more than 60 countries and recognizes the work of promising agricultural entrepreneurs. Having won the Australian award in September 2017, AgUnity headed to Istanbul for the global finals. The company’s entry was judged on a report of its successful trial in Kenya and a live pitch in front of an expert panel.
FAC co-founder Carla Tanas said AgUnity was one of many tech companies changing agriculture.
There is not one simple solution to any of the complex global challenges of feeding the estimated growing population of 9 billion people by 2050. AgUnity has a practical solution that addressed millions of financially excluded farmers by using blockchain technology as a forward-thinking mechanism.
A number of other blockchain-based start-ups performed well in FAC 2018. Tanas said:
Blockchain in agriculture will be a game changer in many aspects, both vertically and horizontally.
Real-world blockchain proving its worth
AgUnity is an example of real-world blockchain achieving goals that were previously impossible. While the company could have used other technologies to create their platform, blockchain solves the major problem: trust.
“The issue we’re tackling is around a lack of trust between a farmer and a co-op,” Keck said. “(Without blockchain), we would effectively be asking them to trust in the same system that typically leads to corruption and graft, except that they have to trust AgUnity, whom they know even less well that their existing partners.
“The use of a blockchain enables us to explain to farmers that once a transaction is agreed to by both parties, no one – not the farmer, not the co-op, not even AgUnity – can ever change this record.”
Blockchain is also more secure than previous technologies, as Keck pointed out.
“It also ensures these transactions cannot be hacked by third parties who may wish to transfer receipts from the farmers to themselves,” he said. “In short, we couldn’t do what we do without the use of a blockchain.”
Is a cryptocurrency for farmers in the works?
At the moment, AgUnity doesn’t have its own crypto coin or token. However, Keck said the company remains open to the possibility of creating its own currency in the future.
“We see huge potential in how cryptocurrencies … can give small, low-income farmers easier access to capital and remove the necessity of relying on local loan-sharks for short-term, high-interest loans,” Keck said. “We are investigating the potential of how AgUnity can use a digital currency that would have the direct benefit of supporting low-income farmers.”
The company remains cautious, however. With the cryptocurrency world evolving quickly and still trying to cast off negative public perceptions, it’s a tough decision. But Keck believes the possible upsides of crypto make it an option worth exploring.
“There’s huge potential here,” he said. “We just want to put it in the right, transparent framework to ensure it’s benefiting those it’s targeted at: smallholders.”
Agriculture industry embracing real-world blockchain
A host of other projects are using blockchain to solve various problems in agriculture. Among the biggest of these issues is supply-chain management. In essence, these projects aim to answer one simple question: Where does my food come from?
OriginTrail is using real-world blockchain technology to verify the supply chain for chicken, wine, dairy, and vegetable producers. By storing these records on a blockchain, the company can ensure security, transferability, and decentralization of data. OriginTrail also has its own ERC20 crypto token – Trace (TRAC) – which enables transactions on the platform.
Ripe.io also uses blockchain to trace the origins of agricultural stock, with an emphasis on measuring food quality and availability. The company has created sensors that help farmers verify their farming practices and the quality of their produce. For example, farmers can use the immutable ledger to show that they harvested their crop at the right time, that their food contains the appropriate amount of salt or pH, and that a certain amount of their produce will be available for sale this season.
It’s not just start-ups using real-world blockchain in agriculture; big name brands are also getting in on the act. In March, Coca Cola announced a collaboration with the U.S. State Department to use real-world blockchain to combat modern slavery in the agriculture industry. Starbucks has launched a similar blockchain-based program to trace coffee beans from smallholder farmers to cafes. Even UPS is investigating the use of blockchain in shipping records.
The days of theoretical blockchain are in the past. After all, if it can change the face of one of the world’s oldest industries – agriculture – then we know that real-world blockchain has arrived.