Can blockchain be a ‘trust machine’ for food supply chains?
The food industry faces significant challenges, recent analysis has claimed that nearly 50% of all US food produced is wasted, while global estimates put the figure above 30%. This is especially difficult to accept to in a context where a significant percentage of the global population still live without secure access to plentiful amounts of food. An emerging number of startups and companies have begun to exploiting opportunities offered by new technologies, including blockchain, aiming to tackle some of the complex and systemic challenges relating to the sector. Can this technology, as once described by The Economist, be a “trust machine” for future food supply chains?
There are a variety of different aspects to the overall food sector challenges, including the demand for “perfect products” from retailers, which leads to waste, the industrialisation of various processes, as well as health concerns and the use of chemicals in the industry.
Digital technologies intersect with these challenges in a variety of places, including in the growing use of sensors and intelligent devices that provide higher levels of information about crops, soil and other critical values to make farming and resource use more effective.
However, many are now viewing blockchain, the innovation behind crypto-currencies like bitcoin, as a significant opportunity for the agricultural sector. Blockchains record information and hold data through a distributed ledger that is both secure and immutable. The distributed nature of the network means that the ledgers are resilient, transparent to all users and don’t have a single point of failure.
There are a number of startups already exploiting this potential:
Provenance – a small UK B2B software company that uses blockchain to establish the authenticity of high value goods, including food – for example they use a combination of sensors and RFID tags to track fish from “hook to fork”.
BlockCrushr Labs – based in Canada aims to address local food poverty.
Farmshare – aims to evolve community-supported agriculture combining local currency with locally produced food.
Skuchain – developing improved barcodes and RFID tags in combination with blockchain technology with the goal of providing visibility to the full global supply chain.
Of course, blockchain solutions are not without limits and there are challenges when it comes to effectively coupling a digital representation with the actual physical products and supply chains. However, there is reason to believe that the technology could play a role in securing a more effective food supply chain in the future.