When you hear the word “blockchain” you probably think of crypto currencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum. However, the technology has many potential use cases outside the financial sector. Innovations are emerging at every step of the food supply chain with the goal of revolutionising the way we produce, transport, and consume food.
Put simply, Blockchain technology is a system of storing information that makes if near impossible to change or destroy data recorded in the system.
The implications of this technology on food supply chains include improved traceability, food safety and environmental and social sustainability. Modern supply chains are complex and lack transparency. Consumers often do not know where their food was farmed or the conditions in which they produced. This has led to major food scandals such as the Tesco horse meat scandal in 2013.
International tech giant IBM is tackling this issue with the introduction of the IBM Food Trust, an ecosystem of producers, manufacturers, and retailers. Data on food products such as its place of origin and the sustainability of the farms are uploaded to the network by these participants creating a ledger ensuring the provenance of their products. The network utilises blockchain technology to ensure the validity of the data.
Major brands such as Carrefour, Walmart and Nestle gave signed up to the network to improve the traceability of their supply chains. However, this system relies on individuals inputting authentic data.
Figure 1: IBM Food Trust promises to deliver safer and more efficient food supplies thanks to its use of the blockchain technology.
At production level, the technology is being used to improve working conditions and labour rights for farm workers. An estimated 24.9 million people are in forced labour, many of whom work in the agricultural sector.
Hong Kong tech company Diginex have developed a platform called eMin to combat this crisis. eMin is a platform for sharing employment contracts between workers and employers. This contract must be verified by both parties and the agreement is stored permanently on a blockchain and cannot be changed. This prevents farm workers from being exploited for their labour, the conditions of their agreement being changed and reduces their vulnerability to debt bondage to employers.
This system has been integrated into the VerifiK8 mobile application to improve social sustainability on Thai sugarcane farms. While it is a powerful tool, it must overcome the challenge of widespread adoption by remote smallholder farmers to create impact.
" Blockchain technology is a powerful tool that can empower at-risk populations and create trust in digital data. "
– Juliette Alemany, VerifiK8 Country Manager
Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionise food supply chains. From improved traceability for major brands and consumers, to improved working conditions for farm workers in developing countries, there are implications for both upstream and downstream stakeholders. However, it must overcome challenges such as the widespread adoption of this technology and the reliance on individuals to input authentic data.