How Will Blockchain Transform The Agricultural Industry?

Sep 12, 2018

The potential for blockchain technology to revolutionise the world is far-reaching. Potential advantages abound for all manner of industry sectors, and the agricultural industry is already in the process of exploring conceivable possibilities.

Blockchain technology will transform agriculture

Farming relies of innovation to help increase yields and provide affordable food for entire populations. The current supply chain from farm to fork could definitely be tightened up.

In the present agricultural climate, food passes along the supply chain to consumers with very little control between parties. Subsequently, there are a number of concerns with regards to the safety and traceability of the food that lands on our tables.

The set-up of existing supply chains is open to “food fraud” and the increased prospect of contaminating food. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in 10 people fall prey to illness after eating contaminated food — 420,000 of which are fatal.

In the United States, the Pork Board is asking how the farming industry can use the blockchain to find solutions. They are not alone. Countries in Asia-Pacific and across Europe are developing solutions that will improve tracking, tracing and food safety.

Agricultural technology

Food safety has been a concern for some time. In Asia, China has been a leader in developing blockchain technology to trace beef, pork, and farm chickens.

Blockchain technology and IoT solutions can play a key role within agricultural supply chains. From monitoring plant and soil conditions to use-by-dates in a consumer’s fridge, the interconnectivity of digital data will replace limited tracking metrics and provide a decentralised record of the entire journey.

Record keeping within a network on the blockchain is trusted and immutable. A decentralised public ledger enables everyone in the supply chain to capture real-time information and eliminates error or confusion.

Even after food leaves the supply chain, consumer-facing applications can still source data from labels. Samsung has already manufactured a smart fridge than can talk to you. If you can’t decide what to have for dinner, ask your fridge which food is going out of date.

Data from the supply chain can also be used to build consumer confidence. Labels can provide information about where the food was farmed, how it was grown or how an animal was reared and fed.

Improved transparency

Improving the transparency of the food supply chain will help authorities identify and remove bad actors, or stem outbreaks quickly with little disruption to the entire food supply. At the very least, technology will improve inadequate quality standards.

Consumers demand more transparency within the agricultural industry. Scandals surrounding the use of pesticides, the distrust of genetically modified foods and stories of companies like Monsanto destroying farming, has called food giants into question.

What are Agribusinesses doing to ensure the food consumers are buying is safe to eat?

Food safety is an area where most of the testing is being developed with blockchain. IBM is working with Walmart and Chinese retailer JD.com on a blockchain product designed to improve tracking and safety in China.

UK-based firm Project Provenance is also working on solutions to build trust between food companies and consumers. The blockchain is working with the fishing industry to track tuna to satisfy customers by ensuring that the fish are suitably sourced and the fishing practices are transparent.

The logistics of moving food within the agricultural supply chain will also be improved. Import and export of food poses a major problem with sell-by-dates and use-by-dates.

UPS are among the first logistics companies to embrace the latest technologies by joining the Blockchain in Transport Alliance. The smart logistics network plans to install a shared framework of quality standards across the industry and develop a platform that encourages thought leadership.

Connecting LPWAN with blockchains

Despite the significant number of blockchain projects, the solutions need solid hardware. The current communications infrastructure cannot provide this without significant expense to farmers, distributors and consumers.

The driving force behind blockchain projects in the agricultural industry will be low power wide area networks (LPWAN). These networks carry data all over the world for lower costs.

The core of IoT is the ability to gather data via local sensors and transfer that data to interested parties. With regards agriculture, that requires transferring data all over the world.

The current infrastructure for communications technology is expensive. Farmers may be open to the idea of IoT, but they will scoff at the cost of implementing it using existing frameworks.

The other barrier is that rural areas have patchy wireless and broadband connections. At present these areas rely on satellite systems which are also very expensive.

LPWAN solves both issues. Applications require low data rate exchange, do not drain batteries and enable the transfer of data at relatively low cost. Gateways rather than satellites transmit the data.

Low cost LPWAN platforms, LoRa have already launched projects that provide farmers and agronomists with valuable data to help them manage crops, planting and spreading fertiliser. The next step of the process is to pass this information on to the consumer.

Fintechs like MXC Foundation are building a protocol to allow LPWAN devices to connect with various blockchain solutions. These advanced ideas provide solutions before the technology is implemented.

LPWAN platforms and the technologies includes a variety of wireless data transmission standards. They will play a part in enabling connected devices to gather and transfer data. Together with the development of software applications and cloud-based storage facilities, farmers can reduce rising production costs, the savings of which can be passed on to consumers.

Agribusiness companies are being pressured to make decisions based around sustainability.

Whilst other blockchain projects have made tentative steps to improve food safety and transparency within the supply chain, they are working with existing infrastructures that will soon become outdated.

MXC Foundation is thinking ahead by building solutions on a network that is sustainable. Blockchain does have huge potential to transform the agricultural industry — but only if the technologies have a platform that enable the transformation to take place effectively.

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