Blockchain technology on support of Agri-Food Supply Chain : Towards Data Quality & Trusted Data Governance

(Image source: UNDP; Using blockchain to make land registry more reliable in India)

Below you will find some thoughts about the impact of Blockchain technology in agriculture and food supply chain related to several existing projects and initiatives, overall implications, challenges and potential of Blockchain technology enhanced by relevant semantics and standards on support of different agri-food categories/concepts/terms.

“The UN reports that around 50% of crop value vanishes between harvesting and the point of sale… The solution: Immutable record keeping… with the help of Blockchain technology (The Building Blocks for better value chains, CTA blog

BLOCKCHAIN is …

... is a distributed technology allowing users to transfer assets (e.g. data) without intermediaries. The transaction is recorded in a digital ledger (or distributed ledger technology or DLT) shared among the users taking part in that deal.

There is no central administrator or centralized data storageSuch a ledger keeps transparent/open views (e.g. data owner) on each transaction, which would define a concrete block within the entire chain.

EACH TRANSACTION is …

... recorded in such a decentralized ledger, which is replicated across the chain participants. Once a transaction is recorded, using cryptographic techniques, it cannot be modified. Thus, traceability and provenance are often associated with this technology model. Blockchain provides a way for participants, - for example in the farm-to-fork relationship, to access and contribute to a tamper-proof historical record of transactions regarding a food product, yielding food quality and fair cost/payment narratives, and easier counterfeit detection. 

BLOCKCHAIN and a TRANSPARENT AGRICULTURE & FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN

Agriculture and food supply chains are well interlinked, since the products of agriculture almost always are used as inputs in some multi-actor (farmers, shipping companies, distributors, and groceries) distributed supply chain, where the consumer is usually the final client. Thus, Blockchain has the potential to provide answers to a number of issues in agriculture, from farmer IDs to smart contracts, from traceability and improving certification, digital payments, insurance, consumer feedback and improved logistics. For example, to improve traceability in agriculture value chains, a decentralized digital ledger can help connect inputs, suppliers, producers and buyers.

It is with this in mind, we can say that Blockchain is a promising technology towards a transparent supply chain of food, with a number of ongoing initiatives (e.g., AgriDigital that executed the world’s first settlement of the sale of  tons of grain on a Blockchain) in various food products and food-related issues

Blockchain shares similar principles with Open Data such as the promotion of transparency, equality in information knowledge and access, as well as the reorganisation of data exchange between a number of parties. Blockchain can be very useful to help overcome organisational and technological boundaries among entities that want to achieve automated data exchange. Since Blockchain provides strong data security and is highly resilient against cyber-attacks, both these qualities are desirable in open data platforms because they build a foundation of trust in the data. To dive deeper, take a look at 'Open Data and Blockchain: a match made in heaven?' (European Data Portal)

 

MAIN CATEGORIES OF BLOCKCHAIN INITIATIVES IN THE AGRI-FOOD SECTOR

1. FOOD SECURITY

To dive deeper, take a look at: ... 

Emerging Opportunities for the Application of Blockchain in the Agri-food Industry (FAO of the UN and ICTSD, 2018; a book on the application of Blockchain in the Agri-food industry)

Towards an Inclusive and Fair Food System With Blockchain (UNCTAD World Investment Forum , 2018)

2. FOOD SAFETY and TRANSPARENCY

To dive deeper, take a look at: ... 

BlockChain for IoT Security and Management: Current Prospects, Challenges and Future Directions (by Roy et al., in ResearchGate, preprint, 2018)

ZetoChain performs environmental monitoring by providing an end-to- end secure record of temperature and environmental data using blockchain -enabled IoT sensors placed at every link in the cold chain. 

3. FOOD INTEGRITY

To dive deeper, take a look at: ...

Putting turkeys on the Blockchain marks a deeper dive into data development for companies utilizing the technology (BitCoin Magazine, 2018)

* The European grocer Carrefour is using blockchain to verify standards and trace food origins in various categories, covering meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and dairy products (Reuters)

 

4. SUPPORT of SMALL FARMERS

To dive deeper, take a look at: ... 

Supporting small-scale farmers and small cooperatives is currently by far the best way to improve efficiency in developing countries. There are several initiatives pursuing this path, three of which stand out in particular… (The Building Blocks For Better Value Chains, CTA)

AgriLedger uses distributed crypto-ledger to increase trust among small co-operatives in Africa

Even though Blockchain is a promising technology towards a transparent agri-food supply chain, many barriers and challenges still exist, which hinder its wider popularity among farmers and systems. These challenges involve capacity development, policies, regulatory frameworks, technical and…

… SEMANTIC ASPECTS

To achieve a deeper data analysis of food integrity in any blockchain as well as cross-blockchain interoperability - “a key design goal” – we need to use SEMANTICS and STANDARDS on support of different agri-food categories/concepts/terms 

To dive deeper, take a look at:

Nevertheless, "We say we need standards, but do we use them?(To dive deeper, take a look atFAIRsharing, a cohesive community approach to the growth in standards, repositories and policies, by Sansone et al, in BioRxiv, 2018)

If you would like to learn more about several Blockchain technology initiatives/projects in the agri-food sector (and beyond) and related opportunities and challenges linked to semantics, data management and trust, you might be also interested in taking a look at:

From GIScience 2018; 10th International Conference on Geographic Information Science:

Applications are now open to participate in the International Semantic Web Research Summer School #isws2019, from June 30 to July 6, 2019 in Bertinoro, Italy. http://semanticwebschool.org/  #semweb #fairdata #artificialintelligence #blockchain #crowdsourcing

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