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We asked the experts: Why blockchain for food transparency and traceability?

Blockchain is everywhere! The hype seems never-ending. So it can be hard to tell bullshit (pardon the language, but there is a lot of shitty blockchain initiatives out there) from the hard-working people, that are implementing real blockchain tech solutions. Therefore, it can be hard to tell truth from fake when a technology gets so hyped, and some say that this technology will solve all traceability issues. Spoiler: No.

Bold claims are stated about the use of blockchain, so we need to investigate the bold claims, to figure out what is true, so we can figure out what this technology really can do for transparency and traceability.

That is why I asked a crucial question to two hard-working #womenintech CEO´s, who are implementing real blockchain technical solutions and pushing the agenda for transparent supply chains. The question that I asked, and find extremely relevant for both you and me, is:

How can blockchain technology create concrete transparency and traceability, that other technologies can’t achieve?

Before I let Jessi Baker and Emma Weston answer the quesion, I will just briefly introduce them. Jessi Baker is CEO of UK based Provenance, the first company to apply blockchain technology to supply chain in 2013. On Provenance list of business collaborations: The Co-op supermarket, Sainsbury’s, Unilever, The World Bank, Greenpeace, organic certified farms across Europe and luxury brands in the fashion and food industries. Not to shabby.

Emma Weston is co-founder and CEO of Sydney based AgriDigital. Emma leads all aspects, from business’ strategy, stakeholder engagement, blockchain, talent management and so forth. In 2017, Emma was recognised as the Female Fintech Leader of the Year in Australia and was also named a Top 25 Fintech Influencer by She is passionate about how agtech and fintech converge and ensuring democratic access to technology.

Now let’s hear the answer on the question above, first up Jessi.

Jessi Baker from Provenance 

“The very nature of blockchain as an open, incorruptible and decentralised network means that it is empowering every person involved in the supply chain, fostering greater equality all along the way. Beyond this, it enables numerous systems to connect and communicate in the same language – allowing data to flow seamlessly from producer through to the consumer.

Many are trying to track different systems and reconcile data, but much of it is based on audits which don’t give you a complete view of what is going on in the food system. In order to do that, you need data to cascade through a supply chain to be able to say that ‘this tomato, picked here, is in fact the same tomato on the shelf and it is organic’ – and blockchains help us connect the data systems together to make sure those claims are true.”

Emma Weston from AgriDigital

“Blockchain holds exciting possibilities to help solve two key challenges that have long plagued the grains industry and growers globally:
1. Matching title transfer of the grain asset to payment; and,
2. Supply chain provenance and traceability.

Historically, growers worldwide have carried the burden of counterparty risk and a lack of payment security when making a delivery to a buyer or storage site. There is an overwhelming desire on the part of growers
and grower cooperatives to provide greater security over title to grain for the grower and to explore ways to eliminate counterparty risk entirely by matching the transfer of title to payment (commonly referred to as “delivery versus payment or DVP).

Globally, there is also an increasing demand to provide greater provenance and traceability for commodities. Participants the whole way along supply chains are looking for data rich, digital solutions to help preserve or attract premiums, protect against counterfeit goods, provide food security, meet supply chain compliance obligations and verify where food comes from. Being able to prove out business processes and full supply chain traceability is becoming an integral part of a proactive brand strategy in the digital economy. Blockchain offers a way to provide data links across supply chains and could help to ensure market access in a more transparent future world.

There are some notable and unique features of blockchain technology that assist with both atomic value exchange as well as traceability:
– Blockchain allows peer to peer transactions rather than relying on an intermediary to facilitate transactions.
– Information is distributed throughout the network in place of data being stored in a centralised database.
– Data is stored in a way that is immutable and cryptographically secure.
– Changes to the state of the network require consensus among participants to approve transactions.”

Hope that this gave some insights. If you want a different perspective and more in-depth on the application of blockchain, please do read this piece: “Blockchain, Provenance, Traceability & Chain of Custody” by John Keogh.


Editor notes:

I reached out to 10+ companies working in the space of “blockhain and food”, but no luck getting a response.


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