Binkabi is a platform for the issuing, trading and financing of commodities on the blockchain. CEO and founder, Quan Le, spoke with us to explain the ins and outs of the application and provide some advice for others interested in taking up blockchain technology.
In Africa, farmers are typically smallholders who often have to borrow money at the beginning of the cropping cycle. After harvest, these farmers then need to sell their produce in order to pay back their loans. However, when the majority of farmers are engaged in similar cropping cycles, they are forced to sell their produce at the same time which decreases market prices and reduces potential profit margins. Some producers also have to convert their local currencies to other currencies, such as dollars or euros, and the costs of these transactions also further reduce the profit margin for producers.
Higher margins through direct market access
Quan explains: “Our platform has been developed for enabling trade of agricultural commodities on the blockchain for emerging markets, in particular Africa. We help farmers access a larger market so that they do not have to go through a middleman so that they can receive a higher margin for their produce. Through the platform, we connect farmers directly to the marketplace, where they can find the ultimate buyers of their produce, such as processors. Farmers can also opt to store their produce at a warehouse for which they’ll get a receipt. This receipt can be used to borrow money from a bank, which is our second product; lending. We partner with exchanges, warehouses and banks. One bank has committed to lending US$30 million (€27 million) through this process. Farmers are thus free to sell or store their products so they can wait a few months for better prices and/or to reduce post-harvest losses. In summary, we supply market access and access to finance for farmers in a more time-efficient way than conventional processes.
The platform also provides an online marketplace where partners, buyers and sellers, can put up an order, negotiate, formalise contracts and execute an order. There are no middlemen involved, simplifying purchase chains. In return, partners receive a quicker and cost-effective solution for trading and financing commodities. Farmers only pay for successful trades; posting a trade and becoming a member is free. Farmers can also access loans with lower interest rates than normal as banks are secured of collateral through the warehouse system.
The platform runs on Ethereum, which Quan feels is the most secure blockchain because this public ledger is validated by thousands of nodes. Private ledgers are cheaper and faster but, according to Quan, public ledgers are more secure and less likely to succumb under 51% attacks. As Binkabi uses national currencies and does not use cryptocurrency, it does not have to face regulatory issues. A fungible token is used to represent the assets. This token is able to demonstrate ownership and enable automatic reconciliation.
The platform automates several functions which previously involved manual work and several steps and time. Due to its innovative and transformational nature, Binkabi’s partners have been very enthusiastic to join it. However, Binkabi has encountered difficulties in adoption of the technology. “We have to provide a lot of trainings and webinars to our users and we have to hide a lot of the complexity of blockchain from them,” Quan explains. “For some farmers, it is already difficult to access the internet, let alone know how to use a e-wallet.” The technology itself is also challenging at times as Quan explains that the network is not always stable, and confirmation of a successful transaction may take a long time to get through. “Overall, our partners want to get more connected to emerging and developed markets. Even when a time delay occurs, blockchain still offers swifter transactions to our partners,” Quan adds.
A word of advice
Quan says that blockchain technology is new and exciting and can potentially be used to bring down costs and improve efficiency. “Blockchain technology will not be able to address all questions or solve all of your problems, so it is important to start with the problem and work backwards towards solutions which can be applied to solve this particular problem. Then you need to craft your organisation in order to deliver that and work on real life problems. Blockchain is very useful for tokens and automatic reconciliation for example, but not good for many other things such as the ability to track users, or improving the user experience. In the end, we are not here to promote blockchain, but to bring solutions to the market. I think that in 10-20 years nobody will talk about the underlying technology of blockchain, it will just be part of the background; comparable to email protocols now. Though I must admit that the technology in itself is exciting.”
This article is one of a series of case studies on blockchain applications in agriculture undertaken by Wageningen University and Research on behalf of CTA. See the rest of the collection at https://www.cta.int/en/blockchain.