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Blockchain summit spurs uptake of digital innovations for agriculture

Impact story

A key outcome of the Strike Two summit was the establishment of the Blockchain for agri-food community, supported financially by CTA and managed by FairFood, a Netherlands-based NGO

Digitalisation

The Strike Two summit, a series of events showcasing digital innovations for the food system, has given CTA and partners a launchpad to demonstrate the transformative potential of blockchain for small-scale agriculture, and establish a growing global community that aims to accelerate its adoption.

Blockchain – a digital ledger providing data storage and exchange through a secure, decentralised platform – has been widely acknowledged as a promising tool for safe and transparent inter-organisational information sharing. By cutting out intermediaries and automating agreements, blockchain technology offers novel ways of smart supply chain management. This has particular potential for the agri-food sector, where supply chains are often long and complex, by enhancing transparency, traceability and trust. This, in turn, can resolve issues of provenance and quality, opening up new, premium markets to smallholder farmers.

However, access to and knowledge of blockchain technology is limited, especially in agriculture in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. Through the project Promoting blockchain to increase innovation and business performance in the agri-food sector, CTA aims to demonstrate the development, testing and implementation of blockchain technology, as part of its ongoing work in agribusiness, ICT entrepreneurship and innovation. More specifically, the project, which runs from April 2018 to May 2020, seeks to improve understanding of ­– and provide evidence for – the use of blockchain in agriculture across the ACP, building on the promising results that the technology has exhibited so far.

The realisation of these goals took an important step forward with the organisation of the Strike Two summit, a series of three events held between September 2019 and February 2020, designed to accelerate adoption of digital innovations that will make the food system more circular and sustainable. “It was a unique grouping of participants”, says Chris Addison, Senior Programme Coordinator at CTA, which is a partner of Strike Two. “On the industry side, The New Fork, which initiated the summit, was a driving force in engaging leading technical players such as IBM, consulting firms Accenture and Deloitte, financial institutions, agri buyers through to consumer companies such as Ahold Delhaize”, he continues. The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture also played an active role in the events, along with farmer organisations and CTA-supported companies from the ACP. The presence of the latter provided an opportunity to showcase blockchain concepts for smallholder farmers and to link ACP and European experiences.

Over the course of the three events, which brought together more than 500 people, the summit addressed consumer trust, farm income and chain management. One of the main objectives was to gain insight into what is happening in blockchain right now and to identify and make sense of some of the issues.

Marieke de Ruyter de Wildt, founder of The New Fork, continues: “If you take consumer trust – the theme of the first event –one in ten people falls ill because of what they eat, and less than one third of consumers truly trust their food. We explored how new technologies can improve food safety, food quality and circularity. Using business canvasses that also took into account social, environmental and sustainable development dimensions, we built collective scenarios of what these products could look like and created road maps identifying who and what was needed to get there.”

A blockchain community for the food sector

A key outcome of the summit was the establishment of the Blockchain for Agri-food community. Supported financially by CTA and managed by FairFood, a Netherlands-based NGO, the community brings together agripreneurs, researchers, tech developers, policymakers and other actors in the agri-food sector. “The summit brought together a diverse array of stakeholders with different backgrounds, expertise and networks. We established the community with the aim of sharing blockchain learnings with these and other stakeholders, facilitating online interaction and connecting the right people to actually make things happen and start implementing proven solutions, instead of inventing new ones,” says Rafael da Costa Guimaraes, manager of the community.

The blockchain community, as well as its associated articles, case studies, info sheets and webinars, are free and open to all. Membership of the community is being expanded via ‘Dgroups’, a platform for groups and communities in international development. When this is completed, members will be able to sign up and interact with the platform through email, making it simple and convenient to use, including for low-bandwidth members in the Global South.

Building a knowledge base

Further to partnering in the summit and the blockchain community, CTA co-funded AgriFoodTrust, a testing and learning platform for digital trust and transparency technologies. “Like CTA, we are convinced that blockchain has the potential to become the big game-changer for smallholder agriculture in low and middle income countries,” explains Gideon Kruseman, Foresight and Ex-Ante Research Leader at CIMMYT, which hosts the platform. “But if you look at where blockchain is mostly being used in the agri-food sector, it is in relatively short and well-defined value chains, usually for high-value commodities. And even then, there are a number of challenges such as connectivity and technical support. So, using blockchain to transform food systems in our target geographies is not going to be easy,” Kruseman explains.

To address the challenge of applying blockchain in low- and middle-income countries, CTA has provided the AgriFoodTrust platform with a database of 60 use cases of blockchain technologies. “By subjecting these use cases to rigorous scientific testing, we will build a knowledge base of what works, what doesn’t work and why,” Kruseman continues. As the platform matures, it aims to attract additional use cases from other actors in dynamic, complex agri-food systems as well as funding from agencies interested in investing in digital trust and transparency technologies.

“CIMMYT will carry out some initial investigation, but through the platform, will also broker partnerships with other research and academic organisations,” says Kruseman. With a growing body of evidence around blockchain, such partnerships are expected to grow, further accelerating the adoption and benefits of the technology in agriculture.

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