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Gardening & Agriculture Gardening & Agriculture General

Blockchain for Agriculture: Changing farming as we know it

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by: Sharai Hoekema
Blockchain for Agriculture: Changing farming as we know it

Farmers are facing one heck of a job. Not only are they tasked with feeding an amazing 7 billion people, going on 10 billion by the time we hit 2050; they also have to do so in increasingly difficult circumstances. Water supplies are becoming increasingly scarce and costly; extreme weather conditions such as extreme heat, drought, storms and hail are destroying crops. Weeds are becoming resistant to herbicides, whereas pests are becoming more and more persistent. All the while, agriculture is seen as one of the major contributors to climate change due to deforestation, reliance on chemicals and methane generation.

This puts the feeders of our world in a rather tough spot. They have to deal with the consequences of climate change and the changing environment, all the while finding new ways of preventing more harmful emissions. Agriculture has to ‘man up’ and face the damage that has been done to our world in decades past - and ensure that, utilising scarce resources, no one has to go to bed hungry. In order to make this happen, farmers are increasingly turning to new technology.

Hands with laptop, #Blockchain, #agriculture

Image by: John Schnobrich

WHAT IS BLOCKCHAIN?

One of these technologies that could prove hugely beneficial to agriculture is blockchain. Blockchain is one of these terms that you may have heard buzzing around recently, mostly in connection with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Even though these applications seem to have stolen the spotlight, there are applications for blockchain in other industries - such as agriculture - as well.

In order to fully understand the benefits of blockchain for agriculture, it is good to first look at the concept of blockchain itself. Blockchain basically functions like a hyper-secure database. Users can add information to it, that consequently gets verified by other users. In order to make changes to earlier entries, the unique code of each entry has to be verified and adjusted. As such, it requires a community of users to update and verify the database. There are no brokers or middlemen, and anyone can check the secure database at any time to record, certify, monitor and transfer assets.

APPLICATIONS IN AGRICULTURE

Just looking at this description, it is not hard to see why it would be useful to apply this technology to agriculture. Blockchain guarantees a single record, free from manipulation, about everything that is going on at the farm. The inventory, supplies, harvested goods and contracts are locked in a single place. This is a stark contrast to the ‘old’ way of recording all kinds of information on pieces of paper or, at best, in some random Excel files.

files in shelve, #blockchain, #agriculture

Aside from the savings in time and effort, blockchain also helps in collecting and organising data. This can, in turn, be put to good use when it comes to finding new ways of improving operational efficiency.

MONITORING VALUE CHAIN

A second benefit from blockchain would be that it improves communication within the value chain. Especially in the current era of food safety and security it is crucial to be able to recognise and trace where specific food items have come from. In the past, infections and bacteria have severely disrupted entire food industries: fipronil-infected eggs, foot-and-mouth infected cows, pest-ridden crops.

Farms that lost all of their livestock because one animal in their area was infected, or a nationwide ban on eggs after some were found to contain infections that could be harmful to humans. All of these nasty consequences could be diminished dramatically if individual products can be traced back to the exact source at any point in the value chain.
Cows with yellow tags #Blockchain, #Agriculture

Image by: Annie Spratt

The benefits of monitoring the value chain are not always as dramatic. Just look at the huge and constantly growing market for organic and speciality produce. Growers who can provide verifiable proof that their products are produced in a manner consistent with the strict requirements for those kind of labels, are greatly incentivised. Consumers can rest safely knowing that their organically or otherwise specially grown products are fully in line with their dietary requirements and wishes.

A NEW AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION?

There should be no doubt about it: blockchain is a much needed step forward for the agricultural industry. Not only does it help farmers to run their operations more efficiently, which will in turn provide them with greater insights in where innovations can be applied; it also benefits the food value chain as a whole through the tracking of individual crops or products. The end result is something that the ‘new’ world urgently needs: safe, clean and sufficient produce to feed us all.

girl holding cherries for her face, #blockchain, #agriculture

Image by: Elijah O Donell

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