The rise of a bitcoin market over recent years has introduced the general public to blockchain technology. The bitcoin cryptocurrency is fully peer-to-peer and is independent of intermediaries and a central repository. Although the bitcoin market has faced some criticism, sparked by large bitcoin robbery incidents and its energy demands, blockchain technology is believed by some to have a much wider application, including in agriculture and food.
Apart from bitcoin-derived applications such as improving mobile payments, and credit and supply chain transaction administration, blockchain in agriculture and food is believed to have potential for impact through increased provenance and radical transparency. The promise to improve provenance and radical transparency is remarkedly similar to what open data is said to promise. So how are the two related?
Some see trust as the biggest generic obstacle for blockchain uptake, and this may be applicable in agriculture contexts too. A recent study in the agriculture and food sector from GODAN partners TNO and Wageningen UR explored a case study of blockchain technology (BCT) use. They found that BCT is still in an early stage of development but these developments can proceed quickly and end points are currently unpredictable: “BCT can help value chain partners in improving transparency and efficiency of business transactions, compliance processes and tracking and tracing of food products. BCT can also help NGOs and impact investors in supporting inclusive business models”. However the rapid and unpredictable direction of blockchain innovation is currently hampering the adoption of BCT in larger and more commercial initiatives.
Whilst the technology is still emerging what do the authors of this study suggest we might do in the meantime? They make four key policy recommendations for governments who they say should:
“Facilitate and encourage the growth of the ecosystem of blockchain-minded parties in agrifood chains;
Support and stimulate blockchain as part of the digitalisation strategy to improve transparency, efficiency, competitiveness and sustainability of the agrifood sector;
Design a clear regulatory framework for blockchain implementations; and
Provide government investment in research and innovation so as to develop the evidence for the added value of the technology.”
Adoption could grow fast in the future when there is more clarity on how to implement the technology in existing business models. In the meantime governments have an important role in setting the legislative agenda and supporting research into BCT use in the sector.
Value chain improvement
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