Recently, academic-led news site The Conversation claimed that “blockchain may change the game for food producers across the globe”. The piece explored the benefits the technology brings when it comes to data transparency, security and traceability – all of which are important for socially and sustainably conscious decision making.
While it cannot be denied that the agriculture industry is facing some significant challenges, including supply chain inefficiencies, food security and mistrust, we should be wary where we look for answers. Especially when a potential solution is something perceived as new and shiny.
While it offers some clear benefits when you are setting up a cryptocurrency, Blockchain, sadly, is not the panacea to all the industry’s woes. Let’s also be clear that blockchain in agriculture is a solution looking for an application – as such, it would be unwise to jump on the bandwagon just because the technology is in vogue elsewhere.
The ag sector has never been afraid to embrace technological innovation. Agriculture 4.0 brings with it precision agriculture, the internet of things and the widespread use of big data, amongst other things. In fact, it could be argued that ag is one of the most forward-thinking industries. It has been quick to adapt to major challenges that other sectors have struggled with in recent months, and that’s down to its willingness to be agile and open-minded.
Need to be pragmatic
Blockchain has been mooted as part of this Agriculture 4.0 cohort of technologies and while there are some areas where it can play a role, we still need to be pragmatic. Technology often lulls us into a false sense of security, into thinking that “everything is possible” rather than an important “something”. Before implementing blockchain ask yourself these questions:
- Can you use blockchain to achieve this end?
- Should you use blockchain to achieve this end?
More often than not, the answer to the second question will be “probably not”. There are going to be easier ways to achieve the same outcome as data sharing and collaboration become increasingly embedded across our industry. Having immutable data stores is likely to be more of a hindrance than a help, especially when we should be looking to be more flexible, not less.
That is not to say that blockchain doesn’t have its uses, it can be a valuable tool when used in the right way. It can reduce inefficiencies and greatly improve food safety within very specific applications. Furthermore, traceability is also improved, allowing regulators to check the source of foods and detect the scope of any contamination issues. Something which Dutch agricultural giants and Proagrica partners, Agrodis and Neftyo have successfully implemented, leading to more accurate product recalls.
All of us want a smarter, more efficient industry that makes full use of big data and new technologies that will benefit the whole supply chain. Is blockchain one of those new technologies? Certainly.
But it cannot be the only one.
Graeme McCracken, CEO of Proagrica
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, is a global provider of independent connectivity and data-driven support solutions for the agriculture and animal health industries.
It delivers actionable intelligence to drive business growth across the value chain. Proagrica’s superior products and services connect and empower industry participants to address their key needs around trading, productivity and compliance.
Proagrica’s solutions are built around the key competences of data connectivity and data analytics delivering seamless supply chain management, customer insight and engagement, essential for businesses looking to improve their value offering and expand in the modern marketplace.