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Blockchain from farm to fork

Blockchain is mostly known in finance as a technology linked to cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. However, one of the most innovative applications relates to the food sector, which can use this technology to get more transparent supply chains.

Using blockchain in food supply systems is quite a recent research field. Electronic giants and start-ups are testing this technology to enter the market with a new tool to get more trusted information about what arrives on our plate. To understand how blockchain can change our habits, we had a chat with Sharon Cittone, chief content officer at Seeds&Chips, an international event held annually in Milan, Italy, to offer a wide view on the technology innovation in the food sector. Could you explain (for dummies) how a food blockchain system works? Imagine a kind of mom and pop store where people would buy things on credit, and the shop owner would keep track of all of these transactions on a ledger that only he or she had access to. For much of our human history, these types of trust-based relationships were the backbone of our economy, where our word was our bond. However if you were to scale this up to a sort of intergalactic general store where personal relationships weren’t really possible, how would you be able to track all of the transactions? How could you trust anyone in the system, if you didn’t even know who they were or where they were from? This is where blockchain comes in. This digital ledger is administered and monitored by a peer-to-peer network that records, observes, and encrypts every single economic transaction, not only of money but of pretty much anything and everything that has value. Each transaction becomes a block, the blocks form chains. As such, no blocks can be modified without altering every other block that follows it in the chain, and that requires the approval of everyone monitoring the system. In a food blockchain based system, the principal is the same, though instead of cash transactions you’ll see pieces of the value chain uploaded to the blockchain, every step of the way from farm to fork. All you need is a smartphone, a bit of bandwidth – OK, a lot of bandwidth – and something of value that you want to be included in the ledger. Recorded data in a blockchain system can’t be changed, this is an important guarantee. But who actually supervises the reliability of the info entered? Fraud is always a possibility in any value chain, and no one presumes that blockchain is immune to these risks. However, IT companies are investing heavily in making blockchain a secure, reliable, and consistent system, and through their efforts and the logical structure of blockchain technology, it’s actually one of the best systems for preventing fraud on the market. As said, blockchain is distributed among many different holders on a peer-to-peer network, which means that there is not one or a few people controlling all of the data but rather an entire network of people monitoring each transaction. If we refer again to the mom and pop store and the ledger, it’s the same concept except that there are countless moms and pops making sure that the numbers all add up, and this is a great way to make sure that nothing or no one has too much control at any given time. Moreover, blockchain transactions are immutable, or unchangeable. Once you enter data into the ledger, you can’t go back and doctor it. Of course, if mistakes are made you can amend them, but the original data that you entered remains a part of the register, and a consensus must be reached before any changes are added to the chain. This means that things can’t just magically disappear and then someone can plead ignorance: every detail is monitored and agreed upon by all of those record keepers. Finally, blockchain networks can be restricted so that not everyone has access to the ledger, meaning that in order to be involved in the blockchain you have to be verified and approved. Read more: www.shortfoodchain.eu/news/articles/short-food-supply-chain-unity-makes-strength.kl

Keywords

blockchain, technology, food supply, economics, food, security, agriculture

Countries

Switzerland, Italy, United States