Opinion: Blockchain to help agri-food gain access to new markets

Blockchain can help Ireland develop new overseas markets, bringing the Irish farmer and the global consumer closer together by adding globally recognised, verifiable traceability information.

But what exactly is blockchain and how can it help bring Irish farmers and consumers farm-to-fork transparency?

Blockchain is a distributed ledger or more simply stated a way to record data in a decentralized, secure manner. For the past 20 years people have shared information through the internet.

We at ConsenSys believe that Blockchain as a technology, offers the internet of value so that people not only exchange information, but value from person-to-person or on a peer-to-peer basis.

Using blockchain, we can now transfer ownership of a car, cast a vote in an election, or transfer a share certificate without having to go through a third party such as a bank, government, or stockbroker.

Ireland has an international reputation as a premier food producer.

I believe that blockchain is a solution that can safeguard our reputation and at the same time modernise supply chain assurance for beef and dairy farmers.

If we take livestock selection as an example, blockchain can track breeding and artificial insemination.

Information is appended to nodes along the blockchain enabling the monitoring of genetic trait performance, animal health and welfare, right through to the food processing stage.

The efficacy of blockchain solutions in farming also lies in its ability to rationalise arduous transactions and regulatory administration along the supply chain.

Credentials for storage, transport, provenance, and export can all be integrated and linked back to the farm level data providing further transparency throughout the process.

Recalls of contaminated product can also be time-efficient and executed in a less wasteful manner.

Blockchain also brings the farmer and the consumer closer together.

As consumers are looking for transparency on where their food comes from and are also concerned as to how animals are treated in the food industry, blockchain offers a solution that works to the advantage of the entire agriculture and food sector in Ireland.

Empowering consumers

Customers can use their smartphones to scan QR codes on product packaging in grocery stores, enabling them to access relevant ‘meal-transparency’ as well as traceability information.

Blockchain can reassure consumers that both the provenance and quality of their food can be confirmed.

In doing this, Ireland can boost its reputation as a premier food producer not just to raise standards in our own domestic market, but for international markets as well.

Furthermore, at the crux of the blockchain infrastructure is the fact that it guarantees that records cannot be manipulated, i.e. that no one else can enter the blockchain and change a record.

The immutability of the blockchain ecosystem thus allows for the integrity of production data from farm to fork.

Within the industry, we describe blockchain as the ‘trust machine,’ which therein affords a meticulous audit trail.

This trail is of particular benefit and salience to farmers and food producers.

Farmers can harness the infrastructure of the Ethereum blockchain to capture value premiums in the supply chain, allowing them to clawback what has previously been carved out among third-party feedlots and vendors.

The application of blockchain in farming is still in its infancy, but is already offering tangible and scalable benefits as seen in recent trials.

Other Agriculture applications include fisheries, tillage and crop production, and in the value-add production sector, with blockchain being used in alcohol distillation and coffee in Ireland, to name but a few.

Claire Fitzpatrick is the Director of Strategic Operations at ConsenSys Dublin. ConsenSys is a global formation of technologists and entrepreneurs building the infrastructure, applications, and practices that enable a decentralised world. At its core, ConsenSys is a venture production studio and blockchain software development consultancy creating decentralisd applications, enterprise solutions, and developer tools for blockchain ecosystems, focused mainly on Ethereum. Powered by smart contracts and secured through encryption, its solutions provide the benefits of transparency, auditability, and immutability unique to blockchain-based solutions. ConsenSys has its EMEA Technical Delivery Headquarters in Dublin.

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