Blockchain : the new agricultural revolution ?

Africa, agriculture, digital

30 Jul 2019

Blockchain is a transparent, immutable and based on trust technology to store and transfer information. It uses the strength of a network rather than the authority of a third party. Dating back from 2009, this technology sees concrete applications in the agricultural and agri-food sector, in search of better economic performance, full integration of the sector and greater transparency in regards of the growing expectations of consumers.

What uses for the agri-food sector?


Blockchain is revolutionizing the agricultural supply by allowing the records of all single steps of a product along the supply chain. This enables the final consumer to have access to a reliable story of the product’s journey. Stakes are huge! Agricultural supply chain involves many intermediaries, from producers to consumers, and lacks efficiency and transparency. This gives way to regular health scandals[1] (mad cows, E. Coli, adulterated milk…) and colossal losses of food (around 1/4 of global food production according to the FAO).

The IBM FOOD TRUST consortium (USA), bringing together international producers, manufacturers and distributors, is aiming to create smarter, safer and more sustainable food supply chain. This technology is used by WALMART, world biggest distributor, on American mangoes or Chinese porks. The objective is to authenticate the food origin in order to detect potential contamination points more accurately and efficiently.


By recording successive transactions with buyers, blockchain becomes a real chain of trust between the producers and the consumers, ensuring him the origin and the production methods of the products. It becomes a real communication tool in regard of the growing expectations of consumers for fresh, local, environmentally friendly products and ensuring a profitable price for the producer…

For example, Carrefour started using blockchain technology to give its customers maximum information on the products of its quality agri-food chains.[2] Thus, by scanning the QR code beside the bar code of the Auvergne free-range chicken (1 million units sold yearly), the customer can read on its smartphone screen the expiry date, but also data that isn’t on the label. He will know the date of birth of the chick, the name of the hatchery, the duration of its breeding, the name and localization of the breeder, the certification (Red label in this case), the content of its feeds (GM-free, 100% French crops,… ) as well as its place of slaughter. A short video completes this information and shows the live breeder in the middle of his free-range chickens. For Carrefour, it is the producer that compile the information on the blockchain, most of the time with their smartphone.


Smart contracts[3] can increase efficiency, offering payment automation as soon as the predefined conditions are met and without incurring additional costs. They can be used for financial transactions between farmers and buyers who could be automatically paid upon delivery, or for compensation of a disaster.

For instance, the public blockchain Ethereum, developed smart contracts for winemakers affected by frost. They only must prove it froze in a parcel covered by the contract by taking geolocated and timestamped photo of the vines touched with their smartphone. On its side, the Agridigital platform in Australia allows producers, buyers and wholesalers to manage contracts, deliveries, payments and inventories on the cloud platform. Agridigital already managed 5% of the Australian national production.


Nowadays, sensors invade farms and generate a lot of data. Blockchain technology is also a powerful tool to master and share this data with the chosen stakeholders (insurance, shareholder, research institute,…). The farmer can assign rights of access and valuation of his data through a “register of consent” that allows each member to choose what he shares. The data collected ultimately ensures better decision making by the farmer who can benefit from statistics and external advices.

This is the goal of the Multipass project launched in 2018 by ACTA (Association of Agricultural Technics Coordination). It aims to protect agricultural data exchange by providing to producers and agricultural data users, an ecosystem to manage farmers consents. By reinforcing the producer’s confidence to share their data, the project will help bringing out new innovative services.

Eventually, blockchain technology is a true social BIG BANG announcing the obsolescence of all kinds of trusted intermediaries, making several control and certification tasks useless. However, the technology remains immature and its legal framework unclear. It evolves over the course of development and uses, which is a risk for those who initiate solutions and those who use them. Many challenges remain, particularly in terms of data security around the blockchain.


[1] According to WHO (World Health Organization), 10% of the world population get sick each year due to contaminated foods (leading to the death of 400,000 persons per year).


[3] The smart contract is a program that executes a transaction in the blockchain as soon as its meets a set of predefined conditions. However, it doesn’t have value of a contract in the legal meaning of the term.