What is blockchain, and what does it mean for fresh produce?What is blockchain, and what does it mean for fresh produce?

What is blockchain, and what does it mean for fresh produce?

Rohan Kumar, Commercial Analyst

In the age of big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and the cloud, ways of conducting transactions in a verifiable and easy way are becoming more and more important. In 2008, the cryptocurrency Bitcoin was the first high-profile implementation of a distributed blockchain. Since then, blockchain has become a revolution in the way online transactions are carried out, and has rapidly been leveraged by other industries.

In 2017, the Harvard Business Review stated that blockchain “has the potential to create new foundations for our economic and social systems”. While blockchain has become synonymous with Bitcoin for lot of people, it is important to stress that blockchain is an underlying core technology of Bitcoin, and that they are not the same thing. Bitcoin is only one of many, albeit the highest profile, implementations of a blockchain. So, if blockchain isn’t Bitcoin, what is it?

What is blockchain?
A blockchain is, quite simply, a distributed ledger, or list, of transactions. Instead of a single “trusted” institution (like a bank) holding the list of transactions, the list is distributed with a way to easily verify that all ledgers are the same.

Blockchain allows distribution via various channels, instead of a centralized institution.

This allows industries without a central trusted repository of information to have a ledger of transactions that everyone can agree on, without having to set up a central institution to hold this information.

All users of the network can verify transactions by comparing their ledger against the others in the network. This means that any foul play would have to have the collusion of a majority of the network.

What blockchain means for fresh produce
It’s easy to be cynical about blockchain when you cannot see the way it is applicable in a given industry. Like any core technology, without a tangible application it could easily be seen as just another industry buzzword.

The supply chain
For any food retailer, and particularly those selling fresh produce, there has been a drive for visibility across the entire supply chain so that when there are food safety issues, such as the recent salmonella outbreak in papayas imported into the US, every point where the relevant produce went through in the supply chain can be found and appropriate action taken. The longer this process takes, the worse the situation can get for all involved throughout the supply chain, including the end consumer.

A single consolidated fresh produce blockchain with all players recording their transactions of fruit through the supply chain from gate-to-plate would allow this process of discovery to take a matter of seconds, instead of weeks of intensive work, shortening the lead-time for corrective measures to be taken.

The distributed nature of a blockchain means the conversation can move towards actual food trust, as no single player can manipulate the data to change the origin on the produce.

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