Act to inspire & inspire to act 2020

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Courage to fail

“For a couple of years, blockchain technology was on the lips of everyone in the food industry. As far back as 2017, Axfoundation initiated a collaborative project to explore and evaluate the true potential of blockchain technology for the food industry to increase transparency and traceability. We started off with an initial feasibility study which in turn led to design studies. In more depth we explored three sectors – strawberries, fish and pigs – to see how blockchain technology could create value. The project brought together technology companies, retailers, food producing companies, actors from public sector and non-profits, to share insights and learn about the challenges and opportunities of blockchain technology. Together, we found – at least on paper – that it could address some industry-wide problems.

The path to transparency using blockchain technology in the Moroccan strawberry supply chain turned out to be a long and winding one.

Photo: Bekki Frost/Oxfam

Spurred by the positive findings, we continued exploring the potential for strawberry production during an in-depth field study in Morocco. With our feet on the ground at the strawberry farms, several challenges surfaced. Hands on, we saw that blockchain technology is never stronger than its weakest link, and in this case that was the trust between the supply chain partners. Before venturing into practical implementation of blockchain technology, it is crucial that all actors in the supply chain, including the informal ones, have been fully identified beforehand and that there is a clear incentive to share data and participate. Our field visit showed that this was not the case. This as a human challenge, not a tech one. Once factors such as trust and clear incentive is established, blockchain technology can slowly begin to underpin the established trust and processes and gradually more data can be shared. Blockchain technology has the potential to radically simplify access to reliable data about a product’s origin, production conditions and distribution along the supply chain, however, there are also a lot of challenges along the way. Axfoundation decided not to move forward with the pilot. Instead, we summarized our lessons learned in a report open for all to read. I hope this will spur further initiatives in this area.” Hanna Skoog, Axfoundation

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