Blockchain is generally considered a topic of complex nature. Fortunately, the founder of AgriLedger Genevieve Leveille makes it simple by saying; “It is Internet with trust!”
“How do you achieve that trust is that data (on blockchain) cannot be erased. The data can be appended but the information that has been written cannot be erased,” she explains.
AgriLedger is Haitian social enterprise project using distributed ledger technology (DLT) for agricultural producers. Blockchain is one implementation of DLT, a decentralised system for recording transactions which are stored in an immutable ledger.
The benefit of using Blockchain technology is that there is no need for oversight to authorise transactions. Transactions authenticate themselves in a decentralised way – and Leveille believes the use of that technology can help empower farmers greatly through improved transparency and efficiency.
Here is the problem: Despite the fact that 500 million small farmers supply 80 percent of food in developing countries, they often face issues like market access and equitable pay. A large portion also has limited access to financial services like banking or insurance.
AdgriLeder hopes to solve some of these problems through Blockchain.
“The way the technology works is by providing transparency for farmers to track ownership of their products and help farmers gain a more equitable share of the revenue garnered from the sale of their goods,” says Leveille.
“The way the technology works is by providing transparency for farmers to track ownership of their products."
Once registered on the platform, farmers will be given a unique identification number which allows them to be recognised as players in the food supply process. “It is tracking technology. Once the goods are sold in another country, the money can be sent to everyone in the chain. For the farmers, this can be in the form of cash remittances, bank account or mobile money.”
The ledger also addresses an extended effect of non-record-keeping that is making collaboration with other farmers difficult. For instance, farmers are unaware of the share other farmers are producing. Because AgriLedger allows for assets to be digitised through tokenisation and stored on the digitised ledger, farmers can keep proper records, tracking, and possibly pool their resources.
This leads to the third point. Many farmers only accept buyers who are willing to pay cash on the spot, which severely limits their potential buyers. Blockchain can help connect farmers to markets providing the best prices.
AgriLedger’s idea to transform the agriculture sector caught the attention of the World Bank as it was seeking to introduce blockchain technology into the Haitian fresh food value chain. Leveille and her team bid and won the project.
It was first rolled out in Haiti focusing on mango, avocado and pineapple farmers. The project, which is still underway, has shown positive results; farmers’ revenue has increased by 20 percent in some instances, according to Leveille.
The pilot has also been extended to wheat farmers in Kenya and cocoa farmers in New Guinea. “One of the things that it allows is retention of ownership of what is yours – and to prove it down the line.”
“Through Blockchain, consumers can know about the products they buy. For instance, they will know if farmers received 50 cents per kilogram for their good that are sold in stores for USD17 per kilogram.”
Prior to AgriLedger, Leveille spent most of her 25-year corporate career in the banking sector and has held senior roles in General Electric and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
She was apt adept at using technology to streamline business processes. Her stint at digital certificate service provider Identrust also led her to focus on identity management, which ultimately incorporated into AgriLedger’s technology.
According to Leveille, the barrier of entry to partake in the distributed ledger technology is very low. “The farmers don’t even need smartphones to benefit from Blockchain technology. SMS suffices - allowing widespread and easy use.”
“The farmers don’t even need smartphones to benefit from Blockchain technology. SMS suffices - allowing widespread and easy use.”
Receiving income is also facilitated by AgriLedger’s digital wallet. The wallet allows farmers to apply and receive direct deposit from financial institutions, increasing the speed at which farmers receive payments for their commodities.
She adds, among the benefits of Blockchain is that it helps to reduce instances of food fraud, such as when a fraudulent labelling or tampering, like dilution or substitution of other products with the intent to replace weight or volume.
Blockchain, Leveille adds, will ensure the path of food product from farm to fork is well documented. Thus, offering end-to-end traceability.
Aside from the Blockchain aspect, Genevieve also believes in making use of existing partnerships in the food supply chain.
The firm works closely with the Haitian government to provide farmers with expertise and market access. The government has established a system of ‘protectors’ for the farmers, comprising of economists, industrial engineers and agronomists.
“They will give farmers advice. For instance, if a service provider says the product received is not of quality, they will teach the farmers how to get the best product,” says Leveille, adding that the ‘protectors’ also work with AgriLedger to help farmers track their goods and connect them to buyers.
Driven by a desire to improve the food supply chain, Leveille says her motivation stems from growing up in Haiti and witnessing widespread poverty and hunger in the country. The London-based entrepreneur says she is excited about the opportunity to give back to the country of her birth.
“My biggest fear is not having food. Haiti has abject poverty. Growing up I saw kids who didn't have food. This whole idea of food security is a global problem,” she says.
When asked about her hopes, Leveille is looking forward to extending AgriLedger’s DLT solutions into other value chains in the agriculture sector globally. She also hopes to encourage more women to participate in the technology sector.
“I also believe in giving opportunities for people to do things. Often, we don’t give the time to teach and the time for people to learn,”
“I think it is important for women to understand the role that we can play. We also need to explain what roles allow you to make leadership decisions. It has been difficult at times because there is an assumption that if you are in technology, you are going to be male.
“I don’t believe what you wear is what's important. It is what's between your two ears which are important,” says Leveille when asked about stereotypes she’s faced as a female working in tech. “I don't believe in stature. I believe in getting things done.
“I also believe in giving opportunities for people to do things. Often, we don’t give the time to teach and the time for people to learn,” says Leveille.
“Sometimes, we learn by failing. So, it is okay to fail – and to learn from that failure.