At Beans, Brekkie and Blockchain (b3), a regular Sydney breakfast networking event and hosted by Veredictum.io, we interview global entrepreneurs in the global blockchain ecosystem on line in front of a local live audience within the local Sydney blockchain ecosystem. Guests share with us their experiences in developing and rolling out blockchain applications, highlighting any challenges and opportunities they face with the aim of all of us being able to share best practices within the ecosystem and to help global entrepreneurs expand their global footprint here in Australia.
Our most recent guests were the founders of Agriledger.com a philanthropic blockchain application specifically designed to protect third world farmers from being short-changed by their local markets.
The problem they are addressing is a major one. The UN have reported that up to 50% of crop value vanishes between farmers eeking out their existence off the land and the point of sale of their products at markets. By working closely with small co-operatives, that co-ordinate groups of local farmers to sell produce collectively to markets, the founders believe the problem can be solved by using the blockchain as an oracle of truth.
Currently, the Co-ops rely primarily on paper-based records, verbal promises, and complicated agreements to carry out business. Collectively, these have the potential to cause problems due to a lack of transparency, restricted access to pricing data and frankly, fraud and corruption. This is where the mobile based application that AgriLedger are developing comes in.
AgriLedger is a Mobile App that records details of the farmers crops and locks those details to the blockchain – thereby presenting a permanent record of the transactions having taken place. It represents a framework of integrated services for delivering fairness and equality to both the farmers and to the co-ops. We spoke to two of the founders via Google Hangouts to find out more about AgriLedger.
As a bit of background, Genevieve has 25 Years in the financial sector including over a decade of senior roles (HP, GE, IdenTrust, Chase Manhattan, RBS) and in addition to being a co-founder of AgriLedger, also acts as an advisor to the Estonian government e-Residency team on international expansion and development of the program.
David, on the other hand, has spent 25 Years in technology with over a decade of senior roles at global investment banks (Goldman Sachs, Lehman, Nomura & SCB) after growing up in outback Australia. In between banking, David founded and was CEO of successful FinTech, SaaS & mobile startups and also spent a year running a UNESCO project in West Africa.
- So where did the idea for AgriLedger come from?
Genevieve: David, myself and John (John Freeman the other co-founder) started this journey about three months ago in London where John and I entered the “Fintech Jam for Good” hackathon. At the hackathon we were being asked to come up with an answer for using technology and how it could make a difference in the world. So we wanted to look at the proof of provenance and I thought it was very important to be able to look at the technology which would support the plight of human nature.
So when John joined my team and I, and we told him that we were interested in food and the Blockchain, he said, “How about we do this for farmers?”.
As we developed the idea further, we realized the fact that women accounted for about 60% of the five hundred million farmers which provided 80% of the food in developing countries. So looking at this we thought this could be a really good opportunity to help using very simple technology that used the core strengths of the Blockchain:
- identity management,
- the transfer of assets,
- escrow and
So, what we’ve done is very simple, which is looking to provide every farmer with a cheap smartphone which allows them to record their transactions and receive the confirmation about this transaction which is recorded to the Blockchain. This brings in transparency to the transactions, the immutability of the blockchain and then that also gives them a pricing structure that is easy to understand.
We can deliver the technology, which is basically being used for creating wealth for big corporations at this point but, like the Internet, bringing it to the level where the individual can use it and also make a big difference in the lives of individuals that may not be relatively disadvantaged.
David: Yeah, just to add to that – about fifteen years ago I spent time in West Africa, so experienced first-hand the challenges that farmers go through when selling a crop. For my part, I grew up in a farm in Outback, Australia so I know how it’s done properly. In Africa, you often see situations where farmers in the region will grow soy beans and every one of them will individually drag a bag into town which would be quite some distance away, and they’ll sit in the same street market selling the same thing. It’s just horrendously inefficient and it’s inefficient because they lack trust between themselves and any sort of a group.
When co-ops are formed, the great solution is that you get twenty, thirty, a hundred farmers together into a cooperative and they all sort of bundle resources instead of all taking – all buying fertilizer themselves, harvesting themselves; they do these things as a group. They collect all the food or even ship it together and then ship it to a larger processor.
The brokers and the mills want to take a load of wheat from one farmer, but if we get twenty of thirty farmers all together, harvest it all at once, we can take that straight to the mill and we can get a substantially different price. So, I saw that first hand when I was in West Africa – not kind of how it works in Australia.
One of the big challenges is there’s a lot of paperwork involved, which requires literacy. So there’s the possibility for corruption and in cases where you create the opportunity someone’s going to take advantage of it. So farmers have the problem that by the time they get paid for their six bags of wheat it has suddenly turned into four for mysterious reasons.
So AgriLedger uses the Blockchain in a mobile application where every transaction is recorded on the spot. As a result, any discrepancy shows up. The transaction between a farmer and a cooperative or the farmer and the supplier, all these transactions get recorded immediately and because they’ve both got a clean record, there’s no possibility for there being any mistakes, any corruption. We make it incredibly easy for both the farmer and the cooperative to record these transactions.
2. What challenges are there for using smartphones as the basis for your application in third-world countries?
Genevieve: There’s been a lot of growth in the use of smartphone technology in the third-world so much so it’s almost become saturated in the urban areas. Of course, there’s a challenge for the farmers as they do not have that much disposable income so we are looking to partner with technology companies to provide the phones.
3:So how has the application it’s been received?
David: We’re running three pilot programs this year: the first one, John is in Kenya this is his second trip there. We’re monitoring a wheat growing community in an area called Nanyuki , it’s at the base of Mount Kenya, which comprises about a hundred farmers. So we’re doing the “before picture” now which is basically at their current harvest, helping design the application to suit their needs to match the harvest which would be in November.
Essentially after they understood what the application was, the whole community jumped behind it. The project that will be rolling out in Kenya and we’ve been there very recently and we came directly to a farmer area and we dealt with the co-op leader and he organized the farmers around us so that is one way of approaching it. For Myanmar (sic the former Burma), because of their recent history of being under military rule, we really needed to work with the authorities so went straight to the minister of agriculture and we’ve had an unbelievable reception in Myanmar. We’ve spoken to the minister that runs agriculture, livestock and irrigation; it’s the biggest industry in Myanmar and that’s a fifty-something million-person country so this is a big deal that we were able to get even an audience.
And the third one is in Papua New Guinea which we’re just kicking off now. We’re approaching that in a slightly different way and we currently receive feedback from the communities. So, the two responses we’ve had is Kenya – farmers love it, they can’t wait to get using it on the next crop. In Myanmar, we’ve had a huge government department that’s effectively said that this addresses the issue of inefficiency perfectly, and as the home secretary said, the timing could not be more perfect for this.
Genevieve: So one thing that I wanted to add in terms looking at also developed countries, we have been asked by the Innovate UK to consider entering this for one of the projects that they’re doing in Turkey in being able to revitalize certain areas. So we do understand that there’s also applicability for the solution for developed countries also.
4. So, given this is a philanthropic venture. How are you funding this?
David: To date, this is self-funded, although we have had interest and encouragement from major organisations such as The Gates Foundation and UNICEF. Ultimately, so we are hoping to generate financial support from within the Philanthropic community. We are also in partnership negotiations with telecommunications companies as this is presenting a new market for them and if we can get the infrastructure in place they will have the opportunity to upsell additional products.
5. So, is there a commercial platform that can overlay the philanthropic one?
Genevieve: As I mentioned earlier we are looking at the applicability of the technology for developed countries also. So if we can help the farmers in need with technology to protect them we can sell the technology to those that can afford to pay for it.
David: We’re still working out some of the models, but if we can build a sustainable business and at the same time help the third world farmers – then everyone wins.
Overall, AgriLedger does seem to be developing technology that can actually make a real difference – a difference to those in the third world that perhaps need it most.
Please note: the above interview was abridged and edited from a transcript of the interview for the sake of reading time and space but has been approved by the two founders.
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