How blockchain will have a positive impact on food providers: Part I

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Blockchain: how did we get here?

Blockchain technology is getting a significant amount of press these days as a way to drive transparency in the supply chain. But what is blockchain, how is it related to cryptocurrency, how can it have an impact on the food industry – and what in the world does it have to do with pest control? In this article series, we’ll explore these concepts and put them into layman’s terms.

Generally, people that work in the supply chain and logistics industry know the concepts, and will quickly recognize the evolution of the industry, in terms of blockchain. With the explosion of cryptocurrencies (think Bitcoin and others), blockchain is a topic that is on everyone’s radar and ultimately will have a positive impact on food providers and distributors.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain, as it was originally established, was a highly protected digital ledger for cryptocurrency and the movement of funds.  

However, the business world quickly recognized that blockchain would have applications beyond cryptocurrency because there is more to the block of information that gets passed – i.e., the who, when, and where. That’s where the true residual value, separate from cryptocurrency fever, comes into play.  

Why is blockchain needed?

In its early phases, people in distribution discussed supply chain as a fairly easy concept related to the movement of goods, the movement of information, and the movement of money across multiple networks. The difficulty was always focused on how to marry up the movement of the information (what is being shipped, where did it come from, why is it being shipped) and the commerce components (how many units, how much are they worth) with the movement of the goods (origin, waybill, harmonized tariff details).  

Significant work has gone into how to incorporate more data into what gets transacted. The evolution of tracking physical shipments versus who touched the shipment has evolved from barcodes, to QR codes, to radio-frequency identification (RFID).

The entire concept of “big data” and Internet of Things (IoT) has driven the evolution of how suppliers, buyers, consumers, and e-commerce players build out networks, communication, and information-sharing that facilitates the need and framework for blockchain.  

Finding new uses for blockchain

The concept and evolution of cryptocurrency not only proliferated the basic supply chain principles, but also conceptually altered and accelerated them, leaving some scratching their heads and others celebrating this new found capability. Detailed, rich, and protected information about who touches a transaction has always been a quest. The question now becomes: what information is available and how far can this go?

Blockchain offers security. The technology ensures anonymity of the players and the goods that are transferred to those outside of a network, but allows for pinpointing and traceability of a product and its components. People within the network can view or contribute “value” to the transaction. This increases security in a way that was simply not possible just a decade ago.

Many market watchers think that the cryptocurrency enthusiasm, tantamount to the gold rush in the mid-1800s, may have peaked. However, the residual impact and benefits of the technology will have far-reaching, positive implications to the world related to how food gets processed, stored and shipped, in a way that most evolutionary innovations usually have; it will change the behavior and transparency of how goods and services are provided.   

In part two, we will explore how blockchain can and is impacting safety in the global food supply chain, and pest control plays a role in keeping the foods that are consumed safe and pest-free.

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