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Agri Blockchains

This is like the story of Tom and Jerry! Data is the new cheese, and there is a constant tussle on about this cheese and its chase between its protector and its hacker! It was fun to watch Tom and Jerry’s antics earlier, but the two seem to have walked us following them to a centre stage now as they steal, the two vanish into thin air before it can even be caught. Its trail is lost in a mangled web of links and lines.

Kevin Mitnick the world’s leading authority on hacking, says, “Hackers are breaking the systems for profit. Before, it was about intellectual curiosity, adventure and pursuit of knowledge and thrill, and now hacking is big business”

That being what it is, security systems are also evolving by the day. If you want to record information in a way that it is almost impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system, then store it in multiple places and keep updating all of them simultaneously. If you lose one, others are there. Even then, a hacker cannot hack all of them at the same time. That, is a simple theory, but when you have billions of Zetta’s and Yetta’s (10^21, 10^24) of data that need to be secured, then that will need some thinking. That is where Blockchain fits in. It secures data at multiple locations at the same time. If one node goes down, so what? The other nodes will have a copy of the data.

No technology is mature enough today that it can tackle any form of threat. Blockchain too is far from maturity. Gox was the largest crypto scam ever when North Korean hackers forked out $534 million from another leading Japanese exchange, Coincheck. However, the site returned all the money lost of the investors when accosted. In spite of that, blockchain is proving to be a sound and highly secure method in multiple applications and industries.

Do Blockchain platforms need permissions to operate? Not exactly. One blockchain platform is permissionless and the other is permissioned. Whereas the earlier needs approval to access making it private, the other is public and does not require any permission to enter a blockchain network. Its status However, decides much of its performance, transparency and security features. Therein lie its application areas within the framework of watertight but simple contracts.

Apart from entertainment companies like Live Nation SAS, a global entertainment company in France that launched TixTo.Me in April this year, even trading of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), representing portions of real-world objects such as art or music took off in 2021. Ticketmaster, another entertainment ticketing software and services company, traded in converting traditional tickets into secure interactive digital assets. Today even company shares are bought and sold as digital assets.

The point being that Blockchain does not only manage cryptocurrency. It has many other areas of influence such as in the healthcare infrastructure, agriculture and yes, the government. They all need secure exchange of data such as personal health information, downloaded entertainment, real estate deeds, freight invoicing, climate and sowing data. Even manufacturing businesses can do a smart management of contracts and track materials as they progress through supply chains.  Move over Six-Sigma!

India, being predominantly an agrarian sector, must optimise her food production and supply chains in order to be truly ‘atmanirbhar’. What better way can there be than to use block chain technology in food production and supply chains, agricultural insurance, smart farming and for transactions of agricultural products? Even DNA of livestock animals, pesticide residues of grain or vegetables can be stored transparently along with the product information.

A farmer is today renedred hapless. He sows what he believes will sell at a remunerative price, then he looks upto the skies pleading for the blessings of the weather Gods and then he harvests pleading again for the night to pass off without rain so it can reach the nearest stocking area.

Smart agriculture uses ICT, sensors, AI and ML algorithms generating monumental data, which needs efficient management, not just managing ‘seed to sale’ or insurance assessments and pay-outs but also warehouse planning, e-commerce and others. An exactitude and balance between agricultural produce within a defined Geography and its consumption pattern can do wonders for the supply chain. It being absent currently neither the farmer nor the consumer knows the true value of their wares.

This might be a worthwhile point of inflection where education in the science, tech, engg. and mathematics (STEM) streams will steadily light up with immense lux and wattage and provide enough jobs for the students who then become data custodians and be part of the same block chain.

Every link in the production-supply chain, the producer, the place of origin, the shipping company, the destination, the multimodal transport, the warehouse and the final last mile are all “blocks” of information, with the advantage of visibility, aggregation, validation, automation and resiliency.

Many agricultural products are produced by households. Due to the low transaction volume and small scale, traditional e-commerce is neither willing nor able to provide services for them, thus excluding these participants from the market. Technology can greatly reduce transaction costs and incorporate them into the market again. Food wastage is unpardonable. That food traceability, food safety, quality, food trust and supply chain inefficiency are still a part of the system is unacceptable. Mapping various storage centres and supply logistics can help plug the holes. A farmer must establish a trusted relationship with consumers and build a reputation for his products which then allows him to sell his produce online.

Can the dapper Anand Mahindra advocate this note with the Govt? With 15000 STEM Colleges across 680 districts of India, it stands for 22 colleges per District that if provided with one camera fitted drone that maps the lat-long of the farms, it would only help Anand create the Uber of the tractors and that could then be a beginning of the Agri blockchain. If that Tr’Uber is rolled out, it may amaze and excite an Amazon to hop on to the trolley and the new building blocks will start emerging.

Blockchain must be embraced by the Govt rather than putting the cart before the horse and blocking the chain of data. The biggest limitation to progress would be to neuter and make infertile trillions of Zetas and Yetas that are yearning to sprout.

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