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Dead Branding Society: Is blockchain the death of food branding as we know it?

Randolph Kent's picture
© Flore de Preneuf/World Bank
© Flore de Preneuf/World Bank

One way or another blockchain, that distributed ledger technology we keep hearing and reading about, means greater traceability. And when it comes to agriculture, traceability allows us to learn about the origin and the characteristics of our food. Traceability is therefore not only seizing the day, but the future as well.
 
Experience shows that as we get richer we spend more on food because we care more about what goes into our bodies and associate food labels and their premium prices with higher quality. Data from the United States shows that the amount spent on food increased by 30 percent from 1959 to 2014 (Figure 1). Yet, grasping product origin and quality is inherently difficult. By the time the food gets to our local supermarket shelf, it has worked its way through what is arguably the largest and most complicated set of markets and middlemen that sit between the world’s producers and consumers, making traceability incredibly difficult.

How crowdsourcing can improve food safety

Colin Finan's picture
Left photo: Patrick Quade. Right photo: Flore de Preneuf/ World Bank

Unsafe foods cost developing economies over $110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year, according to the World Bank's own figures. And yet in many cases surveillance is limited, and there are few effective ways for a consumer to report a case of food poisoning.

 New Technology Can Help

This is where we believe new technology solutions can make a significant contribution. In the large towns and cities of the pantropics the mobile phone now reigns supremeit is possible to input citizen data accurately in order to detect food poisoning and identify issues in real time. This is what motivated us to found Iwaspoisoned.com and B2B service Dinesafe.org. We think the journey we embarked on - and the hurdles we faced - could provide interesting lessons to entrepreneurs and policy-makers who are eager to harness the power of data to fix age-old problems. 

Backhaul to the future – Can digital technology make Central Asia’s agriculture competitive?

Julian Lampietti's picture
Shutterstock Photo

Whether matching drivers with riders or landlords with lodgers, digital platforms like Uber and AirBnB push the marginal cost of matching supply and demand to an unprecedented low. Large infrastructure projects like China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative - which aims at more closely linking the two ends of Eurasia, as well as Africa and Oceania - could create an opportunity to alter the future of Central Asia’s agriculture, if food supply and demand can be matched more efficiently.

The Goods, the Bad, and the Ugly: Data and the food system

Julian Lampietti's picture
Photo Credit: Goodluz/Shutterstock.com

The business of agriculture and food is driven by data, making it the treasure trove of today’s agri-food system. Whether it’s today’s soil moisture, tomorrow’s weather forecast, or the price of rice in Riyadh, every bit of data can improve the efficiency with which the world’s 570 million farmers put food into the mouths of its soon-to-be eight billion consumers. Digital technologies are facilitating the flow of data through the food system, shrinking information asymmetries and fashioning new markets along the way. How can we ensure these new markets are appropriately contested, and the treasure does not end up in the hands of a couple of gunslingers? Is there a public sector’s role in generating and disseminating data that on the one hand encourages innovation and competition and on the other reduces opportunities for market capture? One place to look may be at the crossroads of internet and public goods.

We all remember from econ class that public goods can’t be efficiently allocated by markets because they are non-rival and non-excludable. There are precious few examples of true public goods – national defense, clean air, and lighthouses come to mind. That is, at least until Coase’s in “The Lighthouse in Economics” argued that lighthouses are excludable because it was possible to temporarily turn-off the lighthouse when a ship sailed by that didn’t pay their port fees.

Planet of the Apps: Making small farms competitive

Julian Lampietti's picture
 
Photo: Shutterstock

Apps have revolutionized everything from getting to work, keeping in touch with faraway friends, and dating (though the jury’s still out on this one). Can apps be the salvation of the world’s farms that are under two hectares in size – a group that most people think is going the same way as humans in Planet of the Apes?

Economies of scale in agriculture (or any other sector) occur when the average cost per unit of production decreases as farm size increases and conventional wisdom suggests that farms need to get bigger to be competitive. And this is exactly what is happening in richer countries, though the trend is less clear in poorer countries.