World Economic Forum Blockchain ‘Tool-Kit’ Could Fix Broken Food Supply Chains


While the internet has enabled a world where supermassive digital files can be sent globally in seconds, the world’s shipping orders have largely been trapped in 1950s accounting technology, relying more on paper bills of lading and phone calls to document the shipment of goods, than the benefits of online commerce. The modernization of this process has largely been ham-strung by two factors: competitors (and even partners) don’t trust each other with valuable accounting records and therefore keep largely redundant records that need to be constantly audited, and there’s certain legal responsibilities that come with accepting one of those paper bills of lading and the accompanying goods.

In theory, the solution to both these problems could be blockchain, the accounting technology behind bitcoin that lets strangers do business with each other without sharing their personal information and that can prove a digital object is only in one place at a time. So, in September 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF) started looking into the world’s aging supply chain infrastructure and how blockchain could fix it. Back then, few people outside the blockchain world cared about food supply chains. While food-borne illnesses were estimated to cost the U.S. $90 billion in revenue annually, that was just a fraction of the $660 billion in revenue generated by the supermarket and grocery store industry.

Then COVID-19 hit, and that aging infrastructure was made painfully evident. While restaurants, hotels, and tourist destinations that account for as much as half of food purchases were shut-down to prevent the spread of the deadly disease, milk, bread, vegetables and a wide range of other perishable products vanished from grocery store shelves. Farmers unable to re-calibrate their supply chain from wholesale to retail were forced to till their crops back into the soil, and milk was dumped down drains.

Now, 18 months after the WEF started its research, its findings released today as both a PDF and an interactive online service, could hardly be more relevant. Called ‘Redesigning Trust: A Blockchain Deployment Toolkit,” the project is the result of interviews with 80 public and private companies and 20 governments to extract what project head Nadia Hewett, describes as “nascent insights and failures” of some of the largest projects ever launched in blockchain. If Hewlett gets her way, the project will result in hundreds of completed proofs-of-concept finally being implemented to fix the world’s increasingly frail supply chains.

Author: Michael del Castillo

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