Distributed ledger technology for enhanced data privacy

Opinion

 
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The global proliferation of mobile devices has increased the potential to communicate and gather information and data from large populations. In conjunction to this, the World Bank reports on a decrease in the land available for crop rotation, which is coupled with greater restrictions on the use of crop protection chemicals, and an increasing need for sustainable production. Such requirements create opportunities for farm management software, which supports ‘smart farming’. According to market research company, Mondor Intelligence, the market growth in the smart farming sub-sector is expected to be at 17.2% compound annual growth rate from 2019 to 2024.

Developments in digital agriculture and smart farming may therefore appear to be positive, particularly as solutions allow for direct interaction with the farmer and a reduction in the involvement of unnecessary intermediaries, such as cooperatives and middlemen. However, the removal of this traditional ‘human element’ means that the guardians, who supported the management of external relationships for small-scale producers, are also eliminated.

In addition, many smart farming solutions target communities in countries where the political and governance models are not always very mature, and where there are no consequences for data breaches. Data collection from participants in these countries, for the most part, is effected in ways that do not look to protect the owner’s identity and, in the name of development opportunities, collection of data may include personal identifiable details about those individuals, which are left unprotected in unsecure databases. Given that some of the largest international companies, such as Marriott and Capital One, have been hacked in recent months, it is reasonable to be concerned that the necessary precautions for privacy may not always be in place for those companies seeking farmer data.

However, the concerns around data privacy and its potential abuse could be mitigated by emerging digital ledger technologies (DLT). A distributed ledger, in its simplest form, is a database held and updated independently by each participant (or node) in a large network. A number of DLT solutions are therefore looking to provide the security and protection that allow for a more even playing field for all participants in the value chain – with information only available to those who participate in particular transactions. Information regarding farmer yields and yield potential, for example, are only shared for purposes that support production and are not divulged in a way that can be exploited for price manipulations.

A DLT solution within fresh fruit value chains in Haiti is currently being piloted by AgriLedger, supported by the World Bank. Using DLT, blockchain, AI and machine-learning principles, a comprehensive set of powerful tools are being built, which will integrate inputs and contributions from all stakeholders in the food supply chain, making them available to all participants in the ecosystem. This programme aims to help Haitian small-scale producers to maintain ownership of their products along the value chain until the final sale. All financial transactions are tracked in the system, allowing for farmers to be paid electronically. As few Haitian farmers have a bank accounts, it is envisioned that this initiative could lead to the expansion of electronic financial exchanges in all aspects of the Haitian economy, thus significantly increasing security in banking transactions in the country.