Blockchain will make food production fairer for producers and safer for consumers: Genevieve Leveille, CEO, Agriledger

For the past 25 years, Genevieve has built a career helping bankers and treasurers find better ways of keeping track of the cash. These beans were not the only one she kept a record of, however. Her love of food is evidenced by the over 6K of food snaps in her iPhone! With AgriLedger, Genevieve is striving to provide a fair share for those who produce our food and this also allows for all of us to know where our produce comes from and whether it is safe to eat.

Can you explain to us what Agriledger is all about?
Agriledger is an ecosystem looking to address the agricultural supply chain and empower the various actors within it. We are starting with the farmer but also working with other actors to get produce to market and to help producers retain a better share of the proceeds of their work. Ultimately, we are looking to implement a solution which addresses the inefficiencies in the agricultural supply chain.

How did the idea for the business evolve?
In 2015, I became aware of blockchain technology while I was working with a team to create a financial inclusion solution for young girls. We looked at the whole ecosystem of the family where the mother is essentially managing the financing and providing payments to workers. I realised that blockchain technology was not just about the financial outcome and ability to make payments but, more importantly, about having the ability to trust. It doesn’t have to be a tokenised system or a system that relies on using cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Just the use of Distributed Ledger Technology combined with the ID piece means we can start to foster trust online in a whole new way.

After taking part in this project and learning of an amazing finance agricultural project in Malawi, I got my team together to take part in an Innovate Finance hackathon where we began to define a solution combining DLT, a mobile app and an ID component – giving birth to the idea that is now more fully-developed as Agriledger.

Other than trust, why is distributed ledger technology so important for this use case?
There are a number of inter-related factors in addition to the creation of the trust layer.

Efficiency and speed – Walmart’s study of using DLT for the provenance of mangoes showed that using DLT can reduce the process from 6 weeks down to 2.1 seconds! That is an almost unbelievable cost and time-saving compared to what we are doing now when it comes tracking food provenance and ensuring safety.

Authenticity – Claims made about provenance of food often turn out not to be true and the consequences are serious. People are getting ill including many children and the sad truth is that this leads to people dying on a daily basis.

Fair prices – Currently farmers are not being fairly rewarded for their goods.

How can you balance between the humanitarian side, the needs of farmers and the commercial side of the business?
The business is ultimately a commercial enterprise but we believe in profit with a purpose. We want to bring in the human side and what can be more human than ensuring people can trust the quality of the food they eat and that farmers get paid fairly for producing that food? However, if we want to drive towards that goal we need to be profitable so that we have a mechanism to grow and be viable.

Who are your partners in the project?
We have a number of partners in this project in order to help drive our vision and make it a reality. This will come down to more than simply building good technology but also getting it into the hands of those who need it. Our partners include mobile money providers like Cassava as well as our financial partnership with investment bankers like Southbridge.

Cassava Smartech’s mission is to use innovative digital solutions to drive financial inclusion, socio-economic development and improve the overall quality of life for all Africans. Our project is positioned for Cassava to execute on this vision. The Cassava business consists of 7 pillars: Fintech, InsureTech, EduTech, AgriTech, HealthTech, BizTech and Big Data. Cassava has a presence in 18 African countries. Through EcoCash they have a 99.8% market share of the mobile money market in Zimbabwe so any project that uses this platform to help build the financial prosperity of the market will directly translate into value for the business.

Southbridge specializes in fund structuring, project finance, debt restructuring and other financial advisory solutions. The company aims to foster pan-African champions. Southbridge works alongside African governments, Multilateral Banks and SMEs by providing its clients with strategic advisory services to unlock their potential. Our project is aligned with the company’s innovation strategies as it falls under the company’s commitment to empower smallholder farmers and contribute to agricultural sector development in Africa.

I believe Agriledger has already won a number of awards – is what you are doing unique or are there other organisations trying to do similar types of things?

There are lots of organisations looking to participate with blockchain and DLT in the agricultural technology field but I believe it’s good to have competition as it actually helps you to improve, as well as validate, what you’re doing. I think what we are doing that may be a bit different, however, is that we are bringing in the human side by involving the farmers directly in the process.

What stage is the company at now in terms of fundraising and also in terms of people being able to use the service?
Our product is still being built out and tested so farmers can’t use it right now but what we are building is a unique software-as-a-service platform bringing together financial services with agricultural services and governments. We are serving local agricultural needs by working with farmers but also talking to agencies like the OECD to see how we are doing can impact on food policy so that farmers can be more in control of their own destinies. In the West we have agriculture at scale with conglomerates and marketisation. It’s easy to forget that in the developing world – such as many parts of Asia and Africa – 80% of farmers are smallholders. The current system marginalises individuals and leaves people behind. We also need to tackle the food security issues and make sure we have enough food to feed everyone in the world. We can do this by using a ‘just-in-time’ system to reduce waste. This provides benefits to those living in the West as well as those in developing countries. It’s a scandal that many families in the UK can’t afford to buy any fresh fruit and vegetables – by reducing costs and waste in the supply chain we can hopefully bring these prices down.

What are your plans for 2019?
We are just beginning our fundraising now, as I don’t believe a start up should ask for funds unless it has the capacity to deliver. We have some exciting projects already in the pipeline which means we may not need to ask for additional funding in the short-term. For now we are working hard on delivery of the product behind-the-scenes and closing some major opportunities including working on a project with rice farmers in China. It’s going to be another phenomenally busy year ahead.

Genevieve will be presenting at Start Up Grind’s APAC conference on 6th December.

You can find out more about Agriledger on their website or follow Genevieve on Twitter.

 

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