Exploring the Use of Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Security Through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya
Exploring the Use of Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Security Through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya is a project that seeks to understand how smartphone applications using blockchain technology can improve food security in Western Kenya by addressing the functionality of value chains for African indigenous vegetables (AIVs).
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Long-term Assistance and Services for Research (LASER) Partners for University-Led Solutions Engine (PULSE) project led by Purdue University, this program builds upon a previously established smartphone application and OS solution developed by the Australian start-up AgUnity for tracking agricultural products. The app is customized for the AIV value chain to increase the flow of vegetables through to the end consumer to help increase food and nutrition security in Western Kenya. Co-developed with Kenyan farmers for ease of use, the app currently has features that:
- support planning of production or procurement of products track every step of the supply chain
- provide data on the processing and sale of goods for all value chain actors
- ensure transactions are recorded and digital receipts are produced
- provide a digital wallet that serves as a micro-banking system for actors where payments immediately appear that can be withdrawn or used to make purchases via the app
For this LASER PULSE program, Virginia Tech is collaborating with Egerton University and AgUnity to adapt the app for the context of AIV value chains to improve food security in Western Kenya; however, AgUnity has also deployed their solutions in value chains for coffee and cocoa in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
This LASER PULSE sponsored research project is led by a number of global partners, including Dr. Jessica Agnew, assistant director for research, operations, and program management at Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED); Dr. Ralph Hall, associate director and associate professor in Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs; Dr. Joseph Mwangi, assistant lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Management at Egerton University, Kenya; Nurvitria Krištofíkova, program director at AgUnity; and a range of other collaborators at Egerton University and AgUnity.
About the Program
AIVs are a valuable source of micronutrients essential for human growth, development, and health, and are known for their medicinal properties. They also provide income-earning opportunities for women and smallholder producers as they have a relatively short maturity period and can be planted between growing seasons of major cash crops such as maize or sugarcane. In recent years, there has been an increase in the demand for these vegetables; however, factors such as limited availability, low familiarity with how to grow the vegetables, and lack of information on vegetable hygiene and safety continue to constrain consumption of the nutritious crops. AIV value chains tend to be informal, dispersed, and inhibited in their ability to transmit information effectively from the producer to consumer and back again.
Improving trust and transparency in the value chain for AIVs – one of the central goals of this LASER PULSE program – could help to improve producer income and demand for vegetables among low-income consumers, both of which would increase food security. Blockchain technology (BCT) has the potential to address these inefficiencies. The features of BCT (i.e., immutable distributed ledger, use of cryptography) are designed to address issues related to lack of trust and transparency, non-secure transaction processes, high transaction costs, and access to trustworthy market information. Its potential to contribute to food and nutritional security comes in its ability to improve the functionality of the value chain by reducing transactional and informational inefficiencies. This is expected to lead to increased incomes for value chain actors, and increased affordability, availability, acceptability, and accessibility of AIV product information. However, there is limited information about the use of BCT in food value chains in sub-Saharan Africa. This LASER PULSE program seeks to investigate if the pre-established AgUnity digital platform built on BCT is the most appropriate solution for addressing the challenges within AIV value chains that constrain producer income and the demand for the vegetables among consumers.
Additionally, AIVs are traditionally considered a ‘female’ crop in Kenya, meaning that women often produce and market the vegetables. It is imperative that women retain their position in the value chain as upgrading activities for this LASER PULSE program are deployed; thus, a major component of the program is a gender-responsive evaluation led by Daniel Sumner, assistant director of the Women and Gender in Development program at CIRED. Further, this program is also working to understand how mobile technologies can help women to secure their place in the value chain and investigates how such technology might attract youth to agriculture.
About Egerton University
Egerton University is a public university in Kenya, and the oldest institution of higher education in the country. The university currently hosts 52 academic departments that offer a wide range of programs at the diploma, undergraduate, and postgraduate levels in the areas of agriculture, arts and social sciences, commerce, education and community Studies, engineering and technology, environment and resources development, health sciences, science, law, and veterinary medicine and surgery.
AgUnity is an Australian start-up committed to influencing the issues that drive poverty in rural and remote communities worldwide. Combining world-class technology with on-the-ground expertise, AgUnity provides accessible technology solutions that tackle the primary challenges that most remote communities face, such as lack of accountability or understanding and the means to control their own livelihoods, partnerships, and finances.
About LASER PULSE
LASER PULSE is a five-year, $70M program funded through USAID’s Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub, that delivers research-driven solutions to field-sourced development challenges in USAID interest countries. A consortium led by Purdue University, with core partners Catholic Relief Services, Indiana University, Makerere University, and the University of Notre Dame, implements the LASER PULSE program through a growing network of 2,500+ researchers and development practitioners in 61 countries.
This research was made possible through support provided by the Center for Development Research, U.S. Global Development Lab (Lab), U.S. Agency for International Development, through the LASER PULSE Program under the terms of Cooperative Agreement No. 7200AA18CA00009. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Agency for International Development.