The consumer goods giant Unilever will take part in a trial involving blockchain-based tracking of products across supply chains. The pilot aims to quantify the sustainability of agricultural practices and reward farmers when appropriate.
An upcoming pilot project will test a blockchain-based shared data system intended to connect a range of parties, including up to 10,000 Malawian tea farmers, and the entities that buy their crops, namely transnational consumer goods conglomerate Unilever and British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. The trial, which is expected to last a year, has attracted funding in excess of 600,000 pounds, 340,000 of which came from the Business Partnerships Fund of the UK Department for International Development.
The project will involve recording information about farmers’ produce, including quality, unit price, and metrics related to the sustainability of their crop production practices. By recording these data to a blockchain, the system will make them visible to all parties with access to the platform, including employees of participating banks. Through an agreement with the consumer goods firms involved in the pilot, these financial institutions can reward farmers whose methods have been verified as sustainable with greater access to credit or better terms on which to borrow money, thus incentivizing green practices in agriculture.
The trial is meant to explore whether this system is viable, both technologically and commercially. According to reports, its success hinges on its ability to provide the banks involved with pertinent data relating to sustainability that are not available through extant channels. Provenance, a blockchain-based supply chain services firm, provided much of the technological foundation for the project, while Halotrade, a supply chain data processing company, contributed supplementary software designed to help the pilot’s banking partners analyze the information collected. Other participants include land rights documentation platform Landmapp and the Focafet Foundation, a non-profit focused on providing opensource solutions to a range of problems.
The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s Banking Environment Initiative convened the taskforce that ultimately developed the pilot, which was launched at the One Planet Summit, organized by French president Emmanuel Macron and hosted by the Prince of Wales. The project’s banking partners are Barclays, BNP Paribas, and Standard Chartered.
Marguerite Burghardt, head of BNP’s Trade Finance Competence Center, said of the pilot that “This technology has the real potential to help banks access more detailed and more reliable information about social and environmental impacts in a secure way, throughout the entire supply chain.”