High-tech on the ground: Blockchain technology to boost small farm incomes

Three-way partnership between ICRISAT, Eleven01 and KHETHINEXT to create a transparent marketplace

By Rajani Kumar
Published: Tuesday 28 May 2019

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), in partnership with Eleven01 — India’s native blockchain platform — and KHETHINEXT, a mobile-based agricultural solutions provider, is trying to use blockchain technology to increase productivity and ensure higher incomes to smallholder farmers in India. 

Blockchain Technology is an online virtual ‘ledger’ in which members of a group can record transactions as they happen, one after another, linking one transaction (or a ‘block’) to the next, thereby creating a transparent ‘chain’ of ‘blocks’. These transactions, or blocks, are cryptographically locked so that they are unalterable, and are verified by the members of the group who maintain the blockchain on a network of computers. 

Originally created for the virtual currency bitcoin, blockchain technology today has applications beyond virtual transactions alone.

“Over the past few years, ICRISAT has been working to bring digital technology to farmers in a number of ways (e.g. Kalgudi, Verdentum, etc),” said Anthony Whitbread, research program director (Innovation Systems for the Drylands), ICRISAT. “Now, with blockchain protocol, we have a whole new area of opportunity to be harnessed for the benefit of the marginal farmers.”

KHETHINEXT, an incubatee of ICRISAT’s innovation hub (ihub), is developing a decentralised application (dApp) that will provide farmers with mobile-based expert advisory services, ground support for logistics, and blockchain-based clarity into financial transactions, supply chain monitoring and more. This will empower smallholder farmers with information regarding farm inputs, produce demand/supply, market rates, etc, eliminating intermediaries and enabling the farmers with better decision-making powers.

“The idea is to deliver traceability to farmers, consumers and other agriculture value chain actors by automating trust through distributed ledger technology. This can have implications on both the input and output supply chains,” said Ramkiran Dhulipala, theme leader of Digital Agriculture and Youth, and leader of the ihub at ICRISAT. “Using blockchain technology, we can create transparency across the entire cycle of agricultural events.”

KHETHINEXT is a digital transformation platform helping over 4.5 lakh Indian farmers make a better living. Using the dApp, it intends to provide farmers with a marketplace that puts them directly in touch with potential retailers and produce organisations.

“This is a major step to provide traceability of agriculture produce on blockchain, making it visible to potential buyers for high price realisation. Our consolidated efforts will help farmers increase profitability and improve livelihoods,” said Phanidhar Palakoti, founder and chief executive officer of KHETHINEXT.

“Being digitally excluded makes it hard for small farmers to take the right decisions at the right time,” said Ausaf Ahmad, CEO of Eleven01. “Our efforts will lead us to a transparent and a more reliable solution for agricultural issues with regards to funds, supply chain, post-harvest equity, and land holding.”

Considering this as just the first step, ICRISAT further aims to create an ecosystem of support for agri-tech startups, by helping them network with enterprises, technology leaders, government institutions and non-profits.

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