In today’s globalized world, the food and products we consume are sourced from multiple locations and transported via complex supply chain systems that require significant coordination and efficiency.
However, even with the availability of advanced tracking methods, there are still many cases where illegal, environmentally damaging or unethical products make their way through countries borders and into the hands of unsuspecting consumers.
To solve this problem, the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) – Australia has developed a new blockchain platform called ‘OpenSC’ in partnership with BCG Digital ventures.
OpenSC uses blockchain technology to track foods and other products through the entire supply chain process (from origin to consumer). The project’s main goal is to deter the transfer of illegal, environmentally damaging or unethical products by providing more transparency and accountability to various stakeholders.
WWF is a non-profit organization focused on wildlife conservation and endangered species. The organization hopes to leverage OpenSC to tackle the high rate of illegal operations and human trafficking, specifically for the commercial fishing industry in the South China Sea and Australia regions.
How OpenSC works
Anything from food to tissue paper is capable of being tracked on the OpenSC blockchain. Using the example of a Patagonian Tooth fish, an RFID tag is first attached to the fish at its catch location. Then, machine learning and GPS tracking tools are used to verify that the fish was caught in a legal zone. The fish is then filleted and the RFID tag is converted into a unique QR code for each piece.
With the QR code embedded, people all over the world can scan and verify that their fish comes from a certified sustainable fishery and wasn’t caught in an established marine protected area.
The blockchain ledger is a distributed database that enables participants to upload information that can be accessible for anyone to view. The decentralized structure provides maximum security and ensures that the information inputted is immutable and tamper-proof.
In the case of OpenSC, the platform combines blockchain technology with vessel monitoring data, machine learning software and IoT (internet of things) applications to more effectively track fish from their catch location to their eventual market destination.
Preventing Human Trafficking
Identifying the origin of fish is just one part of the problem OpenSC aims to solve. The harsh conditions of fisherman in the fishing industry have led to reports that many fishing operations in the South China Sea rely on human trafficking for the majority of their labor. This unfortunate form of modern slavery, as well as the overall poor working standards and significant lack of upkeep for vessels can all be improved by implementing more transparent systems like OpenSC. The platform could not only identify and keep track of products, but also the people who capture or produce them, as well as the vessels or other transportation vehicles they use in the process.
Benefits to Businesses
The growing demand for products that are sustainably and ethically sourced presents a great opportunity for WWF to develop OpenSC as something that can not only benefit the environment but also businesses around the world. By improving of the supply chain process, OpenSC can help businesses reduce the risk of missing or damaged inventory (i.e spoiled food), identify inefficiencies in their transport process and increase the quality of products delivered to customers.
Walmart is an example of a business that is using blockchain to improve food safety. According to PWC, a single foodborne illness incident can cost a business up to 15% of annual revenue. To reduce this risk, Walmart has begun working with IBM’s Food Trust solution and is requiring all food suppliers to upload their data to the blockchain. The syncing of data between suppliers and Walmart is not only a preventative measure in case of food borne illnesses like an E.Coli outbreak in Romaine lettuce, but also a tool to quickly track the source of the infected product if such an outbreak does occur in the future.
Blockchain ledgers are made up of several nodes that are decentralized and distributed across the network. For Walmart tracking their food (or WWF tracking fish) each node could represent a particular entity that has handled the product while in transit from its origin point to the supermarket. The nodes would provide information regarding the particular storage setup of the food items (from the temperature of the facility to what other foods they were stored next to and how long they were stored before being shipped off to the next location).
This digital paper trail makes it much easier to track the source of a potential problem. Prior to adopting a distributed ledger, it would take the company about 7 days to find the source of a food item. With the blockchain it now only take 2.2 seconds.
The Walmart/IBM partnership has been in progress for over a year, and is just one of many examples of how blockchain technology is helping for-profit companies take better care of their inventory.
Key Partners Involved in OpenSC
WWF – WWF works on wilderness preservation and the reduction of human impact on the environment. Their primary focus is on forests, marine, freshwater, wildlife, food and climate. These 6 areas are described as ‘must haves’ that need to be conserved in order to ensure human survival.
The organization has been in operation for nearly 60 years, works in over 100 countries and has 6 million members globally.
BCG Ventures – BCG Ventures is a corporate investment and incubation firm based in California. The firms invests in many different technology sectors, including AI, machine learning, digital marketplaces and blockchain.
ConsenSys – ConsenSys is a blockchain software technology company founded by Joseph Lubin of Ethereum. The company is known for partnering on many initiatives to spread the use of blockchain technology via decentralized apps and next generation protocols.
TraSeable – TraSeable Solutions Pte Ltd is a Fijian tech start-up that supports global seafood sustainability through a blockchain-ready software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform.