Blockchain is making inroads into the agricultural sector, with Genevieve Leveille, Founder and CEO AgriLedger taking the industry to new heights. Katia Lang, CEO and Zoya Malik, managing Editor TFT co-authors met Leveille to ask her about her tech career path that has led her to developing digital solutions in agritech
TFT: Genevieve, what is AgriLedger’s remit?
GL: Our platform uses blockchain technology to create a link between producers of agricultural products and the end-user. We use the Corda platform which is based on, by their own admission, helping create a “frictionless” environment that, in turn, enables businesses to transact directly with each other. AgriLedger is designed to create an information-rich flow of data between farmers and consumers, enabling greater control for every vital cog in that supply chain; traders, transporters, customs officials, wholesalers and retailers. By instituting a clear, immutable and traceable record, every component in the supply chain benefits.
More than this, the platform creates a QR code for each product which helps identify everything from the exact location where the fruit or vegetable was grown through all the steps in getting it to the supermarket shelf and even the environmental impact of each step. This aids the consumer in making purchasing decisions, the farmer in better organising their output, transporters and traders in making cost-effective commercial choices, governments and regulators in collecting revenue and enforcing legislation, financial institutions in terms of their exposure and wholesalers/retailers in meeting customer needs.
TFT: And how did you come up with this idea?
GL: I was working with IdenTrust Inc. as a global RM when I was asked to go to South Africa to meet the CIO of Barclays who was considering a blockchain technology project. In the process, I met Jed McCaleb co-founder Stellar and guys from R3 and AstraZeneca and the whole idea was to create a neo-bank using blockchain for the transactions and utilising the seller network to create less friction. But the takeaway for me was the financial inclusion that they were going to create. My role was really to bring in the identity management part and, therefore, I ended up doing a lot of work on blockchain solutions.
AgriLedger is designed to create an information-rich flow of data between farmers and consumers, enabling greater control for every vital cog in that supply chain
Whilst this was very fresh in my mind, I got a call from a company called Cripsy; I got a CEO role when, in reality, they should have had me doing business development. There was a disconnect between the European office where I was based, pulling in one direction, and the large Indian stakeholders pulling in another. I felt they should be looking at finding solutions for social issues whereas they wanted to look at banking and finance.
During a visit to a hackathon in 2015, I met some programmers, whom I can proudly call “my team,” and we discovered we were on the same page in terms of finding a blockchain-based platform for the agriculture industry, which could have positive social and financial benefits. A few weeks of hard work later, AgriLedger was born. I offered it to Crispy but there was almost zero traction, so we went it alone.
TFT: Of what significance will blockchain be for the farming industry?
GL: Premised on a unique and managed identifier for each participant, AgriLedger actually creates cost benefits for everyone. For example, deployed well it gives farmers the ability to be much more precise about the net benefit of their produce and thus a stronger, verifiable case for potential financing. As a result, financial services companies benefit, as much as the farmer. And this capability extends to everyone involved in the chain whether their interest is in trading, logistics or sales. Our research indicates that up to 50% of the income available can be lost in the industry as a result of poor information flow.
There are some amazing examples of how well this platform could potentially work. In 2018, there was an Ecoli outbreak on the East Coast of the United States that was traced to romaine lettuce being sold at a Walmart outlet. The FDA and the CDC recommended that supermarkets remove romaine lettuce from their shelves and then took 5 or 6 days to identify the contamination to a small farm outside Santa Barbara, California. During that time, supermarkets across the country removed all varieties of lettuce from their shelves which led to a loss of millions of dollars and impacted every link in the supply-chain.
With AgriLedger in place, that batch of lettuce would have been traced back to the farm and the precise harvest in a matter of seconds; that’s the beauty of blockchain. The remedy would have been a “surgical” removal of only the contaminated product, rather than the wholesale panic that actually occurred.
TFT: So, what was your journey leading up to AgriLedger?
GL: I have always been a technologist with a focus on business i.e. I look at business objectives and straight through processes, helping to define better ways of doing things and then speaking to stakeholders to agree on spending the money to make that happen. Throughout my career, I’ve been at what one would call the forefront of technology use in a practical/commercial environment.
In 1991, I started in healthcare at Sloane Kettering where I worked on a system to get a diagnosis on cells, have that analysis sent electronically up to the desk, whilst also inviting the patient to have surgery to deal with the problem and then output the billing for that. I also worked on a system, in cooperation with Sony, on the digitisation of medical imaging and the transmission, over the internet, of diagnoses. Don’t forget this was 1991 and we also worked out how to link research fellows via the Net so that they could share information about the human genome and what amino acids they were looking at. So, really breaking the forefront of technology.
I moved on to MTV Network, looking at creating a content management platform and then setting up a sales force to have a shared email database, a precursor to Hubspot. I met someone who pointed me to a position at Chase Manhattan Bank and I became a TSR, Techno Service Rep. Initially I installed work stations at the bank that allowed customers to do their cash management online and, eventually, rolled this out to clients such as BMW, IBM and energy companies. This was the time when I realised that installing these solutions and training the client’s staff wasn’t enough; that we had to find a way to offer a “fuller” solution.
Our research indicates that up to 50% of the income available can be lost in the industry as a result of poor information flow.
From 2000, HP hired me to digitise their treasury work stations, they had a payments Wall Street System but it wasn’t effective because people were doing the cash management off this system and this would create a month-end log jam of transactions. HP sent me on a BPO project with DHL, where they wanted to move all their finance centres from France and Switzerland to one in Poland, so I gained experience in managing a team in a customer-centric environment. I did similar projects i.e. large-scale implementations for Nestle, GE and RBS before finding my way into blockchain.
TFT: Where is your tech development leading?
GL: We’re right in the middle of launching the AgriLedger platform in Haiti, in conjunction with the Haitian Government and funded by the World Bank, specifically working on enabling mango, avocado and pineapple farmers. We actually won a tender to do this project and the impact of it will be quite significant. Imagine that, very soon, consumers in the US will be able to identify the exact tree that the fruit in their hands has come from. But, so much more importantly, are the other commercial and social ramifications.
The Haitian farmers will get a more equitable price for their output and will be better able to plan production. The middlemen or traders, who traditionally make substantial profits because of the immense risks created by uncertainties around deliveries, availability of transport, time to market etc. will be able to substantially lower their risk profile; this will allow them to make stronger profits even with trimmed revenues.
Premised on a unique and managed identifier for each participant, AgriLedger actually creates cost benefits for everyone.
The Government is taking a 1% levy on all exports and this will be a concise revenue stream because of the transparency in the system. That robustness in the platform also addresses issues of development, food safety and food security which is so important from the World Bank’s point of view. Similarly, wholesalers and retailers will have a precise overview on each item sold for quality control and customer satisfaction; thus avoiding revenue leakage and loss of consumer confidence caused by incidents like the lettuce debacle that I mentioned earlier.
Ultimately, we’d like to implement AgriLedger solutions across multiple agricultural products globally. The resultant socioeconomic benefits can impact so many aspects of modern life including reducing degradation of the environment, alleviation of poverty and a movement towards sustainability and gender equality.