Conscious consumption of nutritious foodstuff has become the main issue in recent times because of increased cases of lifetime diseases attributed to fraudulent traders and producers.
Cases of fruits, meat and vegetables injected with harmful chemicals affecting the quality and safety standards of consumables from the source of origin, are rampant globally. Consequently, the health and productivity of consumers are adversely affected by foodborne diseases, forcing families to spend much of their resources in curative medicine and management of lifelong diseases.
But while unscrupulous manufacturers and traders are quick to optimise their profits at the expense of human health and safety of life, there is a breakthrough for users to counter the dishonest business.
In Kenya recently, lack of traceability for domestic consumables and vigilance led to the discovery of supermarkets selling meat laden with lethal chemical preservatives. In a knee-jerk reaction in response to the TV exposé, the Ministry of Health carried out a sample analysis of the meat in stock, although the damage had already been done.
Another case that threatens lives is the uncontrolled consumption of vegetable supplies grown along Athi River that are contaminated with chemicals as a result of irrigation from polluted water discharged from nearby industries. Yet despite widespread knowledge of the peril, no measures are in place to stop sale of the crops.
To address the concerns on safe food trade in Kenya, the right government policies on data privacy and protection and effective agency partnership is a prerequisite.
Blockchain technology offers transparency on the food chain, since foodstuffs such as fruits and vegetables can be traced from the point of production to the end-users. A chain or records in the form of blocks controlled by no single authority, a blockchain is a distributed ledger that is open to anyone on the network.
Every transaction is secured with a digital signature that proves its authenticity. Due to the use of encryption and digital signatures, the data is tamper-proof and cannot be changed. This has restored confidence and trust in buyers over the suspicion of what to bring to the table for the families without worries of harmful side-effects.
The technology helps to get rid of fake products along the agriculture supply chain of food and brings accountability from the current food safety dilemma.
At the product creation stage, blockchain actors unearth information on farming certification, factory records that are hidden in stages of production from the farmers, retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers. This data is verifiable, reliable and the documents can be trusted.
With the technology, there is openness in understanding the histories of the products in the networks from the available facts that allow consumers to make informed decisions.
Equally, a product that is unfit for human consumption can be eliminated once it is traced at any stage before it reaches the market. With an established technological and physical infrastructure, traceability as a safety operational standard can be achieved through certification or codes. This will reduce wastage and contamination of food, as well as diseases.
For example, upon compliance of the requirements that feature fair labour practices, a poultry farmer needs to disclose where the chicks are reared, the environment in which they are kept, the feed that they are given and the date of slaughter.
If I am rearing pigs meant for Farmer’s Choice, for example, the first thing I will do is store the date of birth of the animals, the feeding pattern, age, type of feed and, as they grow, I cannot be able to change the data backwards without approval from the other players.
A consumer in Europe can tell which kind of pesticide the animal was given, when it was slaughtered, how it was shipped, its age at slaughter time and so on. Due to brand reputation and data transparency, the farmers are subscribed to a code of ethics.
For the innovative agripreneurs, blockchain assists with information that is significant for value addition.
There are a few success stories in Kenya on traceability — such as the Farmforce website developed by Syngenta Foundation that integrates smallholder farmers with outgrowers for export market access.
However, the technology cannot be effective without political goodwill and acceptance of the private sector and the public, who are the main actors in the food value chain.
Mr Njoroge, an innovator working at Mount Kenya University, is a winner of the Global Innovation through Science and Technology 2019 Award. [email protected]