In Conversation with The Agricultural Research Council - #SBHACK19

#SBHACK2019 May 17, 2019 12:00:00 AM

#SBHACK19 registration is open until 24 May, and the fun has already begun. There are so many incredible hackers joining us in June and we wanted to turn your attention to one of our amazing partners, the Agriculture Research Council (ARC) from South Africa. 

The ARC has worked tirelessly to improve agricultural economics and capacity development as well as to conduct research in animal and crop sciences that are necessary for the development of appropriate agricultural engineering techniques for both small and large-scale producers. Their research and project findings have been integral to the agricultural community. We are so honoured to have them on board as a partner. 

We sat down with Dr. Shadrack Moephuli, the ARC President & Chief Executive Officer, to get a deeper insight into why his team decided to join us at #SBHACK19 and asked him to answer a few questions about how Blockchain can help foster innovation for future ARC projects and research.

You can read more about the ARC and see the rest of the partners for #SBHACK19 on our website here. 


What is your motivation for participating at the Swiss Blockchain Hackathon?

The 4th industrial revolution (4IR) is characterized by a wide range of new technologies, which are combining digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries, including the agricultural and related sectors. In line with the 4IR, there is a need for the Agriculture Research Council (ARC), as a custodian of agricultural research on behalf of the South African government, to safeguard food security for the future across the agricultural value chain using Internet of things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and DLT, to mention a few. There is a need for the ARC to develop a comprehensive framework and action plans to deal with opportunities presented by the 4IR while mitigating the risks of the transition to the agricultural digital industrial revolution. #SBHACK19 can help with that. 


What are the biggest challenges in the Agriculture & Food Sector South Africa is facing today?

The South African Agriculture & Food Sector (Agri-food sector) is seized with a number of challenges that include the transparency and traceability related to sources and safety of foods in retail shelves. Consumers are increasingly demanding more information on the sources of their food; how the food has been produced (production process); and issues relating to animal welfare and carbon footprint. The South African agri-food sector is faced with the challenge of increasing food production and the fact that the food should adhere to strict consumer tastes and preferences while being produced in an environmentally benign manner.

Furthermore, the sector is faced with the issue of the Land Reform, which raises uncertainties and insecurities amongst established commercial agriculture and larger agribusinesses. Thus, the Land Reform process can be seen as disruptive yet inevitable. Moreover, the sector is highly concentrated and rife with anti-competitive behavior. This high degree of market dominance by a few large-scale players inevitably leads to uncompetitive behaviors, which may manifest in price-fixing and market segmentation collusion which ultimately increases the prices that the consumer pays.


How do you think Blockchain can help foster innovation to support and develop the agricultural sector?

Blockchain technology is based on three pillars, namely: transparency, security, and authenticity. In other words, Blockchain is a technology that has the potential to reduce time delays, added costs, and human error that constrains transactions in supply chain management today. For the agriculture sector, Blockchain technology has the potential to improve transparency and provide a platform to digitize the flow of assets in the value chain between partners and in turn, deliver safe and quality produced food consistently. For instance, food products change hands numerous times across the supply chain, from ingredients manufacturers to processing facilities to packaging operations and sometimes even from contract packagers to shipping and distributions. With Blockchain, each transaction is recorded in a shared and permanent decentralized repository, reducing potential delays and human errors. Although the key benefit of Blockchain is its immediate depiction of data and information, another critical benefit is its added security. Blockchain technology’s strength lies in its trustworthiness as it is nearly impossible to reverse or change recorded transactions. As such, Blockchain technology can assist in the expansion of cooperative agriculture by reducing collaboration and administration costs, including the collaborative design of which crops to grow, what land to plant, and what prices to set. 


Where do you see the greatest potential of the ARC’s cooperation with Trust Square and other startups to build future models in Agriculture and Food?

There is great scope for the ARC in the development of Blockchain technological solutions with the objective of transparency and traceability of food products in South Africa, which will lead to greater consumer confidence and increase the exportability of South African products. Such technologies can identify inefficiencies along the value chain and help build a shorter and inclusive value chain.

Another potential benefit for the ARC’s cooperation with Trust Square is in the areas of animal identification, livestock census, and monitoring the movement of livestock. This would help in detecting disease outbreaks earlier, locating the source, and isolating the affected herds in order to contain such diseases from spreading. 


What are your expectations on the outcome of the #SBHACK19 and how can it help ARC to further its international cooperation and impact?

#SBHACK19 presents an opportunity for the ARC to collaborate with other global industry leaders in the agriculture and food sector to share ideas on how to address challenges and leverage opportunities presented by 4IR. Having partners such as Trust Square presents the ARC with more opportunities for joint technical solutions to be manifest into future models that will support the food and agriculture sector.

The outcome of #SBHACK19 will form a starting base for the ARC to advance agricultural technology that can be applied to alleviate the challenges currently experienced in South Africa. For South Africa to achieve this through a partnership with Switzerland, will strengthen the relations with Agroscope especially the areas for collaboration as identified in the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The outcome of the Hackathon will be used to feed into future joint project formulation.

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