The Blockchain of Spices
The world is becoming a very small place — this morning I woke up in Chennai, had dinner in Dubai and landed for lunch in San Francisco.
Along the way, I was served several delightful meals, yet as a traveler I always have to think; Is this food safe? Where did it come from? Are the listed ingredients actually what they claim to be? What chemicals, hormones, or pollutants might be in it? The current food supply chain doesn’t help with those questions, in fact, without going to a farmers’ market, and talking with a farmer, I have no way of knowing where my food is from for certain. Not only does the lack of connection obscure the supply chain from the farmer to your table, it also prevents an earth conscious consumer from rewarding farmers who practice sustainable agriculture.
One possible way to change this is utilizing blockchain technology. I spent the last two weeks in the spice fields of Tamil Nadu and Kerala talking to farmers and watching production processes to see if it is viable to trace spices like turmeric and cardamom on the blockchain. Utilizing existing cell phone technology, the economic identity of the Aadhar card, and low-cost security seals, I believe that bulk spices can be linked to individual farms and digitally twinned on the blockchain.
Creating a linkage between farmers and consumers would result in numerous benefits to all sides. Current chemical-based farming not only results in excess contaminants in the food chain, it also is bankrupting small farmers due to input costs. The ecosystem is being destroyed by the combination of chemicals and poor farming practices. At the current rate there may not be farms to pass on to the next generation.
Traveling in the spice fields, the “Silent Spring” effect is striking — In forests and fields where you would expect to hear a cacophony of animal sounds, you hear the occasional bird or insect in the distance. All the farmers I talked to said that this collapse has happened over the last 30 years due to over-use of pesticides. Kerala experienced devastating floods this past spring, driven in part by mountain run-off. What was once rainforest sponge to absorb the monsoon is now muddy slopes and spice plantations. The native plants that used to hold back erosion have been killed by overuse of pesticides.
The FDA in 2017 rejected imports from India at a rate of one every 4.5 hours. A cargo of spices was rejected every 4 days. The top three reasons for import refusal were 1) pesticide contamination, 2) “filth”, and 3) salmonella.
On the other side of the equation, farmers are spending Rs. 400–550 on chemicals to produce Rs 1000 in crops, whether the crops grow or fail. If the crops fail the bill for the herbicides and pesticides is still due.
Farmers are “price takers” and without the means of differentiating their crop or the ability to move it from location to location, they are forced to take the price offered by aggregators and processors. This in turn disincentivizes them from pursuing “zero-budget” or eco-friendly farming — the system rewards quantity, not quality.
Western consumers have shown that they are willing to pay significantly more for Organic (25% price premium) or Fair Trade (43% price premium), yet in a country where you can purchase a USDA Organic certification for about Rs 50,000, what are you really buying? If I put a jar of turmeric powder in front of you, do you feel confident there is no red clay or Sudan IV dye in it? If you order the new cardamom spice latte, did you help kill a rainforest to get the flavor?
Its time to restore trust to our spice supply chain, and TerraChitha will be leading the way with a blockchain-based solution.