Food / Blockchain


Agnew, J., Hall, R. P., Mwangi, J., Sumner, D., & Kristofikova, N. (2022). The Impact of Blockchain Technology on Food Insecurity through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya: Final Report. USAID LASER PULSE, 73 pages.

This study is one of the first to explore how blockchain technology (BCT) could be used to improve food security in communities that are reliant on agriculture but are the last to receive services or access to markets, known as the ‘last-mile’. The goal was to determine how BCT could contribute to improving the income of African indigenous vegetable (AIV) value chain actors (e.g., producers, traders, and retailers) and to the affordability, availability, and accessibility of nutritious foods like AIVs for consumers. It finds that BCT can simultaneously strengthen the functionality of an entire agri-food value chain by increasing the efficiency of transactions among value chain actors, improving cooperation along the value chain, and enhancing access to information. A decrease in post-harvest loss, reduction in negotiation and search costs, and traceability of Grade A vegetables were facilitated by the blockchain functionality of the AgUnity V3 SuperApp. Producer income was improved by better meeting market demand, time savings on AIV activities, increasing the supply of Grade A vegetables, and making information on the vegetables more available to consumers. Increased incomes led to improved food security among producers by facilitating their ability to procure more food, especially higher quality proteins and fruits. Participants and consumers reported an increase in the consumption of AIVs over the study period because of increased quality, availability, and awareness of their nutritional importance.

Agnew, J., Mwangi, J., Hall, R. P., Sumner, D., & Kristofikova, N. (2021). Transaction and Information Pain Points in African Indigenous Vegetable Value Chains in Western Kenya: A Gender-Responsive AIV Value Chain and Market Analysis Report. USAID LASER PULSE, 46 pages.

The use cases for blockchain technology (BCT) have taken off since its initial development for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. In agricultural value chains, BCT has been developed for agri-food products from source to retail outlets, increasing transparency between value chain actors, and creating secure transaction platforms. However, BCT is not a magic bullet for addressing all value chain inefficiencies and challenges. This study, Exploring the Use of Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Security Through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya, aims to investigate the types of challenges within the value chain for African indigenous vegetables (AIVs) that BCT is appropriate to address. It also aims to investigate if deploying a BCT-based digital platform in AIV value chains will lead to improved food security for all value chain actors.

This gender-responsive participatory value chain analysis (PVCA) investigates the transactional, informational, and other types of pain points within AIV value chains to identify where BCT is needed. AIVs are known as ‘female’ crops, as women are primarily responsible for their production, marketing, and preparation. This PVCA also investigates gender disparities in the value chain with the view to understanding how a BCT-based digital platform might help to secure the place of women in the value chain as it is upgraded.

This study also finds that while smartphone ownership is low, value chain actors are willing to pay for a smartphone as well as a monthly subscription fee to use a digital platform if it will address their key pain points.

Kristofikova, N., I. Muskoke, and J. Agnew. (2021). Embedded Research Translation Report: Exploring the Use of Blockchain Technology to Promote the Production and Consumption of African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya. AgUnity, Australia, 39 pages.

AgUnity worked with Virginia Tech and Egerton University on the LASER PULSE-funded project entitled Exploring the Use of Blockchain Technology to Promote the Production and Consumption of African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) in Western Kenya. AIV value chains are characterized by transactional and informational inefficiencies that contribute to inconsistent supply and mismatched demand in Kenya. This research program explores how digital applications built on blockchain technology (BCT) can be deployed in AIV value chains in western Kenya in a way that improves food and nutrition security for all value chain actors. Specifically, there was interest in understanding how the BCT-based smartphone application could assist groups of individuals who typically face constraints in accessing economic or nutritional benefits from value chain upgrading (i.e., smallholder producers, women, youth, low-income consumers).

This project was one of the first times the AgUnity app was not deployed in a centralized supply chain context (i.e., with a union or cooperative supplied by hundreds of farmers). We have found that in decentralized supply chains, there is a particular need to ensure that the system supports the users’ values and needs for conducting their respective value chain activities. When this is achieved, trust that is garnered through the use of the technology shall translate directly into more cooperative and coordinated value chains. Both the value chain app adaptation and configuration and the technology service design were built around this premise, using embedded research translation (ERT) processes to ensure that it was achieved in the target population and value chain.

This report outlines the steps taken by AgUnity to translate Virginia Tech and Egerton University’s research into the adaptation and deployment of our proprietary BCT-based smartphone application. It is directed toward readers interested in understanding the product and service design of the AgUnity application, the use of BCT in digital platforms designed for last-mile users, and those interested in successful examples of ERT. It walks the reader through the value chain mapping and community immersion processes, the steps needed to adapt the technology to fit the local value chain context, and the development and selection of app functionalities for the target users and value chain. The report may be of interest to researchers, farming associations, and cooperatives or agricultural non-governmental organizations interested in the AgUnity solution as well as stakeholders involved in strengthening agricultural market systems, AgTech, or FinTech.

Hall, R. P., Ranganathan, S., Agnew, J., Christie, M. E., Kirk, G., Lucero, C., Clark, S. F., & Archibald, T. G. (2019). Virginia Tech Food Access and Security Study. Virginia Tech.


There is growing evidence to suggest that a substantial number of college and university students in the United States grapple with food insecurity during their studies.

In response to the increasing concern over students’ access to food, this study aims to document food security at Virginia Tech. The study was designed with two parallel goals: to contribute to the national conversation on food access and security amongst higher education students; and to inform a strategic response through data-informed programs and policies at Virginia Tech. The first phase of the study was conducted between Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 and consisted of semi-structured key informant interviews. The second phase was conducted between December 2018 and January 2019 and consisted of an anonymous survey distributed to 32,242 students (27,421 undergraduate and 4,821 graduate) located in Blacksburg.

A total of 2,441 (8.9%) undergraduate and 589 (12.2%) graduate students completed the entire survey (for a combined response rate of 9.4%). This study finds that 29% (±3.8%) of undergraduate and 35% (±7%) of graduate students were classified as having low or very low food security based on the USDA food security instrument.

This report also documents a range of on- and off-campus food assistance services that are available for students and provides a summary of the feedback obtained from the key informant interviews on potential next steps that could be taken by Virginia Tech.

Policy/Product Briefs

Agnew, J., & Hall, R. P. (2022). Policy Brief: Research evidence of the impacts of blockchain technology on improving food security through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya. USAID LASER PULSE, 4 pages.

In the last several years, the number of last-mile mobile phone-based technologies designed to support smallholder producers has proliferated throughout the agriculture sector in Kenya and other low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Blockchain, the distributed ledger on which digital currencies (such as Bitcoin and Ethereum) operate, is among such emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs). Blockchain is heralded primarily for its ability to contribute to agriculture by improving information flows, and thus transparency and trust in agri-food value chains. However, there is limited evidence as to whether blockchain technology (BCT) can be used to leverage improvements in food security – either through improving income or increasing the availability and desirability of nutritious foods. This brief, intended for policymakers and key Kenyan agriculture sector stakeholders, presents evidence on how BCT can contribute to achieving the objectives of the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) by presenting research findings from the project Exploring the Use of Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Security Through African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) in Kenya. It also presents recommendations on the investments required to capture the transformative effects of blockchain.

Agnew, J., Hall, R. P., & Kristofikova, N. (2022). Product Brief: Linking the AgUnity Blockchain-based Platform to the Kenyan Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy. USAID LASER PULSE, 4 pages, 4 pages.

AgUnity is an Australian-based tech start-up that leverages the power of blockchain technology to improve the livelihoods of last-mile agricultural communities through improving the functionality of agricultural value chains. While AgUnity does not use cryptocurrency to operate their V3 Super App, they are able to use the distributed ledger functionality of blockchain technology to create a secure record-keeping system that logs transactions between value chain actors. In so doing, it creates trust and transparency in price setting, records the quality and quantity of produce exchanged and ensures actors have access to reliable market information and revenue and expenditure records. When integrated with the proper monitoring systems, information such as the application of pesticides and adherence to other food safety standards can also be transmitted along the value chain. Other value propositions of the AgUnity V3 Super App include verifiable identities of users, a management platform, and potential integration with a wide variety of otherservices (i.e., credit, index insurance, and/or extension services). It is important to note that users retain control of their information.

In 2020, AgUnity, Virginia Tech, and Egerton University received LASER PULSE funding to investigate how blockchain might be used in the value chains for African indigenous vegetables (AIVs) to improve food security in Kakamega county. By providing information on the vegetables at the point of sale through the AgUnity V3 Super App, smallholder farmer incomes increased and nutritious leafy greens became more appealing to consumers.

Results demonstrate that the record-keeping functionality of the blockchain contributed to improvements in income by helping value chain actors: (1) negotiate more profitable prices for their products, (2) standardize quantities transacted (i.e., in kilograms), (3) communicate information on the grade of the vegetables, (4) increase the rate of credit repayment between actors, (5) decrease reliance on exploitative brokers, and (6) create reliable market information. Access to a smartphone has also allowed actors to coordinate more effectively, resulting in better-matched supply and demand. In turn, this has led to reduced post-harvest loss and time savings, which is especially relevant for women’s empowerment.