Research Reports from our USAID LASER PULSE Project in Kenya

The three main reports from our USAID LASER PULSE research project entilted “Exploring the Use of Blockchain Technology to Promote the Production and Consumption of African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya,” are now available. I have also included below the 4-minute video we developed to help explain the research and its main findings.

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. http://hdl.handle.net/10919/110444

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. http://hdl.handle.net/10919/111357

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.

According to the findings of the PVCA, the main pain points that need to be addressed in order to improve income-earning opportunities and availability of and demand for AIVs are the lack of coordination throughout the value chain, assurance of vegetable safety for consumers, improved transmission of information through the value chain, standardization of grading and pricing, improving the market power of women, and technical assistance for producers in pest and disease management and production practices to improve yield. BCT cannot address all of these pain points. However, it is well suited for improving vertical coordination between actors by organizing and standardizing transactions and making information on the AIVs accessible at all stages of the value chain. It will also provide women a safe and secure platform for transacting that will protect the revenues earned from their respective activities.

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.

This study will continue to investigate key knowledge gaps such as how technology use might more effectively engage youth in AIV value chains, how information on the blockchain can be certified, and how to scale up the use of a BCT-based digital platform. However, this PVCA demonstrates there is potential for BCT to offer important solutions to address transactional and informational inefficiencies along AIV value chains.

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. http://hdl.handle.net/10919/111503

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.

Final LASER-PULSE Report – Impact of Blockchain Technology on Food Insecurity through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya

The final (peer-reviewed) report from our USAID LASER PULSE project on how blockchain technology impacts food security through African indigenous vegetables in Western Kenya is now available.

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.

USAID LASER PULSE Article on Kenya Project

USAID LASER PULSE just released the following article on our research project in Kenya. The article includes a short video showing the AgUnity blockchain app being used by project participants along the African Indigenous Vegetable (AIV) supply chain.

Behind the Scenes at the AgChain Hackathon

The video below presents a behind-the-scenes view of the AgChain Hackathon held at Egerton University, Kenya, from November 15 to 17. It was recorded by Nurvitria Kristofikova, a Program Director at AgUnity and core team member of our project entitled “Exploring Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Security Through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya.”

Webinar – Exploring the Use of Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Security Through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya

December 8, 2021
2-3 pm

Jessica Agnew, PhD, MSc, MPH 
Assistant Director of Research, Operations, & Program Management 
Center for International Research, Education and Development 

Ralph P. Hall, PhD, S.M., S.M., MEng
Undergraduate Programs Director and Associate Professor, Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP)
Associate Director, School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA)
Virginia Tech

Visit this link to registerhttps://tinyurl.com/hallagnew

Blockchain technology is heralded for its ability to improve traceability, trust, and trust in agri-food value chains. For the optimist and the skeptic of blockchain, we explore the complexities of using this emerging technology to strengthen agri-food value chains to create social and nutritional impacts. This 1-hour talk will explore results and lessons from the field in Western Kenya as to how blockchain might be used as a tool to improve food and nutrition security, women’s leadership, and youth engagement within the value chains for African indigenous vegetables (AIVs).

Webinar: To Block or Not – Exploring the Use of Blockchain in Last-Mile Agriculture Communities

Webinar: October 26, 2021, 8am-10am (EDT). Register (for free) here.

Traceability. Transparency. Trust.

Food systems built on these principles generally are known to attract higher price premiums by increasing consumer confidence and value for the products. This creates income earning opportunities for producers and upgrades the quality of agri-food value chains. Blockchain technology is heralded for its ability to improve traceability, trust, and trust in agri-food value chains. What is lesser known is whether it is a viable technology for those value chains that originate in last-mile agricultural communities.

This webinar explores the contexts in which blockchain offers real solutions to strengthening value chains and its potential for creating social impact, like improved food security or engaging youth in agriculture. For the optimist and the skeptic, this two-hour webinar aims to discard the trendiness of the emerging technology and take a pragmatic view of the opportunities to use blockchain to strengthen last-mile agriculture.

Webinar Host – Ralph Hall, Virginia Tech

Technology Panel: 8am – 9am (ETD)

Views from the Field Panel: 9am – 10am (ETD)

AGRILINKS Article on Kenya AIVs Project

The following AGRILINKS article by Sara Hendery was just published on our USAID LASER PULSE project in Kenya. The purpose of this project is to explore how a blockchain-based technology platform developed by AgUnity, could be used to enhance the supply chain for African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs). The project is co-managed by our in-country partners at Egerton University.

Co-designing A Research Partnership

The USAID LASER PULSE Network just released the short story below on how we implemented a co-design process with our partners – AgUnity and Egerton University in Kenya – for our project entitled “Exploring Blockchain Technology to Improve Food Security Through African Indigenous Vegetables in Western Kenya.”

The story talks about our desire to blend the research and translation process from the beginning of our proposal development for the following three reasons: 

(1) We expected research activities to bring up new questions that would need to be addressed to produce an impactful research translation product. The research team members are able to return to the field to get answers for the research translation team to continue to refine the app.

(2) Collaboration and partnership are essential for impact. Development in general must continue to break down silos between disciplines and professions in order to meet the needs of the individuals we are trying to serve through this research. Collaboration facilitates the rapid problem solving and creativity that impact generation requires. 

(3) Working collaboratively is a lot of fun! It stimulates passions and shared interests, facilitates out of the box thinking, and learning. So far, we have been able to provide training to each other, talk about new and innovative ways to address nutrition, discuss unique avenues to scale the project and ensure sustainability, and share our own passions and interests in travel, food, and family.

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