Ten years since Satoshi Nakamoto gifted the world the Bitcoin paper, more has been realized beyond the liberalization of the concept of money as a means of exchange and storage of value. Vitalik Buterin later proposed a case on how to write applications on Bitcoin to extend its abilities beyond digital currency. He later wrote Ethereum, a decentralized platform with a general scripting language for application development. Other variants of distributed ledger technologies have since proven relevant for real world use cases in a society that is getting more decentralized.
As a field, blockchain has seen varied responses mostly ranging from intensive support to outright skepticism. The conversation behind its application as a technology has been mainly dominated by crypto-evangelists and crytpo-fans yet the field is diverse in its potential for use cases beyond finance especially ones that require a trusted means for secure proofs and an immutable records system that is easily verifiable. Such would be applications which a user would interact with normally and not know whether they rely on a blockchain protocol. As is the case with existing web technologies. Say, when creating a Snapchat story on your phone and not caring whether the app uses SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) or not or browsing a Medium article and not caring about HTTP requests made by your browser. This is the case with applications relying on a blockchain, they would work just as good probably even better!
At this point in blockchain technology, there is yet a “killer” app to be seen because you can’t really have a blockchain app. Rather, you’ll have an app (existing or maybe new) that relies on a blockchain or a distributed ledger technology (DLT) to utilize the specific qualities that make it more suitable than others. Most widely used platforms and applications would easily apply the technology to improve their existing features. Say, increase number of transactions, gain more user trust, or scale manageably. Few new applications would emerge that apply distributed ledger technologies at the core and would not run without it. It shouldn’t then be a cause of worry if you don’t have an idea for a blockchain app.
Various applications exist, either as stable releases or in beta, that rely on the power of distributed ledger systems. Affected domains have been commerce, organizations, education, healthcare, logistics and supply chain systems and microfinance. The breadth of potential use cases positions Africa at a prime spot to develop and easily test solutions owing to the opportunities presented by challenges currently faced on the continent. Notable implementations have been tested on the continent since 2017. Some include;
Agrikore is a digital payments marketplace system that relies on smart contracts to provide information, inputs, produce and financial markets to farmers, community produce aggregators, agro-dealers, financial institutions, insurers, governments & development partners.
The platform developed by Cellulant seeks to contribute to the continent’s food security by unifying the agriculture ecosystem in Africa by aggregating key market players; mainly producers and financiers. Agrikore is currently being piloted in Nigeria.
A mobile platform that enables farmers to access tractor services on demand while simultaneously tracking number of hours each piece of equipment is in the field and area serviced. The company, in partnership with IBM Research - Africa, developed an agriculture digital wallet for farmers and tractor owners. The wallet allows owners to manage their tractors through an attached monitoring sensor to help track usage and location data and also receive farmer requests.
Data generated by various actors would provide actionable insights on farming habits, crop yield and credit scoring. Hello Tractor will run a pilot of the wallet in the first half of this year.
A startup that provides a trust engine for recommendation platforms that businesses could leverage to ease Know Your Customer requirements and improve transparency in recommendation systems in today’s sharing economy. Utu’s infrastructure is based on a hybrid of blockchain and artificial intelligence.
Probably the earliest implementation of blockchain in Africa without crypto. In 2017, Twiga ran a pilot of a platform to lend working capital to mama mboga kiosks, it supplies produce to, at interest rates of 1% to 2% over three to eight days. The lending platform applies a private blockchain to manage the process from loan application, terms of repayment to issuance of the loan.
Transactions made on the platform provide accurate credit scoring using machine learning algorithms based on purchase and repayment records while providing faster processing of loans.
Gravity leverages blockchain technology to allow anyone to create a self-sovereign, digital ID based on certified personal data, to access essential services such as healthcare, education and banking. Gravity provides an ID wallet that allows everyone to build an ID profile that can be improved over time and is accessible from anywhere. The company ran a pilot deployment in 2018 at Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya.
Circulor developed a provenance system for a mining company in Rwanda to track Tantalum from pit to refinery with an aim to promote conflict free sourcing of minerals. The government-backed project makes it possible to tag and track Tantalum throughout its journey in the supply chain, promoting transparency throughout the process. From mining to even when its processed into intermediate products and mixed with other raw materials.
Most of the world’s Tantalum comes from Rwanda, making the country a vital contributor to the world’s consumer electronics market. This initiative will help to secure Rwanda’s role in the supply chain, by enabling companies comply with internationally mandated efforts to eradicate sources of funding for conflict minerals.
A method to the madness is surely required amidst all the noise. Raise, a startup based in the Bahamas and Kenya that provides a platform for managing digital securities, proposed a framework to govern development and management of digital assets in Africa through the Africa Digital Assets Framework (ADAF) launched in 2018. ADAF, a well documented framework supported by the African Union (AU) aims at harmonizing categories of digital assets by proposing standards and structures.
Use cases explored here indicate increased awareness of the potential of blockchain based applications to impact society. The highlighted examples I’ve covered take a unique approach to adoption of the technology, focusing on common pain points whose solutions could be optimized for greater success. If you know other interesting implementations, feel free to comment them here.