How Blockchain Is Solving the World Hunger Crisis
by Jason King
It’s an unforgivable problem that global hunger and widespread food insecurity can exist on the same planet as unchecked food waste. Yet here we are. 1 out of every 9 people on Earth are food insecure, while 1.3 billion metric tons of food are discarded, lost, wasted. It’s entirely unacceptable, but there’s a pretty straightforward solution: Get the food where it needs to go to feed the people who are starving.
It’s straightforward, but it’s obviously not easy.
Combating hunger around the globe requires coordination of cross-boundary organizations and governments, and often displaced and dispersed populations who are difficult to track and to reach.
“The world faces substantial challenges in meeting the food and water needs of 2050, when global population could be 9 billion or more. Initiatives to address our future needs are critical, and they will have to take into account the complicated interplay of a variety of stressors on the world agriculture system,” explains the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
The solutions already exist.
Fortunately, relief organizations and governments are looking at multiple initiatives that use blockchain technology to address these challenges. Here’s how the blockchain is getting aid to the people who need it:
Many people suffering from hunger are refugees, displaced due to political conflict or environmental issues. As a result, they are transitory, difficult to track and communicate with, and may or may not have government identification.
A pilot program in Jordan’s Azraq camp attempts to eliminate these challenges by using a blockchain-based aid database developed by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
Now, 10,000 refugees receive payments via digital coupons sent via smartphone, which they can redeem at local supermarkets. Their payments are validated with a biometric eye scan rather than paper or physical ID cards.
The system is efficient, scalable and secure. And it also has been shown that cash transfers for food are much more effective and efficient in combating hunger than in-kind food aid. “Not only do they allow recipients to choose which food to buy, they also inject much-needed cash into local economies,” says the WFP, which is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting global hunger.
And because the test system is cash-based, it’s much quicker to deploy. It’s far less complicated to distribute cash electronically to hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children than it is to coordinate collection and distribution of tons of foodstuffs, some of which are perishable. There’s a reduction in waste, in needed staffing, and in ramp-up time — all of which translates to lower costs.
“Blockchain can revolutionize the way WFP delivers assistance to vulnerable families across the globe. It can bring us closer to the people we serve and allow us to respond much faster,” says Farman Ali, from the WFP Karachi provincial office.
On the donor side, countries, organizations, and individuals can get greater insight into exactly where aid is going, and who is ultimately receiving it.
Corruption has long added to the challenges of getting food to starving people, “Surveys and qualitative research gathering the views of people in crises consistently highlight corruption as a key concern,” writes Paul Harvey, a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes, a consulting firm providing research evidence and policy advice to inform better humanitarian aid, in ReliefWeb. Some estimates put loss due to corruption as high as 30 percent.
The transparency and immutability of a blockchain database mean that a government granting $10 million to refugee food aid in a specific area of the world can, in fact, trace its funds through to the exact recipients. The recipients’ identifying characteristics can also be cloaked to protect their privacy, while still ensuring only the authorized individuals receive aid.
“The lack of anonymity and the tight traceability makes corruption more difficult, unlike with traditional money,” explain Enrique Aldaz-Carroll and Eduardo Aldaz-Carroll in an article for the Brookings Institute. “The adoption of cryptocurrency — a digital currency that employs cryptography to ensure that transactions are secure — as a mode of payment for a project allows the identification of each user of the money, unlike with traditional modes of payment like notes and coins.”
Blockchain has enormous potential to aid some of the world’s most vulnerable individuals — those with no home, no financial resources, and little to no support structure. By enabling lower transaction costs, individual privacy, less corruption, and quicker response, we just may be able to meet the United Nations’ goal of eradicating world hunger by 2030.
Jason King is a Humanitarian Hacker, feeding the hungry as the Executive Director of Unsung.org. Known for running across the country to raise bitcoin for the homeless in 2014, King is a long-standing member of the crypto community and continues to solve to the sector’s most pressing problems as Co-Founder of Kingsland University — School of Blockchain, the world’s first university-accredited blockchain training program. Find out more about Kingsland’s leading-edge education at KingslandUniversity.com