Across the world, restaurants are being closed indefinitely. Commodities can’t seem to make their way to the global market as borders, too, are closed down. National lockdowns are posing huge challenges on international supply chains. Consequently, the COVID-19 pandemic is putting the people behind our food at risk. “Vulnerable groups […] include small-scale farmers, pastoralists, and fishers who might be hindered from working their land, caring for their livestock, or fishing”, the Food and Agricultural Organization warns in a Q&A. “They will […] face challenges accessing markets to sell their products or buy essential inputs or struggle due to higher food prices and limited purchasing power. Informal labourers will be hard hit by job and income losses in harvesting and processing.”
Modern consumers have proven willingly to help – ‘support your locals’ is an answer to the problems that is often heard today. But if you think about it, ‘support your locals’ isn’t that easy of an assignment in clouded supply chains, in which ownership claims are difficult to make. Who exactly are you supporting, buying that locally produced carrot? Is it even actually locally produced?
Ideology instead of capitalism
With the advancement of technology in the recent years, the connectivity realm has increased to an all-time high, and customers are witnessing the consequences of our consumption all around the world. Modern consumers have, therefore, begun rallying behind the idea of being global citizens, as they increasingly believe that a sustainable food system is at the basis of global sustainability. Consumers now see that through acting on the food that they consume, they can have a wider influence, and positively impact the planet ecologically as well as improve social conditions.
“Citizens have proven to be more than marketable consumers”, Jan Huijgen, social farmer and CEO at the Eemlandhoeve, acknowledges. “Rather, they have concerns about biodiversity, about our climate and social sustainability; they are interested in the process of what and who is behind their sustainable needs and practices.”
As an advocate for the recovering of the human touch in our food, Huijgen believes that it is a rather urgent step on the way to a socially and environmentally sustainable food system. Times like these, he states, create a “need for innovative ideas and ideology instead of the primarily rational, individualistic, materialistic and capitalistic approach that we are using today.”
Huijgen emphasises the need for a new, social movement in which citizens stand side-by-side with farmers to not only empower each other, but to strive together for a more sustainable food system. “The individualistic, materialistic and capitalistic approach that is common today needs to be replaced with an ideological approach”, he says, “one in which people can relate to each other on the premises of their shared sustainable values and beliefs.”
“In a world full of (product) stories that have proven to be useless and finite, people need to relate to the stories that they hear and see; people need to feel the stories with their hearts, head and hands. This can bring consumers closer to farmers and restore the connection that was broken at the cost of a capitalistic system.”
Once the connection is restored, the new social movement will cause a sustainable movement on a broad and deep level: citizens, farmers and regional companies alike will work together to come up with important policies and regulations. What the CEO finds important is that citizens ought to be “incentivised to buy, support and invest in their local farmers” – grabbing back on the call to ‘support your locals’.
Looking beyond a local connection, Binkabi is bringing the same ideals to the global market. The start-up actually developed a digital marketplace that is directly connecting end sellers and end buyers. By tokenising commodities, Binkabi makes them easily tradable and fundable on the blockchain – without the need for intermediaries. Moreover, their blockchain-enabled platforms allows farmers and SMEs to access financing through peer to peer lending.
Huijgen too believes that technology can play an important role in the new social movement. He is actually looking at blockchain as a technology that can help prove ownership and claims that are made about a product’s origins. (However, he warns, “we have to be aware and not let it escape to big tech and let it feed into the surveillance capitalism that they stand for.”) In this sense, blockchain can help facilitate the very wish to ‘support our locals’.
Indeed, ‘supporting our locals’ is essential as farmers navigate through the uncertainty that the epidemic has brought upon us. Looking at the question that has been posed in the beginning: how can blockchain help bring back the human connection in our food? The answer is a rhetorical one. In its own right, blockchain creates a connection between people. In that sense, the technology can facilitate the connection that Huijgen referred to as the ‘new social movement’. If we use technology to implement the human touch, the initial connection between the farmer and the consumer can be restored. In this new era of unprecedented technology, we as modern customers and businesses can use it to the advantage of both our food producers and the vulnerable groups in faraway countries, in a way that eradicates unsustainability and social instability.