From farm to store – How Walmart will use blockchain to trace the freshness of your leafy greens

26th Sep 2018
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The global retailer is using IBM's blockchain technology to execute contracts with multiple stakeholders.

Walmart wants to bring blockchain technology to its food business. At the Indian Blockchain Congress held recently in Goa, Frans Kempen, IBM’s Blockchain Lead for Logistics and Supply Chain Solutions for BeNeLux (Belgium-the Netherlands-Luxembourg) region, showcased how Walmart used private blockchain provided by IBM to work with its sellers to track quality of produce and increase traceability.

Basically, Blockchain here ensures product information, right from farm to logistics to being delivered at stores, does not get tampered with - by various stakeholders in the chain - and ensures top quality produce is delivered to customers.

Recently, Walmart concluded a two-year project to trace leafy green vegetables and any contamination in them.

Walmart is putting this to work in 100 farms across the world where farmers will input information on growing these vegetables and the supply chain too will have to follow the same route. With detailed information in a chain being captured at source there is no fragmentation of information.

Walmart, which prides itself on everyday low prices, is also positioning itself as a retailer that cares and wants to use blockchain to ensure that every fresh item it stocks is free from contamination.

This means turned items will be traced in the supply chain rather than after reaching Walmart's warehouses. IBM, on the other hand, is currently pioneering its private blockchain validating transactions based on its own private nodes. By doing so it can compete with the likes of AWS and Microsoft.

Frans believes that the technology’s ability to make corporate entities function more efficiently led IBM to test it in over 500 pilots.

But will IBM manage to usher in an era where blockchain can increase speed of business?

“Blockchain can do a lot for business. The momentum has started globally and investments in Internet-of-Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are growing in size,” he says.

IBM is also looking at introducing blockchain in India in the near future. “We are working with Tech Mahindra to build a blockchain for supply chain and trade finance in India,” says Kempen.

However, this move from Walmart to introduce blockchain in the supply chain has met with criticism from certain quarters. Some industry leaders are of the opinion that this is not a true blockchain and what Walmart is implementing is a centralised private smart contract system based on IBM's blockchain.

If one reads the recent Incrypt report on blockchain, a true blockchain is one that connects smart contracts with public nodes, which is a decentralised way of verifying a transaction, and these public nodes are rewarded in the form of tokens that can be sold on a crypto exchange.

Walmart apparently began these blockchain projects when it wanted to know the source of the farm that shipped a particular batch of fruit. Sources say that it took more than a week. With blockchain it believes the farm can be tracked immediately.

However, traceability has always existed in different technologies over the last decade. It's the fragmented nature of the supply chain and the disparate retail technologies that made it difficult to trace the farm in seconds. However current distributed databases are well equipped to handle traceability, but due to the centralised nature of data being stored, it can be manipulated.

“Real blockchain is truly decentralised and is a system of value. It goes beyond smart contracts. In a decade, blockchain will have bigger use cases and several global corporate are already experimenting in blockchain,” says Nitin Sharma, founder of Incrypt, a blockchain company.

Walmart may have been piloting these technologies, but it does open up the debate to what these technologies can do globally to ensure transparency.

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