The cryptocurrency bubble has come, burst and gone. Cryptocurrency is very much still with us but the focus is shifting to where it should have been all along; blockchain. Blockchain technology is an open ledger system that makes all records public to the members of a network. The ledger as a block is open to be edited by all members and once an edit is made the edit is added to a block that is added to the complete series of edits. This is a key of a blockchain, it contains the current data and all previous data in the chain.
The open ledgers mean there is no need for an intermediary. This is what made blockchain technology the perfect platform for cryptocurrency. Traditional banking relies on a ‘handshake” between the two institutions which parties use for transacting hence the bank delays. Blockchains open ledgers allow instant updating and verification of balances. Given this, there are a lot of applications for blockchain technology that have not yet been brought to the fore.
Africa is categorised by disorganised markets. Bringing blockchains to the market place can provide a semblance of an efficient market. Subsistence farmers are rarely in the know about the prices end-users pay for their produce, this has left them largely being short-changed by intermediaries. Where they do have access to the information it is rarely available to them on a timely basis. Having a blockchain for the prevailing tomato price with access to enter the latest agreed price will bring unprecedented information efficiency to the markets. Couple this with improved mobility of goods (we are already seeing growth in the courier services market) and we can start seeing a market that reduces waste, matches demand with supply and presents stability to participants.
Agriculture stands to benefit from the blockchain too. Specifically in matters of dealing with crop diseases, weather or expected yield updates. It’s important to note that somebody has to pay for blockchain infrastructure and access. Where communication infrastructure and connectivity are growing in urban settings, rural Africa is still lagging. It’s not entirely necessary to reinvent the wheel; the blockchain edits can be added to existing agriculture outreach infrastructure such as extension officers. The instant updates would allow the expedient analysis of the data even by off-site experts. Timely responses are critical to managing these effects before they get out of hand.
It’s not just in agriculture where this application is relevant. Disease control may perhaps be the most important frontier. Disease outbreak is still prevalent while the response is often found lagging. The same approach to healthcare with communicable diseases could prove vital. With healthcare records kept in manual form and completely decentralised outbreaks tend to claim hundreds and thousands before they get the attention they deserve. Patterns are identified late if at all. Placing the entire healthcare system blockchain can provide more accurate information on patient zero, spread and patterns of communicable diseases.
Law enforcement too can benefit greatly from a blockchain. Crimes, both violent and non-violent tend to arise at particular times. A new form of theft or scheme may pop up in a manner that seems random on the first instance but may be a prevailing pattern or method. Information of this nature would allow law enforcement to identify modus operandi and geographical patterns quicker. Transparency on this would encourage more timely reporting. It may also alert of crimes before they happen with the correct data analysis. An example is being aware of the theft of particular types of items such as police uniforms or weapons which may be used to carry out crimes.
Blockchain does not come free, nor does access to the internet. Access is, however, getting cheaper with the adoption of new technologies. There is certainly a widespread opportunity for blockchain technology to improve lives and service delivery in Africa. Information asymmetry can be managed through technology, the specific applications vary from place to place. We can certainly make suggestions but the people know their greatest needs better than anyone else.