Blockchain

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Fighting World Hunger with Blockchain

Benevolent uses of secure technology with real human impact

Lately, some blockchain related technologies haven’t always had the best press with global governments are still seemingly unwilling to accept digital currencies, and China (once a booming hub for Bitcoin in particular) has outlawed cryptocurrency exchanges. The main reasons for this appear to be sometime associations with criminal activities, although the blockchain platform has also been used for decidedly benevolent applications. The latest demonstration of this is currently underway in Jordan, where the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) is enabling refugees to access food supplies via a simple eye scan. How will this project impact the fight against world hunger, and could this accelerate the wider adoption of blockchain?

Breaking the chain of hunger
As of 2016, the UN estimated that 630,000 Syrian refugees and two million Palestinian refugees were living in Jordan. Providing food for so many displaced people is a mammoth task, but one that could be made easier with blockchain technology. The system works by distributing digital coupons to refugees via an Ethereum blockchain. Refugees then redeem these coupons in local supermarkets, validating payments via biometric data from UN High Commissioner for Refugees and eye scanning hardware provided by London based company IrisGuard. At the moment, the project is helping 10,000 refugees in Jordan’s Azraq camp to make secure, valid payments for food supplies. But due to blockchain’s scalability, this number could be considerably increased. The WFP has ambitious but commendable plans to end world hunger by 2030, which will begin by making the coupon project available to Jordan’s entire refugee population. Robert Opp, the WFP’s Director of Innovation and Change Management, explained that blockchain could be instrumental in cutting payment costs, better protecting data, controlling financial risks, and enabling the organisation to “respond more rapidly in the wake of emergencies.” But what does this mean for blockchain’s adoption, and can it really help to eliminate world hunger?

Blockchain for the better?
When it comes to humanitarian applications, perhaps blockchain’s most useful trait is that it is scalable. If it works in one camp, then why not one country, and if it works in one country then why not another? This gradual progression is exactly what the UN hopes to achieve, and they seem to be first off the block.

So, blockchain may provide an invaluable tool in the battle against global hunger, but what about the implications for the technology itself? By now, the two sides of the blockchain debate are clear. On the one hand, it provides security and validity. But on the other, it’s can be used by criminals and is unfamiliar to the majority of consumers. To shift the balance away from some of the negative connotations, this revolutionary technology relies on the development of benign projects. If successful, the UN’s project could signify a step towards adoption by official organisations. The UN itself is a governing body, which bodes well for the future acceptance of blockchain by national governments. The project also shows the rising importance of biometric data within security, and that payment methods are rapidly evolving.

Even if you’re not convinced by the cryptographic tech, the WFP has demonstrated that blockchain can be a force for good. As is the case with all technologies, their benevolence and usefulness depends on what people use them for. With 193 member states, the UN is in a strong position to transform the way that international communities think about and apply blockchain. In other words, it isn’t all about the black market and trading illegal goods. Hopefully the expansion of the coupon project will prove that the platform can create altruistic and scalable solutions for humanitarian crises. From a refugee’s perspective especially, the World Food Programme has taken a gamble that seems to be paying off.

Is blockchain a force for good? Can the WFP’s project be scaled to respond to hunger crises across the globe? Will the support of the UN encourage governments to trial blockchain solutions? Share your thoughts and opinions.