Use blockchain to save Kenya’s meat industry from adulteration

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At this year’s SAP Innovation Day, held in Nairobi, I garnered lessons on how we can utilise technology to extricate our country from industrial muddle.

From business intelligence powered by Big Data analytics to the use of augmented Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms that predict the future of business processes, the event quenched the thirst for knowledge of the participants.

On expert, Mr Timo Elliot, drew my attention when he accentuated how blockchain technology has been used in San Diego, California, to trace fish and yellowfin tuna from the time they are caught in the sea to the moment they hit store shelves.

It then crossed my mind how this technology can be used to cushion Kenyans against consuming meat laced with Sodium Metabisulfite (commonly sulphites), a chemical that makes it appear fresh for longer — as shown in an NTV exposé of industrial malpractice in the country.

The Ministry of Health has since directed all county public health departments to heighten surveillance in supermarkets, butcheries, meat processors and other food businesses. But more questions than solutions regarding the quality of safety controls within the country’s food chain have arisen. The debate continues and no solution has been propounded.

As the preconditions for the take-off of the Fourth Industrial Revolution stream into Africa, there has never been a better reason to use the data we have to create a better continent.

Beef, pork, goat, chicken, mutton, venison, fish and seafood must be fit for human consumption at any sales point, and the ugly claws of capitalism must be cut off from wiping out meat-loving populations.

Meat is perishable, opening the industry to vulnerabilities of making gaffes that would, ultimately, affect human lives.

When foodborne diseases threaten public health, the first step to root-cause analysis is to track down the source of contamination and there is no tolerance for uncertainty.

Blockchain technology has proved it can discipline the human brain, and now we need it more than ever before to protect this country against forcing everyone to go vegan.

With the support of the public and private sector, and coupled with data science and AI, it will create transparent traceability from the moment an animal is slaughtered to the point a chunk of meat lands on your plate.

Data pertaining to when the animal was slaughtered, the type of animal, who did it, where it was killed, its weight, age and other critical health records, the buyer, price, mode of transportation and conditions of vehicle’s meat section, preservatives used and point of sale can all be traced using blockchain’s immutable system.

This will work best in the Kenyan experience because people now want to share tamper-resistant data to enhance trust. The parties can be Kenya Bureau of Standards, the Health ministry and Consumer Federation of Kenya.

But it is not only sulphites that should scare Kenyans due to their potential of causing colorectal cancer. Some meats and meat products have been mislabelled with over reportage of the killing of animals like donkeys, zebras and monkeys for meat that is never inspected a worrying trend in Kenya.

Blockchain will occlude these ills, executed in a meat supply chain that involves many intermediaries — typically seven or eight — ranging from safety inspectors, food processors, Customs agents to grocery and supermarket stores. Every participant in the chain sees the data in real time, boosting accountability. It is accurate and cannot be hacked or altered; neither can it allow fraud.

Meat should not be as expensive as vendors force us to believe. In a blockchain, all middlemen are eliminated. These are the goons who ensure that meat, both fresh and processed, reaches consumers at an exorbitant price.

As we wait for the lab test results, which will most likely come with just casual recommendations, it is time we fixed our meat industry with a sustainable solution that will be relevant 100 years later.

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