This start-up is using blockchain to help smallholder farmers prosper

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Natalie Marchant, Writer, Formative Content


  • Many workers in emerging economies are unbanked because they can’t prove their existence in the supply chain.
  • A US-based start-up wants to help by using blockchain to give everyone access to their work history.
  • BanQu’s technology records all transactions to improve sustainability and productivity across the supply chain.
  • By making the supply chain more reliable and transparent, BanQu technology could prove a vital tool in creating a circular economy.
  • BanQu is a member of The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021 on UpLink.

Imagine if you were selling your products into the supply chain of a big brand and yet were not able to open a bank account. For many people in emerging economies, being locked out of the global economy like this is a reality.

Farmers, recyclers, waste pickers and many more can face such issues because they often can’t prove their existence in the supply chain. But one start-up wants to help end this problem by using non-cryptocurrency blockchain-based software to give anyone across the value chain a record of their work history.

Banqu application supply chain sustainability
Banqu uses blockchain technology to give all workers across the value chain a record of their work history. Image: Banqu

Alongside this, the digital ledger technology from US and South Africa-based BanQu can boost productivity and profitability, and is designed to make the supply chain more sustainable. And as all transactions can be delivered via SMS, no smartphone is required.

CEO and co-founder Ashish Gadnis set up BanQu after witnessing a women farmer in the Democratic Republic of Congo being denied a bank account as the only proof she had of her role in the supply chain was a paper receipt.

“I can’t bank her,” the banker said to Gadnis. “But I can bank you.” This prompted him to create BanQu – “bank you” – to ensure that everyone along the supply chain is visible in the global economy by recording them on a digital ledger, or blockchain.

The platform is now active in more than 40 countries and makes more than 300,000 digital connections within supply chains for fast-moving consumer goods supply chains each day. At least 600,000 people are said to be on the network so far.

By ensuring that every transaction in a supply chain is recorded on a blockchain, BanQu’s platform promises both socioeconomic and environmental benefits.

And it could have a key role in the circular economy – which promotes the elimination of waste and the continual use of natural resources. It’s estimated the circular economy could yield $4.5 trillion in economic benefits to 2030.

Bottom-line boost

Zambian Breweries, a subsidiary of AB InBev, used BanQu technology to eliminate supply chain blackspots and boost their bottom line.

The company began buying its harvest of cassava – a root vegetable it uses to brew beer – from smallholder farmers through BanQu, which enabled farmers to redeem virtual tokens for cash or apply them to other networked transactions such as paying their energy bill.

It also meant Zambian Breweries could streamline its buying process, optimize its supply chain and create long-term farmer development plans. It then recorded a 17% rise in revenue by the end of 2019, up to $114.8 million from $98 million in 2018.

Meanwhile smallholder farmers earned a total income of more than $1.5 million, with one 53-year-old farmer and mother of 13 increasing sales from 3,800 kilogrammes (kg) of cassava to more than 12,000 kg in a year.

In Colombia, another beverage company, Bavaria Breweries, used BanQu technology to meet Anheuser-Busch InBev’s sustainability goal that by 2025, 100% of its products will be in returnable or recyclable packaging.

While it is widely accepted that returnable bottles can be used multiple times, what is less known is that waste pickers and recycling collectors – particularly women – face the same issues relating to being unbanked and invisible as those working in sectors such as farming.

So Bavaria Breweries used BanQu technology to be traceable and transparent at both a material and human level, improving the financial inclusion and ensuring the wellbeing of its workers while also working towards fulfilling their 2025 sustainability goals.

By the end of 2020, 74.2% of AB InBev products were in returnable packaging, with some returnables being reusable up to 15 times (and 100 times in some cases).

Accelerating solutions

BanQu is one of the start-ups selected for The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021, an Accenture initiative run in partnership with Anglo American, Ecolab and Schneider Electric, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform.

How UpLink is helping to find innovations to solve challenges like this

UpLink is a digital platform to crowdsource innovations in an effort to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

It is an open platform designed to engage anyone who wants to offer a contribution for the global public good. The core objective is to link up the best innovators to networks of decision-makers, who can implement the change needed for the next decade. As a global platform, UpLink serves to aggregate and guide ideas and impactful activities, and make connections to scale-up impact.https://www.weforum.org/videos/uplink

Hosted by the World Economic Forum, UpLink is being designed and developed in collaboration with Salesforce, Deloitte and LinkedIn.

There are currently 24 companies in The Circulars Accelerator 2021 Cohort. The six-month remote programme includes expert circular economy workshops, coaching modules, mentoring, networking opportunities, investor engagement and accelerator team support.

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