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Fertilizer Distribution Scandals: Can We Prototype a Blockchain System?

By John Walubengo

The ongoing scandal around fake fertilizers being distributed to farmers has embarrassed the government. 

Initially, the government was in denial, blaming unscrupulous suppliers. After the Africa Uncensored Media expose, the government conceded that something was internally wrong with the distribution system.

Irrespective of who is to blame, farmers are being held short by fertiliser that seems to be a mix of sand, manure, and other unclassified chemicals. 

As the investigations go on, one thing that requires no AI prediction is that the next harvest will likely be compromised, increasing food insecurity or, in simpler terms, the threat of hunger in parts of Kenya.

Like most Kenyan scandals, this is not the first time we have heard of Kenya’s fertiliser system going wrong. Each regime must commit the crimes of the past regimes in matters of the distribution of supply chains. 

It is a Supply Chain Problem

Whether we are distributing medicines, as in the KEMSA scandal distributing funds to vulnerable groups or simply sending textbooks and other resources to the public schools, the process is always susceptible to not-so-well-meaning interested parties.

At the heart of this distribution problem is simply the fact that the different parties involved in the distribution chain have different, isolated, and uncoordinated information systems that do not talk to each other.

It becomes complicated to trace a transaction from its origin, say the fertiliser manufacturer, through the importing partner, to government distribution centres, and finally to the farmer.

This is because every participant has isolated recording systems that can be changed—rightly or wrongly—without agreement or validation from the other participating partner organisations within the distribution value chain.

The current system provides fertile ground for mischief since the people gaming the system know very well that tracing back the source of the fake fertiliser will lead to a dead end or implicate the wrong culprits because records are easily amendable.

Blockchain: The Forgotten Option

The technology to arrest this type of mischief has been around for a while, and IBM Kenya built a prototype for the drug distribution type of supply chain in 2017.

Based on blockchain technology it was one of the use case examples mentioned in the KE Blockchain report published by Prof. Bitange Ndemo Taskforce in 2018. 

It envisions a more robust information system in which all the participants in the value chain—including farmers—can sign off transactions on a distributed ledger system that is several times more trusted due to its immutability attributes.

Until Kenya is ready to pilot some of the blockchain systems identified in the report, we shall discuss fake fertilisers, fake medicines, and fake fund distributions, amongst other everyday hacks against traditional national public supply chain systems.

John Walubengo is an ICT Lecturer and Consultant. @jwalu.



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