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Pig farmers in Papua New Guinea capitalize on blockchain technology

©FAO/Gerard Sylvester

FAO develops livestock-tracking system to help pig farmers expand their markets

Key Facts

Pigs play a key role in Papua New Guinea, both culturally and economically. Rising global demand for pork presents new export opportunities, but only if farmers can prove the quality of their product. Together with the International Telecommunications Unit, FAO is creating a distributed ledger system – better known as a blockchain-based system – that can track livestock and allow consumers to buy with confidence by verifying the history of their pigs. Using the system, farmers can record important information about their pigs, including their pedigrees, what they were fed, when they fell sick and what medicine was administered. Before the system was implemented, consumers had no means of verifying this information. The implementation of the new tracking system is vital for establishing consumer trust and ensuring farmers can expand their markets and earn a fair return on their investments.

In Papua New Guinea, no celebration is complete without a pig roast. As one of the few mammals living on the island, pigs play an important role in the country’s culture and economy. Traditionally, smallholder farmers—who raise the vast majority of pigs—have sold their livestock locally, but a rise in global demand for pork means new opportunities to access international markets. Consequently, farmers are looking for a way to prove that their livestock meets international standards—and are now turning to blockchain, immutable data recording technology, to do so.

At the request of the Provincial Government of Jiwaka, FAO and the International Telecommunications Unit (ITU) conceptualized and designed a new livestock-tracking blockchain system for smallholder pig farmers. Using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and a smartphone app, farmers can keep digital records of how they raised their pigs – proving the pigs received a diet of sweet potatoes, for example, or were administered the proper vaccines. Thanks to this robust digital history, buyers can be assured of their animals’ quality, while farmers can earn a fairer return on their investment.

The system is currently being piloted in Jiwaka, where community members were eager to test the initiative. The provincial government funded smartphones for 25 smallholder farmers, along with training on how to use the app. Meanwhile, the country’s national communications authorities are improving local broadband connectivity so that the farmers can more easily use their smartphones to update livestock records in the tracking system, which rests in the cloud.

Johannes Pakange, a smallholder farmer who grows lemons and mandarins and raises pigs, is already looking forward to seeing the new technology pay off. “I’m very happy that FAO is doing this traceability system in Jiwaka,” he said. “I have tagged my piglets, and when they grow to 100 kilogrammes, I’ll be able to sell them, and people will be able to access information about how my pigs were raised.”

In addition to the blockchain technology, FAO is developing other livestock-related initiatives as well. Together with Papua New Guinea’s Department of Agriculture and Livestock, FAO is providing husbandry training so that smallholder farmers can improve the health and value of their pigs. FAO and ITU are also providing technical assistance in developing Papua New Guinea’s national e-agriculture strategy, which will help the country leverage communications technologies to address agricultural challenges.

Importantly, FAO is also working with provincial health officials to raise awareness about antimicrobial resistance and the importance of raising and consuming healthy animals. Sometimes pigs are given antibiotics intended for human use, which can lead them to develop a resistance to the drug. When these pigs are consumed, they can pass on this resistance to humans, thereby contributing to the risk of a “superbug” that does not respond to any treatment. As a result, FAO is encouraging farmers to practice an integrated One Health approach that looks at safeguarding human and animal health to reduce disease threats and ensure safe food supply.

The next steps for the project are to improve the app and make it available to a wider group of farmers. FAO is also working with banks and mobile operators to enable payments to be made online. The project could also create new opportunities for rural transporters, who could deliver the pigs from the seller to the buyer for a small fee. As the blockchain software increases trust and opportunities in local markets, it is also laying the groundwork for future systems that could enable smallholder producers to satisfy international standards for exporting livestock. But for now, FAO is helping farmers raise their incomes, fight antimicrobial resistance, create new opportunities throughout the value chain and be a part of the global goal to achieve #ZeroHunger.

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