This story is part of BREAKER’s Social Good Week, a series looking at ways blockchain technology can engineer progress and help humanity.
In Indonesia, a monsoon can suddenly wipe out a small farmer’s income, leaving them too broke to buy the seeds and fertilizer that are their only chance at getting ahead. It might take months to get their documents through the loan department of a bank, only to find out that their land title isn’t clear, and they can’t borrow. Their only choice is to turn to an expensive local loan shark for the necessary cash.
Indonesian tech entrepreneur Regi Wahyu is betting that blockchain technology can help these farmers. “Being digitally excluded makes it hard to be able to make the right decisions at the right time,” he says. Long before he cofounded Dattabot, the the largest big-data analytics company in Indonesia, Wahyu lived for several years with a group of farmers in a small Javanese village named Sumedang. He saw the challenges farmers faced trying to make a living, even as the society around them depended on their food. As Wahyu became a digital entrepreneur, he thought about how to make a positive impact on this bottom layer of entrepreneurial society.
HARA, which means healthy soil in Indonesian sanskrit, is an information exchange linking farmers, finance institutions, retailers, and data service providers. It helps farmers access credit, lets financial groups understand their agricultural clients, and enables retailers to sell more goods and services to the farmers. It is a simple business model with a complex execution.
First, HARA helps small farmers establish a digital identity, hashed on a blockchain and based on their existing paper ID documents. It then dispatches local field agents to encourage the farmers to collect data about the size and location of their land, their plantings and harvests, and many other data points.
“Good information is the basis for good credit and goodwill."
HARA built a private network based on Ethereum, running on several Amazon Web Services EC2 containers that talk with each other. “We are using a proof-of-authority consensus mechanism, so that only nodes with authorized keys can join our network,” says Wahyu.
Ethereum lets them build smart contracts, trace and validate transactions and ownership rights, perform transactions through HARA tokens, and enables tokens to be traded on third-party token exchanges. The tokens incentivize the different parties in the system to participate, constantly building up a repository of valuable data. “Good information is the basis for good credit and goodwill. In our current economy, data is currency,” says Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon and a strong supporter of the project.
Vogels featured HARA on the first episode of his web series, “Now Go Build.” (The well-produced film, released in November, already has more than 1.3 million views.) After touring fields and villages with Wahyu and others, and looking at the tech, Vogels says, “It is exciting to see more technology companies looking beyond profit, to the impact they can have on the people around them. Companies like HARA.”
HARA believes that basic field and farm data will be an essential foundation for the future layering of other data from IoT and satellite companies they hope will join the HARA ecosystem. That data will be analyzed and returned to the farmers to be used to develop precision agriculture practices, like when to plant and when to water.
The farmers can decide what data to release to HARA, using their smartphone. HARA then collates and sells the data. This benefits the farmers in several ways. One, for the first time they have a clear, registered claim to their land, which is helpful given the shoddy state of property titles in Indonesia. Second, their data, collectively and individually, can help them plant better for bigger yields.
“The data helps the farmers make better decisions about boosting their income and applying for loans and other government documents, says Wahyu.
And third, with a digital ID, it is much easier for them to apply for loans and process government documents. “A project like ours helps them have an existence. They are no longer invisible,” says Wahyu.
As an added plus, the farmers (like many Indonesians) are making a technology leap straight from the 19th century to the 2020s, as if they were skipping from the telegraph to distributed IoT systems without ever experiencing the original web. “They don’t really care so much about blockchain itself, as they do about the benefits they get,” says Wahyu.
HARA devotes energy to educating farmers about the value of their data, and how they can take control of that for their own enlightenment, and also for profit. The company is transparent with the farmers about how it sells the farmers’ data to financial institutions and others, such as fertilizer companies, that might benefit from the information. In return, HARA rewards the farmers with points for entering data about things like crops, weather, and soil. These points can be used to purchase fertilizer, seed, and other useful products.
Perhaps more importantly, the interactions with HARA, along with the digital ID, allow the farmers to build an online reputation that helps them enter the financial markets from positions of power. In this way, loan sharks are replaced by institutional micro-lenders who are impressed with the farmers’ unprecedented 100 percent payback of the loans so far.
This high rate is partly due to micro-lenders having more data to examine before making a loan. But it’s also due to HARA’s decision to put people in the field to communicate with and assist farmers. These agents talk to farmers about the dividends that come with having a good credit record, and also help them with any technological issues, including measuring and registering their plots of land.
“Now they understand data and their rights, and see they have control over it,” says Wahyu.
At the moment, the HARA ecosystem includes 12,090 farmers from 214 villages, and the company is expanding in Colombia and Uganda. HARA hopes to expand into other agricultural industries, and is already developing a partnership with Aruna, an Indonesian company that farms fish and beef.