It’s 9.30 a.m. on a Tuesday, and Genevieve Leveille has been on a call since 6.30 a.m. She’s off to Lagos tomorrow on a 30-hour journey that includes a nine-hour layover at Schiphol Airport, and she has only a short break before her next call. Such is the life of Haiti-born Leveille as she works on using blockchain to trace agricultural produce from the farmer to the consumer.
The tragic loss of her father led to a move to New York at age 13. Beyond her years academically, she was pushed towards medicine, and ended up studying biochemistry at Columbia University. It was there that her fascination with technology began, as she rapidly acquired the knowledge to teach people how to use the Apple II computers that the company had gifted to the university.
Introducing technology into the cancer diagnosis process
Post-college roles drew on both her biochemistry degree and interest in technology, and included a stint at the world-renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
There, in addition to monitoring patient responses to yew tree-derived cancer drug Taxol, she brought technology into the cancer diagnosis process by introducing cameras on telescopes that enabled live transmission of images across the world. A cancer specialist based in Palermo, Italy could now undertake a real-time diagnosis of a patient with a rare cancer who was being treated in New York.
A blockchain epiphany
Leveille went on to hone her skills in senior product, operations and business process roles at Chase Manhattan, General Electric, Hewlett Packard and Royal Bank of Scotland. However, her epiphany came in 2015, when she joined a digital certificate provider and was introduced to blockchain. Only a year later, she launched her own company, AgriLedger.
Growing up in Haiti, Leveille had witnessed the consequences of food shortages, partly due to a lot of produce simply going to waste. And even if the produce actually reached the consumer, farmers might receive less than 2% of the final purchase price.
Tracing produce from seed to consumer
Realising the potential to have a positive impact on both producers and consumers, Leveille built a prototype to apply blockchain to trace produce throughout the entire journey from seed to harvest to transportation to wholesaler to retail outlet.
The rationale was that by documenting the whole process so that everyone involved could see where the produce came from and at what price it changed hands, farmers would get paid a fair price and consumers would benefit from traceable, safe food and the knowledge that everyone involved in bringing it to their table had been properly compensated.
World Bank sponsored collaboration in Haiti
Then, in 2018, Leveille heard about a call from Haiti’s Ministry of Commerce. It was for assistance with the traceability aspects of a project to help farmers export fresh fruit in order to eliminate waste and secure higher prices.
Rather than using agents, the farmers would do the exporting themselves and therefore increase their share of the retail price. When she learned that the project involved Haiti, the country of her birth, Leveille just knew that she had to be involved.
What she also knew was that buy-in from both the government and those involved on the ground in the agricultural supply chain would be crucial to the success of the project.
So, rather than focusing exclusively on the technical aspects of her blockchain / distributed ledger technology solution, Leveille also addressed the social aspects. Included in her response was the formation of a partnership between AgriLedger and computer training school Ecole Superieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti (ESIH) to equip students in Haiti with the skills to become the distributed ledger technologists of the future.
Fair pay for farmers transforms children’s futures
Today, Leveille is working on strengthening the position of farmers who are growing produce such as mangoes or avocados. She also talks about the wider aspects of paying farmers fairly, which include farmers being able to feed their children well and send them to school because they can afford the fees and don’t have to rely on their offspring for labour.
Further down the line, this means that those children can benefit from a variety of career options, with farming becoming a choice rather than a back-breaking necessity. Leveille hopes this will also ultimately lead to appropriate remuneration for teachers, who are currently not paid adequately.
Who grew my mango, and how much were they paid?
For the consumer, this means that they will be able to go into a Toronto grocery store, pick up a Haitian mango that’s priced at US$2.49, scan a QR code, and see information including which producer picked the mango and on what date, how much of the US$2.49 relates to transportation, how much the supermarket paid for it, and how much the farmer sold it for.
A pilot test conducted in May 2018 even enabled the consumer to see a picture of the farmer, the satellite location of the tree from which the fruit was picked, and the temperature at every stage of the process. The farmers involved in the pilot made up to eight times as much money as they had previously.
As Leveille says, “What’s great about this is that it shifts the power.” And not only in Haiti, as the World Bank sponsored collaboration offers AgriLedger the potential to incorporate elements into its solution that will help governments globally.
Leveille is buzzing with ideas as she prepares for her upcoming trip … and that layover!