Bankers, fund managers, internet geeks, and just about any businessperson with an interest in digital technologies meet today at Kampala Serena hotel for the Africa Blockchain conference. The two-day conference is expected to belly up support for a type of technology that has raised suspicion and hype in equal measure, writes JEFF MBANGA.
Ever since Bank of Uganda warned the public against trading in crypto currencies such as bitcoin, arguably the most popular digital asset on the blockchain platform, this form of business has been received with a timid embrace.
But with the Blockchain conference, one expects a better understanding of the risks and opportunities. Basically, blockchain is an online platform that allows transactions in digital assets. The assets can vary from land to cars to currencies. One of the advantages of blockchain technology is that it opens up new markets for assets and reduces the cost and time of transactions.
Uganda has not been left behind and a number of businesses are already trading in blockchain technology. The following list, by no means exhaustive, represents some of the businesses dealing in blockchain technology in Uganda.
If there is one thing that Buganda kingdom has had challenges with, it is cleaning up its land registry of fraudsters. To try and solve this problem, Buganda Land Board (BLB), the land registry arm of Buganda kingdom, signed an agreement with ViVa International, an international technology firm, to get landowners within the board’s system into a more secure online platform, where duplication of land titles is nearly impossible.
ViVa International’s introduction of smart electronic cards for landowners has made it hard for forgeries, but also laid the ground for integration into blockchain technology. This process of integrating landowners within BLB’s system into blockchain technology should be completed before the end of 2018.
According to ViVa International, “Each registered BLB landowner will be provided an exclusive blockchain identity, populated with his or her land records and biometric (palm vein) identification.
The user will also be given “vault” storage capability, so they can upload and securely store their other important documents like birth certificates, driver’s license, and bank account information.”
There are a number of advantages that the landowners will enjoy if they sign up with blockchain, ViVa International says.
“This will allow landowners to go to a bank for a loan and prove to the bank that they are who they say they are, and that they have a valid title to their land, with only a Land Electronic card, and without turning over any documents,” the company said.
There will be an opportunity for BLB to enter into the bitcoin space too. ViVa International says “BLB will deposit a certain number of bitcoin tokens into the account upon registration.
“These tokens can be used to pay for identity transactions, or allowed to grow in value through appreciation. In this way, the owner can enter the bitcoin economy in a controlled, no-risk way, and learn about how it operates.”
Great Lakes Coffee
On the foothills of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda, farmers sweat it out by plowing the rich soils to plant coffee, waiting for the proceeds from their harvest to make ends meet.
The farm-gate prices compared to the true value of their coffee are depressing. Uganda’s coffee industry is crowded with all kinds of middlemen. Some say there can be up to eight different middlemen between the farmer and the export market.
The middlemen out-bargain the farmers by paying them peanuts while they themselves demand a higher price from the next agent. In the end, farmers get very little. That is not all. Since the middlemen are largely motivated by greed to make as much money as possible, proper standards of the coffee are ignored.
Great Lakes Coffee, a Ugandan coffee-exporting company, is trying to solve that problem. The company has adopted blockchain technology to try and fix this problem.
Late last year, Great Lakes Coffee partnered bext360, a company that describes itself as one that develops technologies to streamline critical supply chains in emerging economies, and Coda Coffee, a Denver-based coffee roaster, to offer farmers more.
Under the partnership, bext360 undertook a pilot programme where bextmachines were deployed in eastern Uganda with Great Lakes Coffee at the washing stations on its farm, allowing farmers to deposit their coffee cherries for analysis and paid for their harvest.
In April, bext360 said: “Using machine vision, artificial intelligence along with blockchain technology from Stellar.org, the bextmachine evaluates and sorts coffee cherries and parchment, based on quality (farmers with bigger and riper cherries are compensated more).
The machine then links this output to special crypto tokens, tracking the produce across its lifespan, and in this case to where the coffee was roasted in Denver, Colorado, USA by Coda Coffee. Each evaluation and transaction relating to the coffee – including farmer identification, quality, purchasers and payouts – is recorded on the blockchain providing complete visibility to end consumers.”
The company announced that it had “released the world’s first blockchain-traced coffee.”
Be Forward car importing firm
There is a new currency that the public can use to buy vehicles – bitcoin. Be Forward, one of the most popular online vehicle importing firms, now allows customers to buy cars using bitcoin.
Be Forward has a partnership with Coinify, an international bitcoin processor, to allow customers purchase cars using crypto currencies. According to Be Forward, interested clients can inform the company’s sales representative of their intention to buy cars using bitcoin.
According to Be Forward, “the conversion rate from the United States dollar to bitcoin is valid for 15 minutes after you proceed to check-in.”
Coinify says “Bitcoin can be sent anywhere in the world with much lower fees in a matter of seconds. This will make it faster to confirm your payment and arrange the product shipment consecutively. Customers could also save the expensive transfer fee.” Be Forward imports cars mainly from Japan.
Modularity Grid Mandulis energy
One of the most common debates on the electricity industry is the amount of money consumers pay in power tariffs. From big manufacturers to small barber shops, the cost of power tends to eat up a sizeable chunk of their profit margins.
To bring down power tariffs, government is trying to come up with a number of initiatives, one of them being able to create more demand power for the excess available power.
The argument is that the more people demand for power, the lower the tariffs will fall because there will be little excess power. This is where Modularity Grid platform, which is co-founded by Mandulis Energy Limited, comes in.
Mandulis Energy says it is developing 8MW of power (16 sites with 500kW each) that use gasification to turn agricultural residues into base load power for micro grids in rural farming communities.
The project is being run by Mandulis, the French NGO ACTED with support also coming from USAID’s Power Africa Programme. According to the concept, the modularity grid platform “uses artificial intelligence and blockchain for the control and management of electricity generation and distribution.”
The company adds: For us, internet and electricity are inextricably linked.
Their connection enables us to provide homes, businesses and industries, with electricity that is not only productive but crucially, also efficient, reliable and affordable. Our aim is to unify the highly fragmented electricity market, on a single platform, with a user-centered solution, that addresses the energy “trilemma.”
These are still baby steps for Modularity Grid. But should this blockchain concept ease distribution and access to power, then the energy industry could see a concept that brings down power tariffs in Uganda.