China is breeding chickens on the blockchain to improve food safety

Deep in the mountainous area in Daozhen, rural Guizhou in southwestern China, ZhongAn recently built a new chicken farm with the assistance of local authorities. This is also part of the government campaign of “alleviating poverty,” which aims to increase income for families in China’s unprivileged rural areas.

6,000 chicks are kept indoors with heating facilities, and when they grow larger, they will be freed into two two-hectare free-range farms, each enjoying a space of 6.7 square meters. Chickens here will mature in 166 days while the regular chicken used by restaurants or supermarkets do in 40 days.

When released outdoors, wearables will be attached to the legs of each chicken, which track their daily activities. The company has also set up monitoring stations around the farm that oversee air, water, and soil quality in the area. All of the information, as well as shipping records, will be uploaded to the cloud and secured by blockchain.

Partnering with Anlink (连陌科技), ZhongAn Technology, subsidiary of Ant Financial and Tencent-backed ZhongAn Online, launched an agriculture product called gogochicken (步步鸡). Featuring blockchain’s immutability and traceability, the company provides the country’s growing middle class who are concerned with food safety a pricey solution.

The chickens that matured on the companies’ other farms, utilizing the same technology, are already available on China’s different e-commerce platforms, including JD.com.  Frozen chickens are sold for RMB 238 ($37) each and chilled are RMB RMB 268, while in local supermarkets, regular chickens are usually sold for around RMB 60.

According to the company, they’ve chosen premium chicken breeds and provided the best living conditions. Since all the data is secured by blockchain, it’s impossible to counterfeit, and thus consumers can know for sure their chickens are worth the price.

The blockchain buzzword

The company wants to see how blockchain can be applied to different industries such as finance and insurance, said Chen Wei, Chief Executive Officer of ZhongAn Technology. Although he admitted that the exploration is still at its early stages and requires investment and time to mature, he said potentially blockchain can drive the growth in the future.

“We have multiple nodes that upload different data to our blockchain,” said Wang Wei, Chief Operating Officer of Anlink. The multiple nodes include internet of things devices on the farms that collect data on air, soil, slaughter house, quarantine records and the sales ends. All of them will upload related information to the blockchain to make sure the quality of the chicken, Wang said.

Information on the chicken farms is available to the public online, although it’s designed more for chicken farmers to monitor the growth of their poultry. The company did not disclose the exact number of farms currently in operation; four farms are shown on the monitor screen. Apart from the newest farm in Daozhen, the other three are located in Shandong, Anhui and Henan province. When certain factors, such as air, water or soil quality, drop or jump to unexpected levels, the system will flag them to the farmers.

Screenshot of the monitoring site

When consumers receive their chickens, they can scan a QR code to see the birth and slaughter date and how many steps the chicken walked. However, other information regarding the environment a specific chicken has grown up in, nutrition breakdown of the meat or the shipping records is not available.

Information available to consumers

Farmers are trying to catch up with the consumption upgrade

“The higher the prices are, the better our farmers can benefit,” said Zhou Ling, vice party secretary of Daozhen county.

These pricey chickens are raised in one of China’s poorest areas, with an average personal income of RMB 5,200 per year, according to Daozhen local statistics.

Mountainous topography hindered the region’s road construction and communication with the outside world, but can help the chickens exercise. “The chickens here are of better quality and can be sold at higher prices, ” said Zhou. Road construction will be finished before the chickens mature, and thus, transportation won’t be a problem by then, he said later.

“We are targeting consumers in the first tier cities, or emerging first tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen,” Wang said, “They are the newly established middle class and people concerned with food security, or who want to provide quality food for their children.”

Wang said rural areas in Henan, Shandong, and Anhui provinces are the main farming areas because they are closer to the developed cities, but building farms in other relevantly remote areas can help the expansion. He said they expected to build 3000 farms by 2020.

Jiang Song, who joined the cooperative this year, said he used to be a migrant worker, away from his parents and children who need taking care of. The project provided a good opportunity, and thus he came back. Zhou said they expect the project to benefit 366 families.