Betting on blockchain to optimize the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire—Interview with Neil Gordon, CEO of GAEX

Using blockchain technology to guarantee the compliance of cash crop commodities and ensure a better income for farmers? Damn, but of course! Still not widespread in Africa, this “trust machine” offers opportunities that go far beyond the creation of crypto-currencies. In Ghana, it is used as part of a pilot project to create a digital cadaster conducted since 2015 in Kumasi by the NGO Bitland, while in Uganda, the structure Carico Café Connoisseur uses it to certify the origin of its coffee. Good news: thanks to the company Global Agricultural Exchange (GAEX), this disruptive technology arrives in Côte d’Ivoire and attacks the cocoa sector. The man behind the project? Neil Gordon, an investment professional with 10+ years of experience in financial markets and a solid background in commodities.

The GAEX platform harnesses the power of blockchain technology to address the logistical and quality issues related to the cocoa trade, while improving farmers’ income. According to Neil Gordon, bringing transparency to the commodities market is one of the best possible applications of this validation tool initially used for the creation of crypto-currencies. Basically a super securitized database where only the parties with the right keys can actually unlock the information. In the long term, farmers will then be able to receive their orders directly, achieve real supply demand and get paid instantaneously while, on the other hand, traders can prove that their merchandise is compliant and that they know its origin, which can be traced from the field to the port of embarkation. An ambition which now has to be translated into concrete action. Of course, it will take some time before this disruptive technology penetrates the market and enters local habits, but if the country adopts it, it could be a real game changer in a sector that desperately lacks transparency, and could also extend to other countries and commodities. Case to follow from December, date at which the platform should be officially launched.

Ressources: How did you come up with the idea of GAEX?

Neil Gordon: It just appeared to me as a basic need when I came in a trade mission in Côte d’Ivoire in 2013. At that time the tanks were still in Plateau and the bullets still in the walls, but I just saw the huge potential, and also the utter need for commodities markets, commodities exchange, and it so happens that I know how to do those things, so I just thought: “This is the need, this is the solution, let’s see if we can do it.” As a member of the diaspora, I also felt somehow responsible; I felt like my contribution, having worked in capital markets, could be economics. So we just started working on it from that point, and that’s how GAEX took shape. I was born in Jamaica but I live in the United States. Actually I wanted to go back to Jamaica and start a commodity business there; give back to my country. But I ended up coming here and then got devoted to Côte d’Ivoire.

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