Seneca Park Zoo, in New York, spends about $ 77,000 annually to fund conservation projects around the world, including a tree planting scheme in Ranomafana National Park, in eastern Madagascar.
Until recently, Tom Snyder, the director of the conservation planning and conservation zoo, had no idea how much these funds had actually been spent.
"You send money and get an annual report on how it's going," he says. "Sometimes, because non-profit organizations are so tense, the relationship does not come for six months after the end of the review period, so it can be 18 months before getting any information. that they will do. "
Snyder believes that blockchain can solve his information problem. Seneca Zoo has partnered with Ixo Foundation, a nonprofit open source software development organization, to monitor the effort to plant Madagascar trees through Ixo's blockchain-based platform.
It is not just blockchain that goes to the rescue. An entire collection of technologies, from smartphones to wirelessly connected sensors and satellite imagery available to the public, is gathering to see what is happening on the ground in a rainforest in Madagascar in a way that was not possible before.
When each seed or tree is planted, for example, the forester can take a picture of it, with GPS coordinates of where it was taken. These images can be compared with satellite images of the forest canopy or light readings from the sensors at ground level to verify that there has actually been an increase in trees in the area.
Blockchain is the network that unites everything. The same distributed register technology that supports cryptocurrencies like bitcoin makes it possible to maintain and verify digital records continuously in "blocks". It can be used to capture many test points, creating a unique record that can not be tampered with, but can be easily seen by anyone.
The plan, says Snyder, is that from next February, you will be able to walk into the zoo, donate money for the conservation project and then receive real-time updates on the phone – including photos – of the trees being planted. "We hope you encourage more people to donate," says Snyder.
The conservation budget of the Seneca Park Zoo may be modest, but the US Zoo and Aquarium Association invests more than $ 250 million annually in international conservation.  Other organizations consider blockchain as a way to monitor previously difficult-to-verify results. Vestergaard, a healthcare company based in Switzerland, for example, is working with Hiveonline, a Danish blockchain start-up, to provide microfinance for Ghanaian farmers.
Vestergaard already sells insect storage cultivation sack farmers to help stop the wheat from becoming infested with weevils and other pests. Now the bags can be filled with a wireless chip for tracking and grain quality can be assessed with an application of image recognition on a smartphone. Based on these data, farmers can borrow money from the value of the crops they have stored with a local broker, for example. Money can be sent in the form of cryptocurrency, without the need for conventional banks.
Blockchain is not infallible, nor does it solve the fundamental logistical problems that African farmers face, says Sofie Blakstad, founder and CEO of Hiveonline.
"We can not take away the fact that it can still be a nightmare to move goods from one place to another in Africa, but we can give more transparency," he says. "We can not stop people from cheating, but we can make it harder for them to do it."
There are also other problems, such as ensuring that the data are not used improperly. Snyder, for example, is looking at ways to ensure that poachers do not acquire biodiversity information that shows them where to find rare animals.
For the blockchain pioneers, the possibilities for monitoring and verification are just the tip of the iceberg. The broader vision of Shaun Conway, founder and president of Ixo Foundation, is potentially bringing new money and investors to areas such as impact investments.
Conway states that Ixo's Blockchain for Impact platform could turn any desired impact investment result, such as educating girls in rural India or replanting a certain number of rainforest hectares – in a unit or a negotiable token. These could then be exchanged on a secondary market, as a bond, with the value rising and falling depending on the progress of the project. It seems that those rural Indian girls get high scores in their school exams? You could have a bonus payment and the value of the token goes up.
"It would establish a market and create liquidity around these projects," says Conway.
Could trade introduce moral hazard, anyway? Could someone shorten the reforestation tokens and start a forest fire to make sure their value plunges? Conway admits that it can not be excluded.
For Snyder, the possibility of trading tokenised trees and educational outcomes is interesting but somewhat hypothetical. For now, tracking is quite exciting
"People must first become familiar with the system," he says. "A year or two along the way we can see what else comes out of it."