View our interactive map to learn how alumni and the College are addressing the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals
Peter Johnson ’02 is addressing the global problem of food waste and creating greater transparency and fairness in supply chains, worldwide.
By Kris Dreessen
From harvest to dinner table, 30 percent of all food produced globally goes to waste, the United Nations estimates, which impacts the environment, workers and food insecurity. The U.N. has made more responsible consumption and production a priority of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to meet worldwide by 2030.
Doing his part to help meet that goal is alumnus Peter Johnson ’02, who draws on his experience as an international finance expert, analyst, diplomat and entrepreneur to address food waste and create greater transparency and fairness in supply chains.
Johnson founded the Ayadee Holding Corp. in 2018, initially running his operations from El Salvador and later from Tunisia. As CEO, Johnson leads a small team of experts who develop emerging “blockchain” technologies to create more fair and transparent supply chains in developing countries, especially in agriculture.
Businesses and organizations use blockchain technology to examine and manage detailed processes for improvements, such as preventing food loss and waste. It’s essentially a distributed ledger, allowing records entered into it to be recorded on multiple ledgers or record books across as many as millions of computers. In the supply chain space, businesses and organizations can use this to track each step of production and distribution, such as the exact time and date a farmer finishes packing a crate of cherries to ship and when a distributor delivers an order to a grocery store.
“Once recorded, the information can never be changed,” says Johnson. “Blockchain is so important because it produces a secure, comprehensive timeline of the entire process. Businesses can see, for example, if their product sits too long in a warehouse and risks spoiling. A humanitarian group may use it to ensure aid goes where it is supposed to and to who needs it.”
On the surface, blockchain’s uses related to supply chains seem tied to efficiency, but the technology addresses other issues in global sustainability, including using its transparency to prevent child or forced labor and ensure fair payment is made to producers of goods.
Johnson has a vision for the technology. For example, development agencies can use it to monitor loans and grants to determine if funds get to the causes and for whom they are intended. Incorporating timed photographs of workers entering both back and front doors for shifts in a factory could show whether children are working. A quick scan of a QR code on a bag of shrimp may show a shopper the product’s full history, so fair trade and sustainable purchases are easy to make.
“Ultimately, I think consumers will want transparency,” says Johnson. “That transparency will root out both fraud and corruption along supply chains and create more operational efficiencies, which will also help companies be more profitable and in turn, reduce food and other waste.”
Johnson’s team designed the Ayadee TRAK blockchain tool for accessibility — including in remote areas. It runs on an app, on a low energy, four-button interface, with little or even no network or cell service. “The simplicity makes it easier for farmers with limited education in emerging and frontier markets to use this tool,” says Johnson. “and it’s also easy to use for consumers and users at all levels of the supply chain.”
Johnson and Ayadee work with companies, nonprofits, governments and international organizations. Johnson recently led an online class about blockchain for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research and advised the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on how blockchain could be implemented with food supply chains.
Johnson is also tackling global food waste with the Ayadee Foundation, a nonprofit think tank and tech incubator he created in 2018 to gather an interdisciplinary group of experts to strategize solutions. Its first Hackathon to Strengthen Food Supply Chains was in 2020, and it is now teaching young professionals how to use blockchain for transparency through its Ayadee Foundation Fellowship Program.
“During COVID-19, we have seen a lot of food disruptions, with farmers plowing under fields and farmers having to dump milk,” says Johnson. “It was a good time to bring people together to find new solutions and new ideas for this problem that existed before but which was exacerbated by COVID-19.”
Johnson’s inspiration for creating Ayadee and the Ayadee Foundation came during his role in the U.S. State Department. He was able to see how United Nations agencies he worked with were using blockchain technology for greater efficiencies and providing better services.
He got his start in the fields at Geneseo, double majoring in economics and international relations and minoring in business administration. Professors at Geneseo truly influenced his career path, says Johnson, including international relations and political science mentors Edward Drachman, Robert Goeckel, Jeremy Grace and the late Jo Kirk. Grace, he says, steered him toward Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies to earn his master’s degree, where he completed specializations in finance and emerging markets.
Johnson’s career experience spanned finance, investment analysis, international diplomacy and assistance and nonprofit work before he created Ayadee. He started his career in finance at Citi and at S&P Global Markets before taking a position with the African Development Bank (AfDB), where he supervised institution investments and transactions throughout Africa. During his six years with the State Department, Johnson’s responsibilities included coordinating grants to civil society organizations in Egypt. As a member of the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition, Johnson hosted conferences with senior delegations from 68 partner countries to discuss global strategies to counter the Islamic State and raise funds for humanitarian assistance and stabilization in Iraq and Syria.
While blockchain and other new technologies cannot affect change on their own, quick adoption of them can help developing countries move ahead in economic growth, says Johnson. If they are not broadly adopted, they can instead create a new technology gap — leading to wealth gaps between and within countries.
“I want to be a steward of the earth to leave something better for my kids. The liberal arts education at Geneseo made a big impact on me,” says Johnson. “I was taught to look at problems creatively, from different angles, and to bring together interdisciplinary teams of people to work on projects. If we think the same way we’ve always thought, we will get the same solutions.”
THE INTERNSHIP CONNECTION:
This summer, Ayadee Holding Corp. and Ayadee Foundation founder Peter Johnson ’02 is hosting accounting major Alexis Kruzicki ’23 as an intern with the Ayadee Foundation. She will focus on nonprofit operations management, supporting the scaling of projects in our current Ayadee Foundation Fellowship Program ( https://www.ayadeefoundation.org/fellowship), as well as supporting planning our next cohort of social impact tech entrepreneurs.
“I know Geneseo continues to attract brighter and brighter students,” says Johnson. “I like both giving back to my alma mater and having a connection to it.”