Recent graduate Daniel Oberhauser researched and developed his ecosystem management app alongside his MPhil in Biodiversity Conservation and Management. His innovative idea, linking blockchain smart contract payments with cloud-based remote sensing, won a $20,000 ConXTech Prize at the end of 2019.

Daniel Oberhauser Charlie Chesney

Payments for Ecosystem Services – encouraging landowners to keep spaces ‘wild’ or ‘green’ instead of industrial farming or building on their land - have recently become an important tool in environmental governance; however programmes are often inefficient and not tamper-proof.

As part of the Con X Tech prize, Daniel (pictured top right) and his fellow BCM course mate Charlie Chesney (pictured below), built a prototype app which linked blockchain payment technology with cloud-based remote-sensing, to make monitoring land use and paying land owners for ecosystem services more efficient and effective.

Judges selected the Blockchain Ecosystem Payments project from twenty shortlisted prototypes, as an example of an “excellent project creatively mixing existing technologies in new ways”. The pairing of secure payment methods will remote sensing monitoring, they said, seemed “ground-breaking”.

Daniel’s original idea for the project came about in a small SoGE Conservation Governance Lab workshop on Blockchain Technology, which explored the ways in which the technology might be able to help address environmental problems.

“Blockchain 'smart contracts' caught my interest as I saw a potential connection to a wildlife payment scheme that I had worked with before, run by the WWF Namibia,” explains Daniel. “Essentially, communities get payments for wildlife on their territory, thereby establishing wildlife as an alternative land use to agriculture.”

Daniel and Charlie worked with WWF Namibia during the prototype stage, to monitor the state of the corridors and execute periodical smart contract payments to the community if the corridor remained intact.

The app has the potential to be used in a variety of ecosystem governance challenges, Daniel explains, with carbon off-setting payments and tree planting another example of where this technology could be valuable:

“The remote sensing system can monitor forest much better than wildlife corridors. Carbon offset payments might become a big thing soon.”

The Biodiversity Conservation and Management MPhil provided an interdisciplinary education in the cross-cutting challenges in biodiversity conservation, which was helped provide the fertile ground for Daniel’s idea. “Several courses taught me some of the methods that are now part of the prototype, for instance, remote sensing on Google Earth Engine.”

Daniel conducted a theoretical feasibility study of the project for his three months MSc dissertation. However, he says, it was the BCM Bursary Award Scholarship which allowed him to transfer to the two-year MPhil, that gave him the time to develop and implement his ideas, and to apply to the ConXTech Prize competition.

“”I am grateful that the department trusted my project, which allowed me to continue my work in the vibrant academic environment of SOGE. The implementation of the project would have been impossible without this support.”

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