What Real Transparency Means at Silvan

A Case Study: Frankincense

Not many people make it to the Sanaag region of Somaliland; the region’s remoteness and instability keep the majority from gazing at the majesty of the Daalo mountains or trekking the steep wadis that crisscross the region.  The wadis hide a bounty of wild frankincense trees that have been tapped for millenia for their resin, famed for its rich and ethereal scent.  The region’s remoteness does not protect it from the winds of globalization.  The explosion of the essential oil industry over the last decade has put unprecedented stress on a delicate ecosystem.  There is a huge amount of money to be made in frankincense and the combination of high demand and difficult logistics breeds a pattern of human and environmental exploitation that’s sadly all too familiar in high-value supply chains within developing economies.  Overharvesting, unfair labor conditions, mistreatment of women and harvesting communities by middlemen all exist under the cloak of opacity that is born from low traceability.  The vast majority of frankincense that comes from the Horn of Africa and the Southern Arabian Peninsula can barely be traced to a region, let alone a community or a specific harvesting site, and there are strong vested interests that would like to keep it that way.

So what do we do?  It’s tempting to walk away; write frankincense off as a broken supply chain, remove it from our essential oil collections or our cosmetics.  But as with many challenging ingredients, to abandon them is to abandon the 225,000 people that the UN says depend on frankincense in Somaliland and Puntland alone and to threaten the Boswellia tree with further ecological degradation. 

Recipe for change

We do not have all the answers, but we do have a recipe for change. Its core ingredients are:


Customers need to educate themselves and ask hard questions of their favorite brands. In turn, the industry and brands need to step up, acknowledge the issues, and invest in change.


The scale of this challenge is beyond one brand or company alone to address.  We need to work alongside those who we might traditionally see as competitors if we want to meet the size of the task.


Exploitation happens in the shadows. We must look for new ways to shine a light into the supply chain and understand what is happening.


We will not fix this overnight and we will not get it right straight away.  To ensure real, lasting improvements, we have to sign up for the long term.

About Blockchain, a Case Study: Somaliland

Partnering with FairSource Botanicals and the Dayaxa Frankincense Export Company, Silvan is deploying a bespoke blockchain mobile app to register farms, harvesters and trees. Tagged resin bags are dropped at each farm, each with a unique reference code, so that bags of resin can be traced back to each farm and the dates of harvest by scanning this code. The mobile app is used to record each stage in the transportation of the resin, until distillation, when the unique codes for resin are combined to enable each bottle of oil to be traced back to its source resin. All of this data, from payments to harvesters, to ecological tree data, is all stored on an open, online, immutable ledger, which is how blockchain is being used to demonstrate providence of resin in Somaliland. It is the immutablity of data stored using Blockchain that enables the project to deliver on it’s promise of traceability with data points that can be trusted.