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The Rising Tide of DeFi and Smart Contracts on Cardano: A Comprehensive Review

Feb 22, 2024
byNDAX Labs

The rise of decentralized finance (DeFi) and smart contracts within the blockchain space has been nothing short of remarkable. Leading the charge in this revolutionary era is Cardano, a public blockchain platform that has etched its name in the DeFi landscape.

For the uninitiated, DeFi refers to blockchain-built financial services, such as loans or trades, done without middlemen like banks. Smart contracts serve as the automated backbone of DeFi operations, ensuring that transactions occur reliably without compromise.

Unlike other platforms empowering smart contracts (i.e., Ethereum and Bitcoin) or budding contenders such as Avalanche and Solana, Cardano stands out for its unique approach. At its core, it nestles a commitment to scientifically researched, peer-reviewed methods and eco-friendly practices while offering scalability and impressive transaction speeds.

So what's special about this blockchain? How did it reach here? Where is it headed next? Climb aboard this exploration ship as we embark on an encompassing journey through its past, present, and future! This comprehensive guide aims to unfurl the packed ecosystem of Cardano. We'll also highlight ventures that are actively reshaping this exciting blockchain platform.

Cardano's History and Development Timeline

Cardano's origin predates the DeFi boom, dating back to 2015. Ethereum co-founder Charles Hoskinson and his technology company IOHK started a grueling 2-year development with thousands of GitHub commits. Named after Gerolamo Cardano, an Italian polymath, its native cryptocurrency is also named after a historical figure. ADA honors Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who is widely considered to be the first computer programmer.

Cardano was a more considered venture. A breath of fresh air from the many flash-in-the-pan cryptocurrencies that leaped onto the scene with nothing more than a whitepaper and catchy slogan. It is often referred to as a third-generation blockchain. That means it aims to address the challenges faced by its predecessors like Bitcoin (first gen) and Ethereum (second gen).

Granted, Bitcoin brought decentralized money, and Ethereum introduced programmable smart contracts. But this new player attempts to solve complications around:

  • Energy consumption
  • Scalability
  • Adaptability
  • Cross-chain operations

The architects behind it didn't rush the process either. It took years of meticulous research led by academics across the globe. Rigorous peer reviewing and a systematic approach to blockchain development brought Cardano to life. Hoskinson's vision was cemented on scientific philosophy and evidence-based methodologies.

Besides IOHK, which oversees the technological advancements, two more organizations collaborate in stewarding Cardano's evolution. The Cardano Foundation manages community engagement and regulatory issues. Emurgo drives commercial adoption.

Cardano's Phases of Development:

No adventure changes overnight, and the Cardano journey is no exception. It has been advancing in carefully marked phases, each with its novel landmarks.

The Byron phase marked the official birth of Cardano back in 2017. The launch of the mainnet laid the bedrock for what was to come and saw the arrival of ADA on cryptocurrency exchanges. This stage witnessed the start of trading with ADA, providing liquidity in the market. It also brought a thriving online community rallying around the project.

Next up came Shelley in mid-2020. It was a critical leap intending to ensure processes were 50-100 times more democratic and community-driven than most existing blockchain systems. This shift turned the platform from a semi-centrally governed blockchain into a decentralized network. A crucial feature introduced during this phase was staking. Staking enabled ADA holders to participate actively in maintaining the network while earning rewards.

Then, Cardano braced itself for full-scale smart contract capabilities. Beyond transactions confined to transferring ADA tokens, Goguen brought about much-anticipated functionality that allows developers to construct decentralized applications (dApps) directly on-chain. Smart Contracts were enabled on the platform, allowing for endless possibilities of decentralized applications powered by ADA.

As of now, Cardano is currently in its Basho era, which aims to optimize the scalability of the system. In this phase, functionalities like side chains are being incorporated to boost the platform's resilience and throughput – a crucial step forward for supporting growth.

Finally, we'll reach Voltaire – the last planned stage centered on decentralization. It will introduce voting and treasury systems to make the protocol self-sustaining. In simpler terms: Cardano aims to democratize its blockchain framework entirely by giving its community voting rights.

Emphasis on Sustainability and Scalability

As it continues its development journey, two elements remain crucial: sustainability and scalability. Cardano was created not just for the present but with an eye on the future.

In line with its commitment to a sustainable blockchain ecosystem, it incorporates an eco-friendly proof-of-stake consensus algorithm dubbed Ouroboros. Proof-of-work systems used by others like Bitcoin are criticized for high energy consumption. Ouroboros provides heightened security without the environmental cost.

Furthermore, the focus isn't just on leaving a smaller carbon footprint but also ensuring sustainable growth in terms of user adoption and technology upgrades. The project seeks to make crypto more accessible to mainstream users. They are laying the foundation for mass adoption. As any tech-savvy reader knows, scalability can be a major hurdle to widespread blockchain adoption.

The Bitcoin network can handle only seven transactions per second (tps), while Ethereum does slightly better with around 15 tps. In contrast, Cardano's Hydra upgrade promises up to one million tps! This makes it abundantly clear that Cardano isn't just tinkering at the edges of crypto tech but redefining what's possible in the space.

Smart Contracts on Cardano

At the center of Cardano's mission to revolutionize DeFi lies the Plutus platform, named after the ancient Greek God of wealth. Plutus is Cardano's framework for the development and execution of smart contracts. It's tailor-made for this blockchain environment, allowing developers to code directly on-chain.

The beauty of Plutus for developers is its use of the Haskell programming language, known for its high degree of accuracy and reliability. This is transformative for developers who can now bring their DeFi dreams into reality more robustly and securely. But also for users who get access to a broader array of services. Everything from lending protocols and yield farming opportunities to gaming dApps and art marketplaces could be built with smart contracts on Plutus.

Marrying Cardano and Ethereum

With the Alonzo hard fork, Cardano took a gigantic leap in enhancing its smart contract capabilities. While Plutus brought the tools to build on-chain, Alonzo officially allowed the launch of Ethereum-compatible smart contracts.

Essentially, Cardano now speaks the same language as Ethereum. Thanks to the ERC-20 converter, a bridge between Ethereum and Cardano, users can move their tokens seamlessly. This transition between competing blockchain platforms will allow DeFi projects built on Ethereum to enjoy speed, efficiency, and lower costs.

The main benefit here is having the best of both worlds – the raw power and programmability of Ethereum's well-established ecosystem dovetailed with Cardano's scalability solutions and sustainability commitments.

The State of DeFi on Cardano

Stepping into the vibrant world of DeFi on Cardano feels like opening the door to a buzzing bazaar of digital finance. Let's explore some trailblazers making waves in the ecosystem.

DeFi Pioneers on Cardano

Some early adopters have already started exploring the potential of this nascent space on Cardano's network.


SundaeSwap is an automated market maker (AMM) exchange being built directly on the Cardano blockchain. Think of it as a marketplace where traders can swap different tokens without requiring an intermediary. Its tasty name suggests its mission - making transactions as easy and smooth as enjoying your favorite sundae.


Occam.fi acts as a comprehensive and decentralized fundraising vehicle and a launchpad for new projects on Cardano. The platform offers features like liquidity pools, decentralized swaps, and yielding features that creators and investors alike find enticing.

Liqwid Finance

As Cardano's first open-source, algorithmic, and non-custodial interest rate protocol, Liqwid Finance enables users to earn interest on deposits and borrow assets directly on its platform. This offers lenders a passive income stream while borrowers benefit from easy loan access.

DeFi Protocols and Innovations

The developments do not stop there. Many other DeFi protocols are being built on Cardano, riding the wave of anticipation surrounding the introduction of smart contracts. You'll find that most fall into one of the following categories:

Decentralized exchanges (DEXs)

DEXs are marketplaces for cryptocurrencies that operate autonomously, driven by smart contracts. On DEXs like SundaeSwap, everyone from beginners to experienced traders can swap tokens directly with one another without an intermediary – it's peer-to-peer trading brought to life. The only difference with a regular crypto exchange is that everything is run by smart contracts.

Lending platforms

Platforms like Liqwid Finance aim to transform lending and borrowing mechanics by applying a non-custodial liquidity protocol. This means you can loan out your ADA or other assets and earn interest rates passively, allowing your crypto assets to work harder for you.

Yield farming

For those willing to take on higher risk, yield farming is a way to maximize returns on capital by leveraging different DeFi protocols. In essence, users can lock up their funds in the form of liquidity pools for a certain amount of time. In return, they can earn rewards both in the form of tokens and interest payments.

All combined, these elements make up a flourishing ecosystem supported by robust technology, active community engagement, and a clear vision for the future.

The Vibrant Cardano Community

For any ecosystem to thrive, there must be a blend of innovation, collaboration, and active participation. The community is a testament to those values. Composed of developers, enthusiasts, and stakeholders from all walks of life, it's a melting pot of individuals united by one thing: an enduring passion for Cardano.

While developers are the architects shaping new features and functionalities within the ecosystem, the enthusiasm and zeal seen within the broader community are impressive. From discussing project updates with fervor on Reddit threads to participating in educational webinars or engaging in brainstorming sessions about future upgrades—there's seldom a dull moment.

And it's not just about technology alone. Whether strategizing ways to ramp up user adoption or ideating how blockchain can tackle real-world issues, the community continually pushes the boundaries.

In essence, what makes Cardano stand out isn't just its advanced technology stack or visionary leadership—though those are integral parts—but also this active and growing community that is rooting for its success at every step.

DeFi Advocacy and Initiatives

We've established that Cardano is far more than a passive blockchain platform. It's a vibrant ecosystem of innovation that's constantly evolving. This momentum is accelerated by various initiatives within the community that promote DeFi and smart contract development.

Hackathons are organized periodically for developers, providing a platform to showcase their talent while driving innovation within the system. These are exciting events where developers use their coding skills to solve complex challenges in return for recognition and rewards.

In addition, it offers numerous educational resources for those looking to learn more about the platform. They provide extensive information about how to build on Cardano, contributing towards equipping future generations of blockchain developers with the tools they need to succeed.

The stake pool initiative reflects the drive towards embracing decentralization wholeheartedly. By enabling ADA holders to create their stake pools or join existing ones, they can participate in maintaining the network, thereby fostering more considerable community involvement.

Finally, developer grants are regularly announced. These are a true showing of appreciation for developers building ground-breaking applications on the network, further cultivating an environment that encourages development and creativity. It truly feels like everyone involved isn't here just for the ride but to steer it toward unprecedented success.


Cardano, rooted in robust scientific research and thoughtfully designed stages of development, has grown into a sophisticated platform poised to redefine decentralized finance. Its journey from a theoretical concept to paving the way for enhanced smart contracts offers a beacon of potential in the blockchain world.

Rapidly moving beyond trading ADA to the Alonzo hard fork, it is on its way to unlocking a revolution in DeFi. The integration of Ethereum-based smart contracts, a vibrant developer ecosystem, and a passionate community translate into a network capable of leading the charge in blockchain innovation.

As we watch this space, there is tangible excitement about what tomorrow holds for Cardano. Standing at this juncture, it seems like we're witnessing not merely an evolution but a potential revolution in crypto innovation. Join us on this journey by trading ADA on NDAX, Canada’s number one crypto trading platform.

Remember, NDAX is Canada's best resource for all things crypto - your perfect companion in your adventure through this ever-evolving landscape.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide investment, legal, accounting, tax or any other advice and should not be relied on in that or any other regard. The information contained herein is for information purposes only and is not to be construed as an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of cryptocurrencies or otherwise.