“Food is our common ground, a universal experience” – James Beard
The agricultural revolution in America occurred from the late 18th century to early 19th century. This increased production of crops and made available exotic vegetables and fruits that were not native to the land, at economical prices. Consumers became king and all was well with the world.
But all this came to a halt when the produce couldn’t be promptly supplied to the consumers and loss while transport. Soon they were joined in by voices that demanded better. Pesticides which were initially used to protect crops were being used in a higher percentage. Organic! Vegan! These voices were against the industrialization of agriculture. No more compromise on quality at the cost of producing mass quantity.
The Fault In Our Stats:
We ask questions to our retailers about the logistics that are involved and what precautions are undertaken in bringing in produce which claims to be farm fresh. They can’t answer us. For the simple reason, they don’t know any better. The entire agricultural chain suffers from ineffective communication and ignorance of each other’s strengths. The farmer knows who is buying and in turn paying for his produce. But if he sells to corporates, he has no say nor knowledge of when the produce shall hit the shelf. He doesn’t know if it shall be sold fresh or frozen. Similarly, we the consumer do not have any knowledge of when the produce we are using was harvested and for how long it has been in a plant being processed, forget how it is being produced.
These blind spots can be erased with the help of Blockchain Technology. Before we confuse blockchain to be related to merely Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, let us explain what blockchain can do.
A Decentralized Center:
Blockchain is decentralized. Meaning there is no one power source from where it is controlled. An open blockchain allows people to join in and add to the virtual ledger. Details once verified can’t be changed back in previous nodes or blocks. As it is tamperproof, the risk of fraud goes down drastically. All data that is added on individual blocks can help us know all the details and processes that the produce has undergone. This may seem to be farfetched but it is soon going to be our everyday reality. IBM’s blockchain division has tied up with up to 9 different corporations which include retailers and food companies such as Walmart, Nestle, Unilever and Dole. The salmonella outbreak in the summer of 2017, has prompted them to study and prevent such disasters from happening in the future by keeping digital track of their products.
Blockchain technology can help the food sector in the following manner:
- Creating efficient supply chains
- Tracing origins of produce/product
- Fair Pricing and decrease in transaction fees
- Minimum human errors
- Smart farm Contracts
- Land registration
These issues are the root cause of losses in produce and revenue. A wilted head of lettuce can only be disposed off. If a cold chain is not maintained, poultry that has been processed and is being sent to retailers shall spoil. The automated capturing of documentation could also reduce human errors. The world faces hunger with an average of 6.6 Million children who die before the age of 5 due to the lack of proper nutrition, such errors weigh a ton on our conscience.
A New Hope:
While there are many companies who are trying to implement blockchain in to their businesses, there are few who are at the helm of this ship.
Provenance helps solve chain supply issues with transparency. They focus on 3 aspects. Visibility, Optimization and Forecasting. This helps track the entire journey of produce from the time it was harvested till it reaches store for sale. This team has also helped in tacking of Indonesian tuna fish from catch to consumer & has created traceability in this complex supply chain.
Ambrosus deals in the supply of the medicines and food products. From covering the quality of halal meat to ensuring only high-quality cheese is imported from Switzerland, Ambrosus is the perfect example of merging technology with the food industry. They have recently hosted a hackathon in which they opened their doors to new ideas which can be implemented and how only the best product is retailed.
While there are few who are stepping out of their comfort zones to embrace this new advent in technology, it bears keeping in mind that this new technology changes every day and as the consumer’s demands increase, the retailers will have to join in the tango or else they risk losing their business. For extra crispness in your Caesar’s salad, demand to know where the watercress was grown. Soon, your server may just know the answer.
Next Read: Implementing Blockchain In Education