Food is central to human existence in that it is essential for the wellbeing of both people and the environment. To further confirm the importance, the agricultural and food sectors are the largest employers of people worldwide.
Food systems are highly strained and will be stretched further by the increasing global population. Interestingly, food systems are responsible for about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, climate change is threatening more than 25% of crop yields.
A fundamental transformation is long overdue to help achieve the aspirations of an efficient, inclusive, healthy, nutritious, and sustainable food system. Stakeholders in the food system are banking on technology to offer a transformative approach in addressing deep-rooted challenges. However, the food and agricultural sectors have lagged in adoption and investment in technology. In addition, there has not been concerted effort into exploring partnerships, assets, and deploying of necessary technologies. Overall, there’s a need to adopt technologies across the agricultural and food sectors to meet existing and projected food system needs.
The world economic forum, back in 2017, identified the transformative twelve technologies that have the most significant potential to improve food systems. Traceability is one such area that builds on a number of these transformative technologies. It lays a foundation for addressing some of the many problems afflicting food systems. Food traceability is already disrupting the food system and even leading to the development of new business models. The adoption of traceability technology is gradually transforming global food systems. However, there are associated risks, including the potential exclusion of small-scale producers.
Food traceability may not be the silver bullet to all problems ailing the food system. However, traceability is essential in providing an inclusive food system based on collaborative efforts towards transformation. Already, there are productive efforts within and between organizations, actors, and across initiatives to empower small-scale producers and strengthen inclusivity. It all depends on the role of a stakeholder within the value chain, specific producers with market visibility, and opportunities and challenges encountered with traceability.
Traceability is making what is currently invisible within a food system visible. It facilitates the comprehensive tracking of economic, environmental, health, and social consequences of agricultural processes. Traceability-enabled transparency is empowering and helping small-scale producers to harness efficiencies brought about by these technologies. Food traceability will improve producer revenues, affordable access to capital, and market access.
Emerging traceability technologies can transform the following four areas of the food system:
- Consumer demand for transparency in food production: Consumers are increasingly demanding greater food system transparency to steer clear of illegal, counterfeit, and unethical products. Improved clarity will go a long way towards informing the decision to buy a product. Product data proves useful for consumers who want to know everything that went into their foods, including whether they are antibiotic-free, organic, or locally produced. The use of different technologies, including Blockchain, is helping in the in-depth tracking of supply chain data since labels and certifications alone may not be sufficient in providing transparency. Blockchain technologies will prove beneficial towards minimizing and eventually preventing food fraud. Food fraud is the intentional adulteration of food for financial gain and may include dilution, substitution, misrepresentation, and counterfeiting of ingredients, whole foods, and packaging. Food fraud is estimated to cost approximately $40 billion and is associated with public health risks, loss of consumer confidence, and market inefficiencies. A combination of Blockchain and automated data capture through IoT devices will help address fraud issues, protect human populations, and meet consumer demand for transparency.
- Enhance the ability to prevent, identify and respond to food safety issues. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 10 people fall ill due to food contamination. Food safety issues present an enormous burden to public health and the economy. Food traceability using blockchain technology will assist governments and stakeholders to effectively identify, isolate, and respond to food safety issues. It will facilitate practical inspection throughout the value chain and reduce the cost of recalls. Even though food traceability may not eliminate food-borne diseases, it will significantly reduce the exposure to food outbreaks risks through faster, efficient identification of the precise source of contamination. The deployment of distributed ledger and IoT technologies will protect consumers’ health and protect all stakeholders in the food system from financial losses. For example, a pilot by Walmart revealed that Blockchain could help companies identify the source of food items and products. They could trace the origin of a mango in a mere 2.2 seconds compared to an average of seven days with standard procedures. Traceability will ensure that only contaminated food products are removed from shelves and not any other product.
- Improve supply-chain optimization and prevent food loss: More than 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted, representing a third of all food production. Emerging technologies such as Blockchain will help address supply chain inefficiencies at different stages, including post-harvest, processing, and distribution. Addressing food loss will bring down procurement and distribution costs that are eventually transferred to consumers. Traceability technologies make it easy to identify sources of food loss and offer opportunities towards increased supply-chain automation, real-time collection of data necessary in decision making, and faster product scanning and ordering. All these measures improve the rate at which food moves through the supply chain, effectively reducing spoilage. Traceability will also lead to incremental changes to food supply chains to improve sustainability and meet future food demand.
- Validate sourcing claims and support sustainability goals: Food systems have a far-reaching social and environmental impact. Food systems are responsible for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and 70% of freshwater withdrawals. Emerging food traceability technologies embrace the multi-faceted approach required to address sustainability challenges. Traceability will certainly support global sustainability goals but may not wholly manage the environmental footprint of food systems.
In conclusion, different models can be used to implement food traceability and target any of these areas of impact in the food system. However, all these impact areas aren’t mutually exclusive, and traceability models such as those using Blockchain can achieve the desired effects across the board. Blockchain offers a multi-pronged approach to food traceability, and as the technology matures, it can provide end-to-end traceability at scale.
Author: Alessandro Civati
Blockchain ID: https://lrx.is/ayuKDARSQ5