Blockchain in the food supply chain

Blockchain stories: Giving Norwegian seafood a competitive edge

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plated salmonIt’s a gift to be allowed to help revolutionize a sector that’s the pride and joy of our country. Seafood is our third biggest export industry here in Norway. Some of the world’s finest quality salmon is raised in the beautiful, clean waters of the Norwegian sea in areas such as Kvarøy. At a time where consumers are looking for more transparency about where their food comes from, and where the origin of fish can be unclear or even faked, we saw an opportunity to give our fish a competitive edge. Together with the Norwegian Seafood Association and IBM, we are using blockchain to provide transparent and trustworthy information about the life story of Norwegian fish.

Despite the global lockdown, the project is making great strides since we announced it in June 2020. Ten fish farms have signed up. Two of them — Nova Sea and Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett are already live and the others are well advanced in preparations to join. Biomar, a global manufacturer of marine feed is a vital partner: what a salmon feeds on has an impact on its quality and on the quality of the water around it. Other supply chain players are also on board such as fish crate manufacturers, logistics companies, processing plants, and boat operators. Today, we’re at the point where blockchain records can show all the information about the life of the salmon in the fish pen — from data about the qualities of the fish egg through to oxygen levels and water temperature, as well as size and number of the fish.

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The city of Helsingborg in Sweden is a running a prime example of the project in action. Responsible for procuring food for the restaurants of public institutions such as schools and nursing homes, the city authority buys cod fished in Northern Norway. Until now, a 12000km return journey to China for processing meant that the cod’s journey from sea to table involved significant CO2 emissions and lacked oversight of working conditions and processes in the Chinese plants. By joining the Norwegian Seafood Association Blockchain, the city gets fish delivered directly from Norway to Sweden, vastly reducing carbon emissions, and has an overview of undisputed and uncorrupted data from the entire value chain. They can now be confident that diners across their community are eating sustainable fish from a trustworthy source.

The project is capturing attention internationally. Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett’s use of blockchain was featured in a BBC Storywork’s production for a series hosted by the Consumer Goods Forum entitled Better Lives Through Better Business. In the stunning Norwegian Arctic setting of Kvarøy island, Alf-Gøran Knutsen, owner of Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett, explains how using blockchain helps to combat fraud. He sees that having more transparency and traceability increases the value of his salmon and the price that customers are willing to pay for it. The short film is a fascinating snapshot into how technology can transform an industry for the good of all stakeholders — including the environment.

It’s important to acknowledge the fundamental changes this project involves, particularly for fish farmers. Firstly, there’s a new business model at play. This is not a project that’s led by one or other of the parties — it involves a truly collaborative approach between the different players. We are all part of an ecosystem that involves shared risk. Fish farmers do not have to invest in any hardware. Neither do they have to pay a fixed fee. Their charge for the projects is based on the amount of their fish that’s traced through the system. This approach makes it much easier for partners to get on board.

Secondly, while a farm such as Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett has fully embraced technology, coming onto the blockchain is a big digital shift for others. Many of the older generation do not use computers — they carry all the information in their heads. Some worry about the security and privacy of their data — so it’s a priority to build their trust by clearly explain how the project works. It’s a big leap of faith for them as they embark in a new, digitized world.

But we move forward. With Kvarøy we’re embarking on the next level to give transparency about the crucial transportation phase: transportation schedules, transit times, temperatures and more This will give wholesale buyers 100% traceable fish. To make this stage more efficient; ATEA is exploring “intelligent” transport boxes that will put data directly on the blockchain. Comprehensive, trustworthy transportation information will also make customs clearance processes shorter and more efficient, meaning that customers receive their fish sooner and fresher.

The future prospects for the project are exciting. We’re about to start work on a module that can give the full carbon footprint of a fish, something we believe there will be real demand for. The system also has the potential to apply Artificial Intelligence. We see it being used to analyze farming behaviour and practices. Combined with the farmers’ own knowledge, AI will help identify what methods result in optimal production.

In a sector that’s sometimes accused of environmentally damaging practices, recording trustworthy data will be useful. The data from fish pens can be used to gauge the number of fish that escape — and potentially upset the biodiversity balance by mating with wild fish. As the development of on-land fish farms increases, verified data can be used to answer questions about what they mean for the environment and for the quality of fish.

One day — before too long — we hope that people in restaurants will be able to have, via a QR code, the story of Norwegian fish on the menu. Our ultimate goal is that the reassurance of high quality, sustainable production will guide them to make the right choice. A premium fish deserves no less.

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