How IBM helps drive a sustainable food supply chain

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Could you describe the exact journey your food makes before it ends up in your kitchen? Don’t feel bad if you can’t: the classic supply chain is characterized by a lack of precise and accurate information. Customers have no way of tracking their fruits or veggies from seed-to-plate, while suppliers and farmers often have to rely on guesswork to make buying or planting decisions. As a result, up to 45% of produce ends up uneaten. With the help of blockchain-enabled technology, IBM now offers a tool that can provide the transparency and trust needed to create a sustainable future for all.

Many are all too eager to remind us that it’s the customer’s responsibility to live and eat as ‘sustainably’ as possible. While this is absolutely true and quintessential, we also need to create a world where consumers are able to make a well-informed decision. Are these bananas truly organic? Were these potatoes locally cultivated? Did this coffee company pay the Colombian farmers a fair salary? And when the label mentions ‘grass-fed’, is this the truth or just smart marketing?

On the other hand, your grocery store needs accurate and real-time data to know when to buy its next batch of produce. Last but not least, farmers need precise and transparent feedback in order to know when to harvest their crops or to make their planting decisions.

Sustainability starts with information

Just imagine what the world would look like if we knew exactly how much produce needs to be planted, ordered, and transported. The amount of food wasted would drop significantly, and the food on your plate would be fresher and of higher quality.

And the best news? Over the next 5 years, blockchain technology (combined with the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence) will help us realize this goal.

The power of blockchain technology

If you’re new to the concept of blockchain technology, we’ve got your back. Simply put, a blockchain can be described as a virtual, cryptographic ‘chain’ of ‘blocks’ of time-stamped and immutable data.

The reason why people – us included – wholeheartedly believe in its ground-breaking potential is because there’s no central authority. This means that any application developed using blockchain becomes a sort of immutable ledger providing authorized users with full access to all the stored data.

3 key benefits generated by IBM Food Trust™

Inspired by its transparency, IBM researchers implemented blockchain technology to design the IBM Food Trust™ system: a platform enabling users to consult the complete history and current location of any food item, including information regarding certifications, and test or temperature data.

However, full transparency is only the beginning of the story. Once consumers, suppliers, farmers, and other stakeholders have access to such seed-to-plate data, the increased visibility will lead to these 3 key benefits.

  • Accurate information will help identify bottlenecks in the supply chain. This will allow for more efficient supply chains, help fight food waste, and ensure the quality of the foods.
  • Brands and companies can use the information to build consumer trust. (Let’s not forget, more than anything else, we buy from sellers we trust.)
  • And when things do go wrong? The digitization of the records enables full transparency, making it straightforward to trace products in seconds to mitigate foodborne issues or food fraud.

A cup of blockchain coffee

To demonstrate how blockchain technology could impact the food supply chain, we’d like to invite you to have a proverbial cup of coffee with us. Why? Because coffee is a great example of just how clouded a food supply chain can be.

Planting, growing, harvesting, drying, roasting… your coffee has lived a life of its own before it ended up in this specific cup. Having such a complex chain characterized by a plethora of intermediaries also means stakeholders often have their own way of tracking information, making the exchange of information suboptimal.

For example, as you take a sip of your lovely espresso, ask yourself: do you have a way of tracing the exact origins of the coffee beans the barista just grinded? Or, would you be able to shoot a quick thank-you-note to the coffee farmer?

Enter Farmer Connect. Based on the IBM Food Trust™ platform, this tech start-up aims to revolutionize the coffee game by providing the entire supply chain – from bean to cup – with a blockchain-enabled ecosystem. In September 2019, some of the world’s leading companies announced a collaboration with Farmer Connect and this is only the beginning: the tech start-up plans to expand its blueprint to other farming commodities, including tea and chocolate.

Add a flavor of IoT and AI

So far, we’ve mainly been focusing on the potential of blockchain technology providing users with an efficient tool to track their food through the supply chain. But right now, IBM researchers are also working on making seed-to-plate tracking even more accurate by combining blockchain with IoT sensors and AI algorithms.

Such sensors could deliver exact and real-time inventory counts, while the algorithms could learn from the data to predict consumer demand or even automatically place shipment orders at each location in the supply chain. The AI-enhanced data could even help retailers learn more about consumer eating patterns. For example: do people prefer green or yellow bananas? At what point on the green-yellow-brown continuum do customers stop looking at bananas altogether? Based on these insights, the store can then adjust its buying cycles to ensure consumers can enjoy the freshest foods of the highest quality.

Hungry for more and curious to find out how the IBM Food Trust™ system could help you streamline your supply chain? Join our webinar or read more on our dedicated webpages. (webinar live till 1 February 2020)


Blockchain Food Trust Solution Expert

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