Blog: Frontier Tech in Food Supply Chains
Mark Little | CMO/Co-founder
You may have read our recent article from Philip Fletcher, Pynk Product Director, on how new technologies are working in unison, rather than in isolation. Too often we see evangelists hyping the technology of their chosen field with claims of solving world problems. However, it is rarely the case that a single technology works in isolation of others. In this article, I will cover examples of how frontier technologies will be used together to create more efficient and transparent Supply Chains in the food and beverage industries. In a world where the global population has almost doubled in the last 50 years to a staggering 7.7 billion people, technology solutions such as these will have an increasingly important role to play.
Let us first start with what we mean by Frontier Tech of which there are typically 5 core areas: AI (incl. Machine and Deep Learning), IoT, Drones, Artificial, Augmented and Virtual reality, and Blockchain. In addition to these, there are some future tech fields that are some years away from mainstream adoption but worth noting — such as Bioinformatics, Nanotech, Space, Robotics, Unmanned vehicles/Autonomous Driving and Quantum computing.
Having worked in the food and beverages industry for some years, my interest in these technologies was piqued when I read about how supply chains could be recorded in an immutable ledger. There are numerous blockchain startups building commercial models around exactly this, including Provenance, SkuChain, EverLedger and BlockVerify to name but a few.
Of these, @Sunny Lu’s (CEO VeChain) recent announcement of ToolChain has been causing most excitement, and promises the potential for commercial scale-ability. ToolChain offers business owners a turn key solution with the hardware, software and service protocols needed to onboard an end to end supply chain to the VeChainThor blockchain within 30 minutes.
Bext 360 is a personal favourite of mine. Daniel Jones, CEO and founder, started his career in the diamond industry and has intimate knowledge of a machine that scanned diamonds for weight and clarity immediately after mining. Today, Bext360’s robot scans coffee cherries straight after harvesting and uses machine learning to evaluate them into grades based on size and quality. The data collected from these scanners is recorded directly onto the Stellar blockchain.
It’s well documented that Coffee farmers around the world remain impoverished despite the dramatic growth the Coffee industry has enjoyed, both in volume and value terms, over the last 20 years. To understand the industry dynamics better, read Oxfam report Mugged Off and you start to understand the horrible irony when watching wealthy westerners enjoy their daily coffee (or 6 in my case!), oblivious to the fact that coffee cherry farmers around the world are living in abject poverty. For those coffee growers on the wrong end of the value chain — the Bext 360 model offers the potential for more ‘value per cup’ to be returned to those who need it most. Since the cherries are scanned at source for size and weight, farmers are rewarded fairly for the fruits of their labour (literally) and are incentivised to produce the best quality beans. These incentives are arguably removed in farmer co-ops. Secondly, the cherries are recorded at every stage of the supply chain from farm to cup. That means scanning an RFID (or other IoT techniques) at point of consumption allows the end consumer to see data on who picked the beans, complete transparency in how much they were paid, and allows them to tip the farmer directly with crypto token payments.
When it comes to purposing an immutable ledger for Supply Chain purposes, the elephant in the room has always been how to stop corruption along the way. What’s to stop a bad actor from replacing the original food product with lower quality or counterfeit product along the way? This is where recent developments in food scanning technology come into play. Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) has changed the playing field and, thanks to ultra-high throughput, scalability, and speed, NGS could enable those in food supply chains to scan food products, read DNA and ensure authenticity. While similar technologies have existed for many years, NGS promises to be the first that can be commercially viable and used outside of the laboratory. For more on NGS, see this article on what the team at Tech Labs, Portugal are working on.
Drones, technically known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), are another of these Frontier techs that are increasingly becoming common place in agriculture. Their benefits are numerous — but at the core of what they offer farmers is efficient and cost effective data collection. Real time information can quickly be collected on crops, yields, weather, and other environmental and infrastructure factors. When managing industrial scale farms, Drones are the go-to technology for data collection.
And once the data is collected, AI will play a crucial role in Agri Tech. AI has long been used by the world’s biggest food companies in demand planning, and works incredibly well since it continuously monitors accuracy and are built around learning feedback loops. Dr. Solomon Assefa, Vice President at IBM research labs in Kenya and South Africa, reports the company is using AI to accurately predict crop yields in specific regions, taking account for factors such as weather patterns, soil moisture and other conditions. He is also leading on ‘nanophotonics technology’ and ‘high-speed optical detectors, nano-structured platforms for bio-sensing, and quantum information processing’. For more on the ground breaking work at IBM research labs see here.
The above summarises just a few examples of how Frontier Techs will be used to drive transparency and efficiencies in food supply chains and how tech can be used for good. Here at Pynk we support those technologies that help achieve this. If you want to read more on our longer term vision for Pynk check out my blog post on why Pynk is ‘Built for the people, by the people’.
And if the Pynk project sounds of interest to you then we need your help and would love to hear from you. Whether you’re an investment expert, a techy, entrepreneur or simply passionate about a better way of doing things — then get in touch. Sign up at Pynk today or slide into our Telegram group.