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The Next Level of Food Production: Blockchain Technology

Theo Valich, Head of Growth at tech start up Datum looks at how the problem of food waste can be tackled through Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technology.

When the Green Revolution began in the 1960s, idealists saw it as a way to end world hunger. Though it did not succeed in this respect, it did lead to the production of cheap food on a massive scale. While we still talk about the Green Revolution, it has become painfully clear that there was not anything “green” about it, at least not in the way we use the word today. Back then, production was the goal and industrial agriculture was the result.

Today the goal is sustainability and our only hope for that is the smart use of valid data, collected in real-time.

Industrial agriculture was - and largely still is - dependent on fossil fuels. This dependency is not just for the vast amount of machinery needed to plant, harvest, slaughter, process, clean, deliver, cook and store the things we consume. It comes down to the soil itself. Most soil used to grow crops is filled with nitrogen-based chemical fertilizers and sprayed with pesticides derived from oil. We are at the point of diminishing returns since our entire planet’s prime agricultural real estate is being pushed to the limits of production. More and more fertilizer is required to achieve the same results, and even marginal lands are being put into play.

Why is this such a big deal?

Although the Green Revolution may have fallen short of achieving the equitable distribution required to ending world hunger, the abundance of cheap food produced by fossil-fuel intensive technologies did lead to a massive surge in the world’s population.

As of this year, approximately 7.6 billion people call this planet home. The United Nations predicts this number to increase by 3 billion by the end of the century. As unbelievable as it sounds, as much as one-half of all food produced—about 2 billion tones—never makes it to anyone’s plate. In underdeveloped countries, most food loss occurs during production. In wealthier countries, about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) per person per year is thrown out during the consumption stage, the last stage in the supply chain.

When you couple the growing population with the sheer percentage of wasted food and the fact that our agricultural lands are already being pushed to their limits, it is not hard to imagine a looming crisis. If the effects of yesterday’s Green Revolution are a problem, the smart use of today’s data is the solution.

Getting Smart

One of the companies we have partnered with at Datum is Ozmo, the makers of the world’s first smart water bottle. If you use an Ozmo bottle, it tracks your water drinking patterns, helps you set health goals, and lets you know if you are properly hydrated based on factors such as your activity level, body type, and location. It is easy to imagine a time when your Ozmo reminds you to pick up more water at the store and—with your permission—collects data about how much water is being bought. Your Ozmo could then send this information to a database, where it could be combined with other data used to help stores stay stocked.

While bottled water does not spoil like produce or other agricultural products, this is really just the tip of the iceberg and a way to help test and perfect the systems that will be needed to improve distribution efficiency for products with a short shelf life. When consumers use the technology being created today and claim their spot in the growing data marketplace, they will not only have the opportunity to sell their data, but will help the entire supply chain run more smoothly, from producers and distributors to the regulatory bodies governing both within borders and across them.

Using ‘use by’ data

One of the things the United Kingdom’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) blames the phenomenal amount of food waste on is overly strict sell-by dates. Letting retailers know exactly what products are on their shelves at any point in time, predicting sales trends and adjusting accordingly is an obvious use for data, but reducing food loss at this stage is just part of the picture.

Data can fuel smart decisions at every link in the supply chain—from saving consumers’ money by helping store managers pick products for a flash sale, to making it possible for truck drivers to cut costs by avoiding traffic, to telling small farmers when and what to plant in particular fields. Data is even having an impact on food fraud, which is the practice of claiming a product is one thing when it is really something else. This makes our food supply safer, prevents “bad actors” from making money by putting dangerous or distasteful products into the mix, and can stop an outbreak of food poisoning before it even begins.

Real-time data can be collected from a wide-range of sources, essentially creating an Internet of Things, or IoT. Because data can be collected by small, inexpensive sensors, even things like oysters and grain silos can become part of the IoT. These sensors, which are put into place by farmers and other food producers, can be relied on to monitor almost anything imaginable, from general weather conditions to water temperature to the amount of sunlight falling on a particular patch of ground. The sensors feed the information they collect to a database, where it can be stored, combined with other data, and analyzed by both machine and human intelligence. A complete picture can be drawn, which can then be used to identify and solve problems.

For example, oyster farmers in Tasmania place sensors near individual oysters so they can know for sure whether or not the runoff created by a particular rainstorm has polluted their beds. Armed with this knowledge, farmers can keep undamaged crops instead of simply waiting for the rain to pass then throwing every oyster out for safety’s sake. This is just one way that the IoT is making the farm-to-table supply chain more sustainable in the face of environmental uncertainty and climate change. While even the best data cannot erase today’s challenges, it can help people see these challenges more clearly. Only by seeing something clearly do you have any hope of fixing it.

Over half the world’s population lives in an urban environment and that percentage will steadily climb over the coming decades. As cities are inherently food insecure, food waste needs to be reduced out of necessity. Collecting data from the IoT is key to doing that, even if it means testing the water flowing past an individual oyster, taking temperature readings from the bottom of a grain silo, or measuring the sunlight falling on fruit in a field. Fortunately, we have the technology to do this.

Right now, momentum and economics are on our side.


Theo Valich is an Entrepreneur & Analyst with 21 years of experience in technology, from GPU to supercomputer design. He is a Co-Founder of Space Image Network, Robotic Systems and VR World.

Telephone: +6586150924

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