Food traceability technology gives impetus to global agricultural trade

Concerns around safety of agricultural products, push for sustainability are driving market growth for technology

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 06 March 2020

Food production traceability has emerged as an important link in global food trade and in making agriculture more environment-friendly, a white paper released at India’s first conference on food traceability claimed.

Globally, agriculture and food market are facing competition. To ensure quality, robust technological solutions are needed, the paper noted.

The March 5, 2020 conference was organised by global agribusiness company SourceTrace, in collaboration with ThinkAg, an India-based organisation.

Traceability comprises identification and verification of product origin. It offers visibility into the transit system across various stages — from production to distribution to consumption.

According to reports, India had the potential to adopt traceability technology owing to a spike in its agricultural exports.

The country’s exports of agricultural and processed food products were pegged at $38.49 billion in 2019. The government aimed to bring it to $60 billion by 2022, according to government data.

The paper highlighted on technological practices that could allow farmers and businesses to trace food and other products through various stages of production, processing and distribution.

Leading sectors in this market include meat and livestock; fresh produce and seeds; dairy; spices; seafood; beverages; fisheries and high-value cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, cotton and condiments for flavors and fragrances.

“Indian cashew consumers have the right to know how it is produced for consumption after being imported from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Gambia, etc. They need to know what chemical fertilisers and pesticides are used, and whether child labour is being deployed,” said Sanjay Sancheti, country manager, Olam, food and agri-business company.

The report talked about the outbreak of cow disease in the early 1990s in the United States. British retailers and supermarkets collaborated to set voluntary standards for certification in 1997. The approach was introduced in the fruit market as well. 

With the advent of Blockchain technology, traceability is offering opportunities to business development models as well. It is also helping food producers get premium price for their products.

“With food traceability, losses can be minimised in case of an outbreak,” said Ritu Verma, co-founder, ThinkAg.

Emerging market

According to the paper, traceability market was worth $10 billion in 2017 and projected to more than double to $22 billion by 2025.

Rising concerns around safety of agricultural products, push for sustainability, stringent export regulations and spike in number of recalled products were driving market growth, stated the paper.

Several countries passed food-safety laws making traceability mandatory for businesses. Europe was the first to bring out a legislation in 2002.

As food-safety laws became more stringent in global markets, India too experimented to establish traceability systems to track its export of food products.

For example, Agriculture and Processed food products Export Development Authority(APEDA) — India's agri-produce export body — has implemented a traceability system comprising technologies such as Grpenet, Tracenet, and

Besides APEDA, the Tea Board of India also issued tenders to set up a system to protect its supply chain. The Punjab government also expressed interest in adopting a potato seeds traceability project.

Breakthrough technology

The traceability market got an impetus following the advent of digital Blockchain technology, which helps track the entire chain of agri-produce in a few seconds.

Blockchain technology is a decentralised and transparent structure of transactional records or trusted ledger. It comprises a list of records, called blocks, which are linked using cryptography.  No participant can change or tamper with a transaction after it is recorded in the shared ledger.

“Companies cannot change any information about movement of products through the supply chain,” said Venkat Maroju, chief executive, SourceTrace, a US-based traceability solution company.

Before Blockchain, a US-based retail giant Walmart spent at least six days to trace the origin of mangoes from one of its stores. With blockchain, however, the process took only 2.2 seconds.

“Traceability is important to ensure safety, sustainability and ethical production in agricultural value chain,” added Moraju.

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