Just finishing up on our “Smart Farming” series, which was inspired by this article in UMass Magazine, let’s talk about projects in the area of “agtech” – bringing technology – sophisticated technology – to farming. In this case, we’ll talk about the blockchain of food. To explain this, I found a very helpful podcast with a principal of ripe.io, which is mentioned in the UMass article, and the work of UMass graduate Hannah Leighton.
Have a listen and come on back.
Welcome back. Yes, it’s about blockchain, the same sort that powers cryptocurrency, but applied here to the shared “ledger” of food production and distribution. From the article:
“Ripe.io extracts essential information to follow an item along the supply chain, and puts it all in one place—that’s the blockchain,” Leighton explains. “Where is the farm located, really? Is it women or minority owned? The blockchain identifies those key metrics,” she says. Blockchain can’t be altered, only added to, which is why it’s so secure. “Eventually, if you put enough false information on the blockchain, you’ll get caught,” says Leighton. “It weeds out bad actors.”
As we’ve done with the other posts in this series, we focus (as any good program or portfolio leader should) on the vision and mission of the organizations. In this case, for ripe.io, it’s front and center on their web page:
Again, from the ripe.io website, this allows all of us – farmers, packagers, shippers, restaurants, consumers, to:
by leveraging blockchain technology, ioT, AI and machine learning we aggregate real time data into one dashboard for predictive consumer analytics.
our platform empowers our partners to provide their customers with food integrity data insights to ensure they are offering their customers the highest quality/sustainable food product possible.
api interfacing allows our partners to capture robust data collections.
You can find a nice “pitch” from ripe.io that goes over their business model and you can imagine related, collaborative and competitive projects in this growing (pun intended) area. Here's that pitch:
In fact, after a bit more research, I found this summary of players in this area here:
To quote from the article and give a real example of how this is being used NOW:
“Retail giant Walmart recently employed blockchain to track and trace its lettuce supply chains and is being hailed as a next-generation solution in food safety. Walmart’s blockchain can trace food back to its grower in a mere 2.2 seconds.
As blockchain becomes increasingly prevalent in food safety (it also processes payments more quickly and distributes digital coupons for restaurants), we've rounded up five U.S. companies that are using the technology to change the way eat.”
It’s fascinating to me just how exciting a nominally boring topic, such as lettuce, when combined with innovative projects and initiatives like these provide that aforementioned advancement of Data to Information to Knowledge to Wisdom (DIKW) – see Part 2 of the series for more on that.
Although clearly, ripe.io and others are in the business of making money, they are also focused on the triple bottom line. From an interview with their co-founder Phil Harris, the ecological and social aspects of their work are important as well:
Reducing food waste:
Annual food waste will reach 2.1 billion tons by 2030, according to Boston Consulting Group’s 2018 report. By tracking and tracing food items in real time, supply chain participants are alerted of in-congruencies and can manage food safety, inventory and freshness to prevent food waste. ripe.io’s solution allows users to detect and communicate inefficiencies in fresh products and certify the information holds true on the blockchain system.
Customers want information beyond the physical food product. Visibility into organic certification, animal welfare practices, soil quality, etc. backed by a blockchain ledger help assure consumers the information provided holds true and aligns with sustainability values. It also holds the industry accountable for more ethical and sustainable practices that provide a better future for generations to come.
Consumers want more validation on the origin of the food they’re consuming. Due to disconnected communication systems, food supply chain stakeholders have challenges providing this information. Through ripe.io’), consumers are able to track the granular details of the origin of their food products and better support local agriculture. This also helps mollify the rural-urban divide by generating rural economies and connecting our communities through food.
I found this dive into smart farming fascinating, and I hope you did too. It’s a bit ironic, because I also like comedy and recently, I ran into the comedy of Greg Warren, who has a whole album of (believe it or not) farm comedy. I will close this series out on Smart Farming by (hopefully) providing you with a laugh or two, thanks to Greg’s ‘smart’ view of farming.