Food Safety and Global Supply Chain Post Covid19

Over the last decade, disruption as a concept was getting redefined. Business leaders world over used the word to imply bringing down legacy systems and replacing them with innovative and advanced solutions. Then came Covid19. The biggest disruption we have seen in recent times. Now, the role of business and technology is not to cause disruption but to fight it, to prepare for it and provide continuity in times of disruption.

Food safety has been a growing concern because of the outbreaks of various diseases over the last decade. A globally networked supply chain means that no food incident is local anymore. The current infrastructure for food safety is built around government scrutiny and lab testing that is not accessible to customers. In the coming days, the shift will be towards giving consumers the tools to check if their food is safe or not and making food technologies more widely accessible.

Over the last few months, what we have evidenced is a systemic breakdown of supply chains, be it local or global. With food wastage on one side and the hunger on the other, Covid19 exposed the fragile nature of our supply chains.

A new report by FAO on impact of Covid19 on agriculture supply chains say that “scarcity is not an issue this time.” But that is not a reason for complacency. In the new global village, inputs come from one part of the world and produce goes to another. In the new world, the immediate response might be to think local. But the long-term solution, in equal measure, will be to keep global trade open and introduce new measures.

Exporters and importers: Keeping borders and trade open is critical world’s food security. Governments should look to streamline trade and not introduce new inhibitions or barriers. It is expected that concerns about food safety, sustainable practices and origin will rise and we may see counties demanding increased monitoring. So, exporters and importers should anticipate changes to some extent.

High value products, such as coffee and spices as well as food that is prone to contamination, such as meat and seafood, will be required to provide more transparency and traceability to make the mark. 

Agri and food businesses: Just to give you an idea of the extent of disruption, Russia suspended exportof buckwheat, rice and oat flakes last month. Kyrgyzstan detained shipments of smuggled milled wheat flour being transported in sacks labelled cement. In Minnesota, USA, an estimated 90,000 pigs were euthanised because of the closing down of meat plants.

Agri and food businesses will face uncertainties and pressures from multiple sides. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate one’s processes and work on future proofing them. Digital technologies need to be employed to make sure that information sharing and collaboration between all stakeholders is seamless. Process upgradation will be of prime importance.

Logistics: The lesson from Covid19 has been that when it comes to distribution and depth of logistical network, even the most developed ecosystems are not prepared for a challenge of this scale. We need to rethink our approach to cold chains, warehouses and supply chains that are built for agriculture and food production.

While we have been striving towards streamlining and centralising for efficiency, we now need to see if distributed and small-scale interventions bring resiliency into the system.

Role of technology

In a post Covid19 world, we will see rise in demand of technologies that give consumers more tools and power to decide the quality of their food. These technologies will need to be accessible, cost effective and mobile. For example, we are now building a platform that provides complete seed to plate traceability along with AI based quality testing. It gives the power to consumers to have all the information they need about their food by simply scanning a QR code.

 

The disruption that we had no power over should lead to a disruption that we need. Technology can be one of the change makers to take us in that direction. 

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Dr. Venkat Maroju

Dr. Venkat Maroju is the CEO of SourceTrace Systems, a company that has become a global leader in providing software solutions to agriculture and food sectors. Venkat has been able to achieve this by combining his core capacities in technological leadership with extensive grassroots-level experience with social enterprises.

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