Traceability has become such a serious business today that you have European waiters holding pizzas in their hand, pontificating its virtues to, gasp, He-Man – probably under a keto diet – and the Masters of the Blockchain Universe.
Now, wait a minute.
Does He-Man understand Italian?
Alright, let’s ask Alexa to translate.
Perhaps, He-Man is famished – He may have EMI bills to pay and credit card loans to settle.
Why else would he get convinced with just two pizzas and get busy selling Blockchain solutions in front of a super-market to the Buffalo Nerd-man with a hoodie? And where the hell did his green Tiger go?
No matter how benevolent He-Man’s beliefs are about block chain, there is one catch, if you pay closer attention to the scope – that which places the horse before the cart.
When He-Man says, “through the entire supply chain“, one can never be sure, what he really means.
I mean, which supply chain is he talking about? Upstream or Downstream? Or Up-Up-stream? How do we know which stream is he talking about?
Let’s unpack things slowly.
No matter which stream you swim, you are essentially talking about the journey of your food from Farm to the fork, or the hand, if you are talking to a South Indian like me.
No respectful Indian graphic designer is making Farm-to-hand infographics these days, and so I have to stick to the conventional Farm to Fork diagram.
You can break this journey down into parts.
The journey from Farm until the Retailer is the Upstream side and from the Retailer to the fork or your hand is the Downstream side.
Several months back, AgFunder published a report where they provided a break-down of the funding received by Agritech Startups operating in both Downstream and Upstream journeys.
Out of $16.9 Billion Funding Agrifood Tech startups received in 2018, 60% went to those operating in the Downstream value chain.
Although upstream funding grew over 12%, you you can see why more money is flowing down-stream. Traceability looks much shinier on the downstream side of things, when compared to the upstream side of things.
Let me give you an example closer home, so that you have the data to understand what I am talking about.
I recently bought Organic Rice Rava Idly Batter from iD Foods, and naturally, as a curious cat , when iD Foods let me scan their qr code to find out “How organic is your iD?”, I quickly jumped in.
At first, I got an idli full message, filled with lots of platitude.
Going down the rabbit trail, I could identify the hyderabad based supplier Sreshta Natural Bioproducts Pvt. Ltd. who delivered Fenugreek seeds and Idli Rava and the supplier’s certificate for trading and processing, as per Indian National Programme for Organic Production Standards.
But what about the farmer who supplied to Sreshta Natural Bioproducts? Which farmer grew the rice and the fenugreek which went into my idly?
Sadly, I couldn’t find those details in that QR code.
One can perhaps be optimistic, with the amount of funding happening at the upstream side of things, and hope that we should be able to crack this in few years and find out which farmer grew the fenugreek and ascertain how much food miles did the fenugreek travel from the farm to the supplier, what was the farmer’s cropping pattern like and all other important details that can influence my decision to buy the Idli Rice Rava Batter from iD Foods.
Now, let’s say we have gotten all this information.
Can we confidently say that we have arrived at the deep end of the rabbit hole?
You know where I am heading right?
How can we confidently say that we have tracked the journey of the food, if we cannot track the broad spectrum of agri-inputs – from seeds to crop protection chemicals to pheromone traps to bio-stumalants- which went into the soil and eventually, the food?
Since this domain is largely missing from the radar, I am going to call it Up-Up-Stream.
The product neoInt my team at iConcept is building is focused towards this Up-Up-stream domain.
We understand that no matter how much you talk about traceability, you can’t be serious until you start all the way from agri-inputs, which start their journey from the factory to the warehouse to the agri-input distributor and the agri-input retailer and finally reaches the farmer.
Given the fact that farmers are buying agri-input products on credit, it is extremely important that we have access to the information from the agri-input universe.
Aside: I looked at the other dimension of this journey, from an agri-input manufacturer’s perspective here: The Politcs of Channel Management
Our crop protection customers – Bayer, PI Industries and Hybrid Seeds customers – Limagrain, to name a few, deeply understand the strategic importance of tracking and tracing Agri-Inputs.
Perhaps, as an end consumer, you may wonder, why do we need all this information in the first place? Why do you need to have access to the complete universe of information about the agri-inputs which went into your food?
Let’s look at the bigger picture.
How do we build better digital systems in our current model of capitalism in which markets fully understand the complete journey of a food all the way from agri-input factories to your fork or hand?
When Vinay Gupta, CEO of Blockchain firm Mattereum, was asked in a podcast interview, how he viewed capitalism, he shared something very interesting:
“What we currently have is information-poor capitalism. We all agree that markets are really good at making decisions, but we’re also throwing away practically all of the data that people need to make decisions. Because when we built this form of capitalism, information was expensive, but now information is cheap.
So if I look at something in a store, I want to be able to pull out the total transaction history of that object, right back to where the metal was taken out of the ground. I think that’s my right, as the purchaser of that object, to get full disclosure about everything that went into that object.
To me, this is kind of like rich, contextual capitalism. I want to give everybody huge amounts of information to make their decisions, and then what I want is for them to use software to manage the morality and strategy around those decisions.
To me, price signalling is just not enough data anymore. I don’t just want price signalling; I want full bandwidth, read/write access to the entire universe of information about my decisions, including the composition of the things that I might buy, including the options that I could have exercised if I had known they existed, and then I want to use software to crop that complexity down to something that allows me to live”