Clipped from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/security-tech/technology/whats-on-your-plate-the-fruits-and-vegetables-you-eat-may-be-way-past-its-expiration-date/articleshow/79715227.cmsSynopsis
There is a need for consumer-centric agri-tech interventions to ensure the quality of food and vegetables and provide complete transparency to the buyers.
The onset of the pandemic has made concerns regarding the health, hygiene and safety paramount. There have been various behavioural changes observed in people’s food consumption habits. They have become more aware and considerate about the health and hygiene factors in their food consuming habits. One such concern is the quality of fruits and vegetables, and its treatment before consuming them. The pandemic has brought up the conversation on the quality and contents of what we consume.
The FnV (Fruits and Vegetables) produce goes through several steps from farm to table. The produce is grown under different conditions, treated with manures and pesticides, stored at multiple locations before it reaches the shelf, and handled by several people at every stage. The trust and consistency of the quality of FnV remain unaddressed. Furthermore, the pandemic has made it crucial now more than ever as Covid precautionary measures like social distancing and sanitizing have become a part of the process.
In recent times, the introduction of technology in the agricultural space has revolutionized several aspects of farming. To a great extent AI, IoT have infused technology to increase the yield, and ensure transparency with farmers while up-skilling and empowering them. However, the issues being faced at the consumer’s end are often left unaddressed or given less importance.
While buying any FnB (Food and Beverage) product, the consumers are provided with details of all that goes in the food items along with the description of nutritional contents and manufacturing and expiry date of the product. This helps the consumer in making a conscious choice and also helps build trust and credibility for a particular brand or brand’s products. On the other hand, for FnV there are no such regulations to provide the consumer with the information about what goes in producing the fruits and vegetables, leave alone the expiry date.
Currently, the consumers are left at the mercy of shop owners or vendors for deciding what food reaches their dining table. Although, there has always been a “filtering process” from the consumer’s end while buying fruits and vegetables. Such as while buying FnV offline, certain filters have been there for example the size and shape, or the colour and shine that determines the freshness and quality. There have been various instances where the farm produce is injected with harmful chemicals to give it a certain size and shape, like in case of watermelons or gourd vegetables, or being sprayed with chemicals for retaining the shine. Such measures are usually resorted to prolong the shelf life of FnV, which unfortunately is misleading. At the same time, quality and nutritional value is compromised by the physical appearance of the product. By the time such produce reaches the consumer’s dining table, its nutritional contents would have significantly depreciated.
While buying the fruits and vegetables, online or offline, the consumer issues majorly revolve around:
- Consistent quality and pricing
- Credibility and trust
- Availability in the FnV market
Agri-tech can play a crucial role in solving these challenges. Resolving these issues calls for more consumer-centric agri-tech interventions that will ensure the quality of FnV produce and provide complete transparency to the consumers.
Implementing end-to-end traceability will make every stage of FnV production technologically intensive. Beginning from the farms, the AI and machine learning inputs like the image analysis will let the farmer and the producer track all the activities of the farm produce. It will raise timely preventive alerts for produce management such as the temperature control and preventive interventions for fungal or pests attacks. Additionally, it will make farming more predictive about the quality and quantity of produce, which will optimize the procurements and logistics. The picking efficiency algorithms will increase the efficiency of the supply chain by allotting nearest pickups, drops and automated routes for transport vehicles. A supply chain platform similar to that of e-commerce will bring in traceability that will help to track the produce from farm & storage facilities to shelves.
These agri-tech inputs at the farming level will help in ensuring consistent quality and pricing for the consumers. A technology-enabled check on the farm’s hygiene and providing the farmers with the required resources and quick resolutions to grow consistent quality produce will help in solving the issues at the farming stage. Additionally, an efficient supply chain management will ensure in providing fresh farm produce with less wastage and will resolve availability concerns up to a great extent.
Technology will also enable the producer the full-access to the process, and hence the quality of the produce can easily be monitored at every stage. As a result, the producer can ensure the consistency in quality of produce that will lead to building trust for the ‘FnV brand.’ Seed to table traceability will provide consumers with detailed information about the produce that includes:
- The kind of seeds and manure used while growing
- The origin of the produce
- Its age
- Shipping details
- Nutritional information and authentication proof
Covid and post-Covid precautionary information on the number of people who came in contact with the produce before it reaches the shelves and their respective body temperature(s).
Simple agri-tech inputs can build the traceable infrastructure such as bar-coding the farms, up-skilling the farmers and logistic staff, a high-tech supply chain. Although setting up the digitized infrastructure requires an investment in both technology and upskilling the human resources; the execution will solve major consumer issues and farming issues to a great extent. Economies of scale will set in once large scale cloud farming is practised.
Once the consumer is provided with the window to access the content of what goes in their food, how soon it reaches them after harvest, the handling process along with the authentication proofs from reliable laboratories, the consumer will be empowered to make an informed decision. The consumer is, therefore, no longer at the shopkeeper’s or vendor’s mercy.
The onset of Covid has brought the discussion around FnV handling hygiene upfront. Therefore, the pandemic will fast pace the process of implementing end-to-end agri-tech. Providing the consumers with complete farm to table traceability will deliver transparency and build credibility besides trust for the produce. All this leads to enhancing the quality of life and improving the lot of the farmer.
( The writer is CEO and Co-Founder, Orinko)