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COVID-19 Provides a Wakeup Call for Food Sustainability
June 03, 2020

As the summer barbecue season arrives, U.S. consumers face an unforeseen consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic: meat shortages at the grocery store. Despite plenty of livestock on farms, grocers...

As the summer barbecue season arrives, U.S. consumers face an unforeseen consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic: meat shortages at the grocery store.

Despite plenty of livestock on farms, grocers are struggling to keep beef, chicken and other staples in stock. The reason: shuttered meatpacking plants were forced to close due to worker illness. Producers had no means of getting meat to consumers.

It’s the latest manifestation of an archaic supply chain—a problem that results in the waste, by some estimates, of more than a third of all food produced in the world, everything from berries to baby food and now to meat.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. By digitizing processes and making data more transparent across the supply chain, stakeholders are able to respond to bottlenecks with far greater agility. That’s the impetus behind blockchain networks such as Food Trust.

Thanks to blockchain, Kvarøy Arctic, a salmon producer and Whole Foods supplier, is able to work with Atea and IBM to embed real-time, verified data into virtually every business decision.

See how one of the most sustainable salmon farms in the world is using blockchain to increase traceability

Blockchain enables Kvarøy to respond more nimbly to market disruptions, one of many benefits. From the moment a fish is pulled from the water, blockchain records the journey along the supply chain, all the way to the point of sale. Everything from the name of the fishing vessel to the temperature of the shipping container is automatically written to an immutable digital ledger and shared instantly with permissioned stakeholders.

Retailers can leverage Kvarøy’s data to more accurately forecast inventory needs, monitor the temperatures of shipments, and improve quality assurance, greatly mitigating food waste. Meanwhile, consumers can validate where their fish came from, giving them peace of mind and the ability to directly support ethical producers.

As we celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8, networks like Food Trust help spotlight responsible aquaculture and commitments, such as Kvarøy’s, to sustainable fishing practices.

Blockchain isn’t the only digital technology laying the foundation for a more sustainable food supply. Artificial intelligence and IoT are helping revolutionize the $2.4 trillion global agriculture industry. At Paulman Farms, for instance, AI-powered analytics process vast quantities of weather and soil data to help optimize for quality and productivity.

See how Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture can be a "modern Farmer's Almanac"

Better weather forecasts also enable farms to more accurately project labor needs, a vital capability in helping growers avoid worker shortages amid the pandemic.

IBM’s Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture supports more than two million acres of farmland worldwide and continues to scale rapidly.

Digital synergies

As digital tools become increasingly vital to food production, innovative organizations are combining technologies like AI, blockchain and IoT to become cognitive enterprises.

Yara, one of the world’s leading fertilizer suppliers, partnered with IBM to create a digital farming platform designed to help agricultural producers meet the needs of an ever-rising global population in the face of extraordinary challenges like climate change and mass migration.

See how Yara and IBM are building the world's largest digital farming platform

Combining precision weather forecasting, IoT sensor data and AI analytics, the platform allows farmers to maximize crop yield and quality, while leveraging blockchain to streamline the product journey from farm to consumer.

The impact of the coronavirus has gone far beyond health, exposing flaws in infrastructure that must be fixed if we are to be better prepared for a potential second wave or other major supply chain disruption. A more sustainable and resilient food supply chain is within reach, but only if we’re willing to reimagine it.

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