The globalisation of our food system has created an extraordinary and distressing paradox. According to the World Food Programme, 815 million people—one in nine—go to bed hungry every night. Moreover, one in three suffers from some form of malnutrition. Yet in stark contrast, findings from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization demonstrate that roughly one-third of food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—is wasted or lost.
These diametrically opposed issues show that much of this problem is logistical—we are producing sufficient food, but our supply chains simply aren’t flexible and efficient enough to distribute it properly.
There are a plethora of reasons why so much of the food we produce goes to waste. At retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasise appearance and uniformity. Additionally, a staggering 90 per cent of consumers in the United States throw food away too soon simply due to misinterpreting labels, demonstrating an over-reliance on labels that are outdated, confusing and misleading.
On a broader scale, modern supply chains themselves are generally binary and inflexible. Food which fails to meet certain quality criteria at any given stage of the chain is often immediately destroyed. Most of this destroyed food would still be safe to consume if it could be transferred quickly and efficiently to a new buyer with more suitable quality standards, such as a dog food producer less concerned about meat quality standards.
On a local level, supermarket food waste has not gone unnoticed in recent times, and many charities have demanded partnerships with large retailers in order to pass on the unused or unsold produce to relevant charities but, unfortunately, inadequate logistics often makes efficient redistribution impossible.
The modern-day issue of supply chain transparency requires a modern-day solution, and in blockchain, we find it.
With the inherently decentralised properties of blockchain technology, data is visible and cannot be tampered with. Producers and suppliers will be able to track their shipments and make more efficient decisions, while increasingly socially conscious consumers will be able to see precisely where their food has come from, rather than having to trust spurious and confusing labels.
Furthermore, the immediate transfer of information available with blockchain can see contracts moved between stakeholders without hesitation.
Through the use of dynamic contract rerouting, enabled by blockchain, supply chains become more flexible and open up new options for salvaging lower quality but still usable food. For example, if a shipment of food falls below the quality criteria for its original intended use, a smart contract, which is a technology employed on blockchain to automate and enforce agreements and transactions, could automatically and dynamically reroute it to another buyer.
We are producing sufficient food, but our supply chains simply aren’t flexible and efficient enough to distribute it properly.
In an industry where commodities sitting on the tarmac in the hot sun for hours on end, or frozen goods beginning to thaw, lead to millions of dollars of waste, the ability to find new buyers with lower quality standards is truly revolutionary.
Being able to effectively monitor food shipments with blockchain technology brings a huge range of possibilities. With these new technologies, food doesn’t sit in packages going to waste, inefficiently labeled food will not be thrown in trash bins, and consumers can track where their food is coming from, forcing all stakeholders to be transparent, efficient, and sustainable.
Angel Versetti is CEO of Ambrosus.This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org.