App for good: Making a water impact

In an interview with Ben Summers, Sustainability Officer at Innocent Drinks, we explored how Irri-fresca creates a long lasting impact and more efficient water use in a water stressed area of South-West Spain. We also delved into the discussion of the role of technology in addressing the world’s biggest challenges.


Why is this app for good?


Irri-fresa is looking to see a healthy agricultural sector in Spain alongside a thriving ecological and environmental ecosystem through increased water efficiency. It is an educational programme that helps farmers to manage irrigation system for strawberries efficiently by ensuring no unnecessary water is being used. The key tool for that is the use of an app, which informs farmers about amount and frequency of irrigation.


How does the app work?


The app is online and free to use (both on a computer and a smartphone). The farmer will input a lot of information about their own farm, such as; the size of the farm, details of their irrigation system, soil type, the nearest weather station – to build up a picture for the software.


Having captured all the data, the software will build an irrigation schedule for the farm. It then could be changed on a weekly basis throughout the season, depending on the weather and the climate events. There is a recommended schedule, which fully follows the guidance of the software, as well as an option to customise.


What is the background to the project? What drove its development? 


The South-West of Seville is an important socio-economic region as it produces over 70% of strawberries in Spain, and it’s in the same water catchment area for Doñana national park. The park is a wetland and a habitat to a number of species that are unique to the area, such as endangered Iberian lynx, and 6 million of migratory birds, which makes it a UNESCO World Heritage site. There were concerns that agriculture in the region was depriving the wetland of water.


The first phase of the project was to understand if water use could be more efficient. The research showed that in some cases moisture absorbed into the soil below the strawberry roots, which meant the water wasn’t being used by the plant. Partnership with the University of Córdoba found that farmers could reduce their water use between 10% to 40% and still have the same yield with no negative effects on the quality of strawberries.


Why did you choose the tech route to address this water tension?


Technology provides the ability to scale. As more and more people use the app there is an ability to capture and refine information and make it even more accurate. It is linked to the local weather station, which helps to make it more relevant and specific. But hopefully in time with feedback we can make the app more interactive, so the users can share their experiences and lessons learnt. In the future versions it could be self-reported. For example, the weather parameters could be entered by the farmers in the region, which will make it even more accurate.


What was your biggest implementation challenge and how did you solve it?


It would always be a journey when you are encouraging behaviour change. Engaging farmers to use less water takes time. When it’s your livelihood crop, the risks are high.


To succeed, it was important to have a solid evidence of data. Secondly, it was key to make that transition in behaviour change as easy as possible. At the beginning of the year you input data, and from there the software takes it over as it produces a schedule to follow. Being on the ground, and having a quality face to face time with farmers was also very important.


How scalable is this program?


Very scalable. The 7-year history proved that. What’s exciting for the 2016-17 strawberry season is that we opened up the project to more partners via the Sustainability Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI). Through that we have other buyers, such as; Ahold Delhaize, BerryWorld, Coop Switzerland, Group Danone, Edeka, The Coca-Cola Company, Marks & Spencer, Migros, Sainsbury’s, SVZ, Tesco and Unilever.  Innocent buys only 1% of strawberries grown in that region, with more companies participating in the program we now have direct access to farmers representing over 20% of the region’s strawberry production. 


In your opinion, what’s the role of tech in addressing the world’s biggest challenges?


The technology will be a powerful tool as it facilitates access to the information. The rate and the speed of its change is only going to help. If historically sharing lessons learnt and getting feedback might have taken years, now this process is being spread out through tech, which leads to an increased efficiency and improved pace.


Global access to tech is increasing as well, which is also going to open up more regions and opportunities to leverage tech for the communal good.


The app we spoke about is about helping, educating and doing it in a simple way to our farmers around water use. What would make it work even better, will be knowing the information on the ground from the farmers, such as; current rainfall and temperatures, any particular diseases or pest that is affecting the crop at a given time. If other members of our supply chain can have access to this information, then together we will be able to respond and adapt much better and faster to any supply chain threats.


Are there any tech risks we need to be aware of?


The scalability is a great strength, but you need to be mindful of not making anything arbitrary. Just because you can reach more people this won’t be one size fits all approach.


Tech shouldn’t substitute personal interaction.   


Spending time on the ground, understanding the local community concerns and challenges is important. The relationships side will always go hand in hand with any technological advances. Adopting the tech and adopting the use of this new way of sourcing information takes time and such message is best conveyed by a strong relationship that is built on personal interaction. Whatever your business is it’s really important to engage people to come on a journey with you.


Elina Yumasheva is head of content at The Crowd. 


Photograph: Flickr/ FoodBev Photos. 

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Small scale farmers and big data

With more data than ever before in human history, nowadays data is king. This is a good thing for businesses, as many companies have incorporated data in their decision making.


However, there are still many areas of business that lack sufficient or relevant data to make informed decisions. For example, most food and drink businesses source raw produce from small-scale farmers, yet they struggle to collect meaningful information throughout their supply chains because of complex supply chain structures, as well as the remote nature of the producers they source from.


Without sufficient or timely data on the producer levels of their supply chains, businesses cannot effectively analyse and mitigate risk - and this can result in serious losses. Coffee rust is a completely preventable crop disease but because it was not identified in 2012 and 2013, millions were lost by coffee companies.


So how can we collect data on the remotest parts of the world’s supply chains to help businesses analyse and mitigate risk effectively?


Case study


Through our SMS service WeFarm, more than 76,000 farmers have shared over 12 million messages about farming and agriculture. These consist mostly of questions and answers that were submitted directly from farmers and can provide insights into common issues that they are facing.


By capturing and storing this information online, WeFarm is building a unique bank of rural agricultural knowledge from farmers without access to Internet. WeFarm then analyses this user-generated content to provide businesses with actionable insights from the ground.


Such data enables companies to monitor seasonal, regular and temporary trends and identify those that worsen over time or during a particular season. They can then mitigate against risks that pose a significant threat to their business.


Making the data work


In order to unearth some potential risks for tea companies we analysed thousands of messages shared between tea farmers in Kenya. Two of the five most discussed topics were climate and pest control. We also found that older farmers are much more likely to grow tea. Amongst our tea farmers there are almost twice as many farmers over 65 years old growing tea than under 25 year olds.


Our findings point towards some important learnings. Firstly, climate change is already impacting farmers and supply chains. New types of pests or increases in pests can be an indication of climate change affecting the ecosystem, so farmers mentioning both pests and climate could suggest that a serious risk is emerging.


Secondly, tea companies could consider an ageing tea growing population as a potential risk. What inspires farmers to farm tea, a notoriously delicate crop? Do young farmers not see a viable future for tea farming? How can businesses make tea farming a more attractive proposition?


Supply chain risk mitigation


When it comes to mitigating risk, tailored and timely information provides a solid foundation in order to take action. By gaining insights into the lives of farmers, businesses can more effectively allocate resources.


For food and drink companies, a lot of risk mitigation can be achieved through working with farmers. Firstly, granting farmers access to useful information to build adaptation strategies can greatly reduce risk. Alternatively, building tailored training can improve farmers’ understanding of their role in sustainable tea production and create sustainable, more robust supply chains. Finally, helping farmers tackle and prevent crop diseases can save entire harvests from being wiped out.


Data from the ground - a new way forward


Technology provides us with many new opportunities in an increasingly complex world. Data from remote supply chains can simplify making important business decisions, especially in analysing and mitigating risks. Ultimately, this will help businesses save money, improve sustainability, and fight some of the biggest challenges of our era.


Amy Barthorpe is Head of Business at WeFarm




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Can technology help us to feed the world?

How to work together to produce safe and sustainable food


Around one in nine people on earth do not have enough food to lead a healthy, active life. And in the next 50 years as diets become richer, experts estimate that to feed a population of 9bn people, more food will have to be produced than has been during the past 10,000 years in total. Combined with the challenges of climate change, water scarcity, and biodiversity degradation; not to mention the impact of antibiotic use in livestock and antibiotic resistance; and new and emerging pathogens – the outlook appears bleak.


The food industry has the most complex supply chain – being both global and highly fragmented at the same time. Given this degree of complexity, it is difficult for food producers to have good visibility beyond their first tier of suppliers and they are unlikely to have any direct sight of the farmers and fisheries at the primary production stage. At this level, a large food brand may be supplied by hundreds of thousands of small suppliers, who are totally out of reach. We live in an era when food safety scares and sustainability scandals can rightly go viral on social media in a matter of hours, with long reaching consequences for the individuals affected and for the brands involved; it’s time for the food industry to find a new model to address these challenges.


To produce the food needed safely and sustainably, the food industry needs to build greater resilience and security into its systems. Effective assurance services and enhanced transparency throughout the supply chain can form a solid foundation to achieving this. However, the assurance industry also faces challenges, including a lack of qualified auditors in emerging markets – often the very markets where food production is expected to grow in the coming years. And, the traditional audit model is based on auditors traveling to client sites, where they often spend a large proportion of their time reviewing documents. Don’t get me wrong, this has been an effective way to provide independent third party assurance and continues to ensure confidence in food safety and sustainability. However, given the developments in communications and technology, it seems high time to review our food safety and sustainability assurance business model to take advantage of these developments to work in a more collaborative and efficient way.


Possible solutions


A new model is possible; LRQA has recently delivered remote audits in Iraq and Afghanistan. With no possibility to send an auditor into these conflict zones, LRQA’s technical experts developed specific procedures to conduct remote audits in extraordinary circumstances that were reviewed by the accreditation body UKAS. Our lead auditor interacted with the client and a local subcontractor by using webcams, video conferencing and phone to carry out the audit to the same rigorous standards as if they had been there in person.


Remote assessment and greater transparency in the supply chain have been made possible thanks to disruptive technologies. To support this vision, LRQA has recently announced adoption of greenfence platform technology. Based in Silicon Valley, greenfence is the first platform technology serving the Testing, Inspection and Certification (TIC) marketplace – connecting everyone from large retailers and certification bodies, to global scheme owners and farmers.


The platform is supported by some of the world’s largest food manufacturers and is capable of mapping the entire food supply chain of existing connections and certifications. We expect that it will improve supply chain confidence with greater coverage and visibility, enabling producers to analyse the data more easily to target existing and potential risks more effectively. The assurance business model will then move from a retrospective focus to predictive insight – from what went wrong, to what is likely to go wrong. From an assurance perspective, our services powered by the greenfence platform should address a variety of challenges such as; enabling global traceability and transparency, delivering online assessments to thousands of clients within a short period of time as well as the possibility to benchmark, enabling the assessment of suppliers who are out of reach through traditional audits, overcoming the issues of lack of auditors and geographic limitations, delivering a truly global management of the food supply chain, and reducing audit costs for clients.


Registration on the platform is free and increases the ability to interact with other parts of the supply chain, which will enable more effective and efficient processes. Additional services will include the authentication of existing certificates (for any scheme) as well as various levels of remote assessment, which will enable benchmarking of suppliers and easier risk identification. Remote assessment will not replace on-site audits but will complement them, for example, to pre-assess risks in the supply chain to target on-site audits where there is the biggest perceived risk or to enable compliance to basic standards at an affordable level for very small suppliers.


This development fits well with the Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s mission to enhance the safety of life and property. Most organisations do something to make money but at Lloyd’s Register, we make money to do something, as a percentage of our profits go towards the Foundation. Indeed, we envisage that the flexibility provided by this platform and accessible throughout the supply chain will help small farmers in emerging markets to improve their communications, logistics, access to training, exposure to the food market, as well as access to credit markets. Initiatives to connect farmers run by Nestlé in Central America and by Vodafone in East Africa have proven to be highly effective in the fight against world hunger and it is hoped that the greenfence platform will have a similarly positive impact.


Scaling up


Ultimately, the platform aims to consolidate big data from the supply chain including Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Global Positioning System (GPS) data from transportation, lab results, drones, and on-site webcams to enable real time compliance monitoring with automatic alerts to clients in the case of any nonconformity.


Food safety is non-competitive, and the greenfence platform is no different. To gain the critical mass needed to create real transparency it will need to be used by all parties in the food supply chain, driven by the large food processors. This is the first project of its kind with a holistic aim to enable collaboration to support the changes needed in the global food industry. 


As we continue to address innovative ways of providing assurance to the global food supply chain, to enable the sector to continue to feed the world safely and sustainably, this can only be a positive step.


Vincent Doumeizel is Vice President  - Food, Beverage & Sustainability at Lloyd’s Register Group. 



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