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INTERVIEW

“Food safety concerns put consumers’ health at risk”
Monday, 13 January, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]

SourceTrace is a SaaS (Software As A Service) company engaged in supporting the cause of sustainable agriculture and empowerment of small-holder farmers. The 12-year-old company is engaged in providing access to international markets and helping its customers improve productivity through efficient use of inputs and reliable procurement processes, minimise risk with timely knowledge and information access.

Any concern with food safety can put the health of millions of consumers at risk, and also damage the reputation of the food manufacturing company if corrective actions are not taken at the appropriate time.

Mobile applications, artificial intelligence, machine learning (AI/Ml) and Blockchain and advanced analytics enables the capture of relevant data related to food supply chain, Dr Venkat Maroju, chief executive officer, SourceTrace tells Nandita Vijay. Excerpts:

How is SourceTrace positioned to garner the supply chain market opportunities in agri and food processing?
The agri and food processing supply chain markets are poised to be one of our most promising segments in the coming time. In the recent past, this sector has shown a good deal of traction and we are set to take it forward.

One of the key factors in our favour is a robust traceability solution which has been deployed in the past with good results. The horticulture and food processing segments are already using our solutions.

We are working with prestigious global customers like Firmenich, Griffith Foods, Terova, Krishi Pragati Foundation and Fruitmaster Agro Fresh Limited for traceability.

We are also working with Grain Market Board, Zimbabwe, for streamlining the country’s grain supply chain and making faster payments to farmers using digital financial services.

Could you enlist some of the challenges that prevail in the supply chain and food safety space in the segments of food processing and agriculture?
One of the major challenges that the food processing industry faces is the need to track the origin of the ingredients used. There are two issues here: food safety is one and the provenance of the ingredients is the other.

Consumers today are increasingly becoming aware of both these issues. Any concern with food safety can put the health of millions of consumers at risk and also damage the reputation of the food manufacturing company if corrective actions are not taken at the appropriate time.

Corrective action means recalling contaminated or unsafe food from the shelves at retail stores or removing the items before it enters the supply chain. Not doing so leads to financial losses, and worse, it can damage the company’s reputation.

However, identifying such items at the right time requires a robust traceability system to be put in place.

Please provide the details of the technology?
SourceTrace’s solutions are powered through latest technologies such as mobile applications, AI/Ml and Blockchain and advanced analytics which enables the capture of relevant data related to food supply chain from just about every location where the action is taking place.

This includes even remote and multiple locations; and this data is stored in a central repository, enabling near real-time and complete visibility to the management so that timely corrections can be made where required, reducing risk and saving costs.

The essence of these technologies is to provide end-to-end visibility and provenance of the food supply chain from farm-to-fork where end consumers can attain a detailed view of the farmer, along with the photograph and GPS location of the farm.

The solution also shows the many different processes that the food product has gone through before reaching the shelves of the retail store.

Companies deploy traceability because consumers demand it. Here, traceability is a potent consumer confidence-building tool.

Scanning the QR code on the label of the product would throw up a host of information of the origin of the produce, the date it was harvested and even details of the individual farmer who grew the crop.

How long did it take to develop? How large is your team for this project?
It took us a couple of years to develop the software and test all our digital solutions. We have a team of 40-plus members for software development.

What is the India game-plan to thwart food safety and supply chain issues?
Increasing sensitivity to the need for food safety and educating food processing companies on the benefits of traceability solutions will help create a more efficient supply chain with near real-time and complete visibility.

What is the acceptance of this technology in Indian food processing and agriculture?
We have merely begun to scratch the surface. When compared with the total number of agri and food processing companies, only a few companies have adopted traceability solutions so far.

What is the kind of investment to be made by companies in this space?
The level of investment depends on a variety of factors such as the number of farmers and locations from whom data has to be collected and the complexity of the process.

Implementing traceability solutions historically have been quite complex but thanks to packaged and readily-available SaaS solutions such as SourceTrace Datagreen platform, these solutions can be rapidly deployed at a fraction of the cost than what it used to cost historically.

Globally how have the two segments evinced interest and invested in the technology?
Investment by the agri and food processing industries in traceability is still at a nascent stage. Although the benefits that will be realised by deploying it will be significant, it will take some time for both awareness and investments to percolate.

Supply chain management is also in a similar situation right now. However, this market is definitely poised to see growth.

Would the company look at the Union government to get the supply chain of public distribution in place?
Theoretically, we are open to working with both the government and private sector. Deploying a digital supply chain management solution will bring the much-needed efficiency and transparency needed in the system.

How would you describe the current scene for supply chain and food safety in India and the emerging markets?
The market for digital solutions in supply chain management and food safety in India is all set to grow both in India and other developing countries and also for food retail chains in developed countries.

Globally, research shows that this market is expected to grow due to the rise in both intra-regional and cross-border trades.

What are the trends you sight?
Both supply chain management and traceability are emerging markets and are poised to see growth in the next decade. Cloud-based solutions like SaaS (Software as a Service) in this sector will also rise, due to its cost-effectiveness.
 
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