Info-tech

How IBM is trying to eliminate food wastage in India

Varun Aggarwal San Francisco | Updated on February 15, 2019 Published on February 15, 2019

IBM already has several agritech related projects running in India including one with NITI Aayog. File photo   -  REUTERS

IBM is betting on harnessing the power of blockchain technology, that’s more popularly known as the backbone of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin

Even as millions of people in India struggle to get three square meals, lack of proper storage and transport leads to 40 per cent of all fresh food produced in India being spoiled before it can get to customers.

Technology giant IBM feels it could have a solution to completely eradicate food wastage in the country. Not just wastage. Within five years, IBM expects that billions of home cooks will be able to detect dangerous contaminants effortlessly in their food. All theywould need is a cell phone or a counter-top with Artificial Intelligence (AI) sensors. IBM researchers are creating powerful, portable AI sensors that can detect food-borne pathogens anywhere and everywhere they might turn up.

“Food loss will diminish greatly and the produce that ends up in consumers’ carts will be fresher—when blockchain technology, IoT devices, and AI algorithms join forces,” Sriram Raghavan, Vice President, IBM Research and CTO at IBM India, told BusinessLine.

IBM is betting on harnessing the power of blockchain technology, that’s more popularly known as the backbone of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. According to Raghavan, IBM’s India research lab has been extensively working on this for the past couple of years and the level of traceability that Blockchain can bring to food supply chain, it can completely eliminate wastage.

“Food wastage happens because our food supply chain is complex and chaotic. There is very little visibility up and down the supply chain. More often than not, the wrong thing and sometimes the wrong quantity of the right thing is sent to the wrong place at the wrong time. That means a lot of spoilage and wastage. We predict, in five years, by uniting three powerful technologies--blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT) and AI, we will create a real zero wastage supply chain that delivers fresher food,” Raghavan said.

Accurate, real time information about consumption patterns will enable every step of the supply chain to make the right decision to know how much to grow, where to package, what to send.

Raghavan feels this will fuel a Rs 5,000 crore revenue opportunity for the company in India for various agritech related products. To add to this, some of the advances in microbiomes that IBM is working on, the company aims to help identify all pathogens and harmful chemicals in food with a help of a small device that can be attached to the phone. This new technology will open up more revenue opportunities for IBM in the next five years in India.

“Within five years, we’ll eliminate many of the costly unknowns in the food supply chain. From farmers to grocery suppliers, each participant in the supply chain will know exactly how much to plant, order, and ship,” Raghavan said.

Instead of going all by itself, IBM is working on a platform approach to bring together startups and other technology companies to build upon IBM’s offering.

“We’re bringing certain segments of the food ecosystem together. IBM Food Trust is a Blockchain network that we incubated about two years ago. Toady, the network offers traceability and food certicate management. But this is really a base platform. We are now looking to understand food cases for food wastage. We don’t anticipate all applications to be built by IBM. Startups and other companies are welcome to work on this platform,” Raghavan said.

IBM is already working with startups such as RML Agtech, Agrostar and a few others to build upon these solutions.

“We are in conversations with retailers, food processors, distributors, big growers, cooperatives in India. We are also looking to partner with value added providers,” Raghavan said.

IBM already has several agritech related projects running in India including one with NITI Aayog where the company is helping the government in predicting weather conditions and crop yield expectations. Through its 70-odd partners, the company is reaching out to up to 35 lakh farmers in the country now.

The work in food wastage reduction is a step ahead from all these existing initiative that the tech major has in the country.

( The writer is in San Francisco at the invitation of IBM)

Published on February 15, 2019
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