Importance of traceability infrastructure in the food supply chain
Food safety as a concern has become an important topic of discussion across the world. Consumer awareness and demand has propelled many nations to adopt a systematic regulatory framework to make supply of food, food handling, and procurement safer.
Agriculture has seen much advancement in recent times to make food sustainable, safe, and viable while delivering high quality produce. Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) are two factors that ensure food that is consumed is not contaminated.
Additionally, to add accountability, farmers are made completely responsible for their produce. In most developed countries, maintaining GAP and MRL is a norm that is strictly adhered too.
In India, post-independence, the concern was more around food security rather than food safety. The aggressive export of the country’s natural produce left India in a severe food deficit situation, which was especially surprising considering that agriculture was the leading occupation.
This grave situation led to the Green Revolution, which transformed our food output and helped us achieve food security. Today, our primary focus has shifted to food safety, which seems to be a bit blurred. Consumers are under the misconception that they have limited options, while farmers think there is no demand. With that said, Indian farmers do follow GAP and MRL while catering to exports but not for local consumers.
Safe food is produced without any harmful chemicals that cause any sickness on consumption. It can be achieved through maintaining the right seeds, maximum residue limits, zero residue farming, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), and how cautiously it is transported from farm to plate.
We desire to consume our fresh food in its original form which is deemed as the safest level. With that said, it does not have to be organic to be safe, but it should be safe, scalable, and available to a billion-plus Indians.
There are innumerable factors that affect safe food. The first and most important issue is that farming in India is marginal and broken.
Farmers struggle to make good earnings and support their families. They have to work around the precarious nature of the occupation which is associated with unpredictable climatic conditions and unfair market linkage.
This leads to a lack of interest amongst the farmer community with experimenting to produce safe food by investing in technology or other solutions. Additionally, there is no perk for investing in better farming practices that can motivate them.
The objective of achieving safe food in India suffers due to a disorganised traceability system that is not fully equipped to handle food safety at different stages in the agri-fresh food supply chain. There is very little information maintained about the origin, actual nutritional value, and handling of fruits and vegetables.
Lack of transparency and quality assurance has become a huge roadblock for creating a sustainable traceability infrastructure. To utilise our rich production culture and gain an edge in the global market, developing a foolproof food traceability system is the need of the hour.
While the concept in India is at an early stage, countries like the Netherlands and Philippines have implemented it successfully across food supply chains. Digital records are maintained throughout the journey of the food.
Nutritional value and handling by different stakeholders are recorded which cannot be tampered with. This data generates traceability from seed to farm to consumer. This was adapted with the objective to safeguard quality, nutritive value, and safety of food until it is consumed. Employing traceability mechanisms serve as an ethical approach that provides consumers with food items and sufficient information about them.
The Philippines government believes that, in the future, having a traceability system will also create and enhance food standards. These standards could facilitate Philippine food exports to other countries, help create a unique food brand distinct to the Philippines, and allow its greater acceptance into the international market. The adoption of food traceability infrastructure is increasingly becoming popular across the world with more and more countries replicating this system.
The trend ascertains the importance of having food traceability for sustainable fresh food culture. There are three aspects of food traceability: tracking food in the supply chain, tracing the nutritional value of food, and creating an ecosystem in the industry.
Tracking food in the supply chain
From grower to wholesale outlet to a collection centre, fulfilment centre to the grocery store to end consumers—information about nutrition, quality, and handling of fruits and vegetables is recorded at every step and provided real-time on a mobile app.
The implementation of such a system requires the participation of all the stakeholders. Farmers, wholesalers, and retailers need to take responsibility and ensure the data about nutrition and quality of food is recorded and made available to the consumers.
Tracing the nutritional value
The demand for locally grown nutrition-rich food is gaining momentum especially during the pandemic. We are catering to consumers who want healthy, highly nutritious fruits and vegetables and are moving online to make contactless purchases.
Hence, the traceability needs to record the nutritional value at every stage —seed, crop, harvesting, warehouse, retail store, and doorstep. This will go a long way to mitigate concerns with food safety and enhance purchases.
Creating an ecosystem
Implementing a traceability system across supply chains in towns and cities, and eventually in the entire food system of the country will help position India better in the global food markets. It will build cross-border transparency and rebrand India as a producer of quality fresh food.
As consumers become more aware of food safety issues in developing countries, key stakeholders in the food value chain must be armed to meet consumer demands and comply with standards and regulations. To facilitate a well-designed and administered traceability systems, government agencies must increase investments in developing a base upon which effective traceability systems can be implemented.
This will lead to exploring the full potential of the rich food production culture in India and add impetus to the framework as a global facilitator of high-quality fruits and vegetables.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)