The agricultural sector has been grappling with supply chain issues related to ineffective communication, lack of transparency, data integration, regulatory pressures, and food crises. These challenges are amplified by the complexity of food supply chains, which involve numerous stakeholders.

Blockchain technology, with its unique characteristics of transparency and immutability, has the potential to address these concerns and revolutionize supply chains in agriculture.

At the core of this transformation is the smallholder farmer, who can now access global markets through blockchain-powered projects in ways that were previously impossible.

Recently, we had the opportunity to connect with Satheesh Paddolker, the Founder and CEO of Kratos Innovation Labs. His team has developed FoodLens, a consortium-based blockchain agro-traceability platform based in Singapore. This platform enables multiple stakeholders in a food supply chain, including farmers, aggregators, processors, institutional buyers, and consumers, to verify the various stages and actions within the supply chain. The goal is to promote authenticity, trust, and transparency, which are crucial for ensuring food security.

Q: What inspired you to provide this solution? How did it all begin?

The initial use case for FoodLens emerged from the need to prevent documentary fraud. For example, tea exporters often face delays in receiving payments for their shipments. To address this issue, exporters would visit their banks to obtain a discounting facility on the bill. However, the lack of a shared ledger among banks allowed exporters to discount the bill multiple times with different banks, leading to fraudulent activities. Kratos sought to leverage blockchain technology as a means to prevent such fraud throughout the supply chain. Blockchain solutions have the potential to assist with fraud prevention at all levels of the supply chain.

In 2018, Kratos team was sent by Microsoft Singapore to Texas, USA, to support local livestock farmers affected by parallel meat imports. Kratos had to track the health of the cattle on these ranches and provide a solution for local farmers to showcase their stories. Additionally, Kratos was invited by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation to India to explore use cases of blockchain, such as agro-traceability, and how it could uplift the livelihoods of Indian farmers. The work done during this period related to taking a closer look at food supply chains made us name the company FoodLens.

The FoodLens, app now available on Play store, provides farmers with satellite imagery of their farms, allowing them to set up their fields and receive precision agriculture insights every sixth day. Using satellite imagery and AI, the app provides information on vegetation, moisture, biotic stress, abiotic stress, and micronutrient stress. Farmers can use the color-coded map to identify nutrient-deficient areas and apply fertilizers only where needed, resulting in significant cost savings. The FoodLens technology is available to smallholder farmers in India at an affordable rate of 50 INR per month.

Q: What challenges did you face when introducing the model to small-scale farmers, and how did you overcome them?

The initial challenge was the limited exposure of farmers to technology, with many lacking smartphones. Farmers also faced trust issues and had traditionally followed agricultural practices without questioning them. To overcome these challenges, FoodLens conducted surveys and interviews with smallholder farms, and appointed aggregators who could assist farmers in using the application. Aggregators are individuals from the same or nearby villages with a general understanding of agriculture. They use their smartphones to support farmers who may not own devices or know how to use them. Initially, FoodLens covered the cost of technology and provided farmers with free access to the application for three months.

Q: What regulatory challenges are associated with this implementation?

Implementing this project with multiple State Governments in India involved navigating complex bureaucratic procedures and administrative obstacles. Initially, progress seemed slow, as there was resistance to transitioning from traditional to digital technologies. The farmers did not receive the intended funding initially. However, with 120 million farmers in India, State Governments gradually started providing some support.

Q: What led to the selection of a consortium blockchain for this project?

The decision to adopt a consortium blockchain for this project was driven by two key factors. Firstly, it facilitates a decentralized and trustworthy repository of information accessible to all stakeholders. This model creates a unified and reliable source of truth, enhancing transparency and collaboration among stakeholders, and building trust among non-trusting parties in the sector. An example of agro-traceability at work can be seen on the FoodLens platform through Organish Affair Agrotech Private Ltd.

Secondly, consortium blockchains offer faster transaction processing compared to traditional public blockchain networks. Transactions on a consortium blockchain can be validated and recorded more swiftly, enabling quicker decision-making and reducing potential delays in the process. This aspect is crucial to maintaining the interest of farmers who are new to technology.

Q: Can you provide an overview of the privacy and data protection measures implemented in this application?

FoodLens operates on a consortium permissioned blockchain, ensuring that the data on the platform is encrypted. The application does not openly share farmers’ details, apart from providing a general location to indicate the origin of the products (zero knowledge proof). FoodLens collects and commits data to the blockchain to demonstrate its authenticity and attribution to a single source. Therefore, the data is “verifiable with FoodLens” rather than certified by FoodLens.

Satheesh concluded our conversation by highlighting that FoodLens is now focused not only on assisting with the harvesting process but also on leveraging the data collected to help smallholder farmers obtain cheaper loans. The platform aims to provide credibility to farmers who typically lack it. With sufficient data and the use of artificial intelligence, FoodLens can enhance crop predictions, reduce crop loss, lower input costs, and decrease the interest rates paid by farmers, ultimately doubling their income.

In a country where farmer suicides resulting from crop loss and debt are prevalent, FoodLens presents itself as a facilitator for individuals who deserve a better quality of life.

Written by Thanuki Goonesinghe

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