The Importance of Food Traceability in Agriculture

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), India is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and jute, and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnut, vegetables, fruit and cotton. Home to vast agro-ecological diversity, the country is also one of the leading producers of spices, fish, poultry, livestock and plantation crops. At $2.1 trillion, it is the world’s third-largest economy after the US and China. Exports of agricultural and processed food products were valued at $38.49 billion in 2019, and the government aims to increase it to $60 billion by 2022.

What is Food Traceability and why it is Important in Agriculture

Food traceability refers to a set of technological practices comprising the identification and verification of food and other products. It offers farmers, businesses and consumers visibility into the transit system through the various stages of production, processing, distribution and consumption. Food traceability is a critical link in the global food trade and ensures ethical, sustainable and environment-friendly production in the agricultural value chain. Growing concerns around the hygiene and safety of agricultural products, food and beverages, spikes in the number of recalled products, stringent export regulations, and demands for 100% transparency in food-supply chain systems are helping this technology drive market growth and giving global agricultural trade an impetus.

India’s Potential to Adopt Traceability

The global food traceability market size was estimated to be worth $16.8 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach USD 26.1 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 9.1%. Owing to a spike in its agricultural exports, India has the potential to adopt traceability technology. Leading market sectors include beverages, dairy, fisheries, fresh produce and seeds, meat and livestock, seafood, spices, and high-value cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, cotton and condiments for flavours and fragrances.

Need for Traceability in India

In India, family-owned outlets or Kiranas make up the vast majority of food stores. Lack of visibility in the production and sales cycles of fresh fruits and vegetables, the precarious nature of the existing supply chain, and mismanaged inventories are affecting the industry’s ability to meet the ever-growing demand for seasonal produce. Arbitrariness and inconsistencies are characteristics of food traceability in the country. Multiple fraudulent incidents, such as adulteration, counterfeiting, diversion, pilferage, refilling and tampering, frequently occur at every stage of complex supply chains with no control. Inadequate agricultural practices, insecure policies for food safety, restrictive government marketing standardisation, underdeveloped and unorganised market infrastructure and supply chains, and non-existent cold chain facilities for small and medium farmers and small local stores are affecting the development of food traceability systems.

How Technology can Help

Traceability plays a crucial role in decreasing these mishaps and increasing the robustness of the supply chain management system with integrated systems that ensure effective operational control to avoid any form of contamination. Technology can change the face of inventory management by offering real-time information about produce stocked in warehouses to help businesses combat the issues of over and understocking. Although advancements are being implemented in India, the 2D barcode is still the most used traceability method among nuclear techniques, holograms, and RFID to monitor the production process. The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) organises traceability initiatives for vegetables.

The adoption of AI, blockchain technology and data analytics in digital farm management ensures food traceability and safety through a digital supply chain, tracks the entire cycle of agricultural produce within a few seconds, offers numerous business development opportunities along with procurement strategies and sales forecasting, helps producers get premium prices for their products and reduces losses associated with spoilage. With the food market facing intense competition globally, robust technological solutions to ensure quality are the need of the hour.

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