Supply Chain Guide

A guide for food companies who want to increase agrobiodiversity in their supply chains

Looking at supply chains in post COVID-19 world

Mark Kaplan

COVID-19 has caused shockwaves that span industries around the globe as most of us throughout the world are experiencing firsthand the challenges of supply chain resiliency and traceability. Whether from shortages of certain food items, a lack of household staples like toilet paper, or even questions about the safety or future availability of certain items based on their source of manufacturing. With the fact that the COVID-19 health crisis stems from an opaque food supply chain, society is recognizing its interconnected but paradoxically opaque world. 

When we emerge from the shock of this worldwide health crisis and its impact on the global economy, smart businesses will take this opportunity to reevaluate their supply chains in order to reduce the unknowns that erode resiliency when unanticipated changes occur. This means having a granular understanding of not only your suppliers, but the suppliers of your suppliers, so that in the future businesses can better anticipate both direct and indirect concerns.

Sir David Attenborough recently summarized that “in times of crisis, the natural world is a source of both joy and solace. The natural world produces the comfort that can come from nothing else. And we are part of the natural world. If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves. The plain fact is that every mouthful of food you eat comes from the natural world. There’s no food that nourishes you that doesn’t come from the natural world. Every lungful of air that you take is refined by the natural world, oxygen breathed out by plants. If you can’t breathe and you can’t eat, you don’t exist. Problems are short-term and long-term… the short-term we deal with and the long-term ‘we’ll do tomorrow’. But tomorrow never comes. And then suddenly we discover it’s too late.”

Some supply chain lessons we can take away in light of COVID-19 health crisis and the climate crisis:

  • Full supply chain awareness is critical – Businesses need to monitor not only their suppliers, but their suppliers’ suppliers in order to truly anticipate risks that might arise.
  • Digital verification is increasingly important – Businesses have become all too accustomed to hopping on planes in order to understand issues on the ground. COVID-19 has not only made this impossible for a time, but it has raised our awareness of the risks involved with virus transmission both to and from sourcing locations.
  • The time to start is now – Resilient supply chains need digital tools in place for monitoring and analysis before the next crisis comes so that business leaders are best positioned to respond to disruptions.
Over the past year, the Lexicon of Sustainability convened a group of nearly 50 food industry executives, researchers and NGOs to form the Agrobiodiversity Activator. The Activator ratified 10 principles for Agrobiodiversity and designed a supply chain toolkit to integrate Biodiversity International’s Agrobiodiversity Index key data elements for information sharing across supply chains starting with the pilots: minor millets in India, amaranth in Mexico and fonio in Mali.

When trust is missing, there you have a blind and dysfunctional food supply chain.

The International Food Information Council identified transparency as one of the “Five Food Trends To Watch in 2019.” Consumers need to regain trust in their food. Traceability and transparency can help to build that trust and extend it among all the actors of the supply chain. 


Traceability and Agrobiodiversity

Supply chains are complex networks with often opaque transactions. Traceability requires a system to follow commodities through different stakeholder processes and transfers of custody across supply chains. Such a system must be able to facilitate information sharing between stakeholders in order to validate claims such as provenance, quality, safety and product transformations.

However, traceability and transparency are often mistakenly used interchangeably. Supply chain transparency has the explicit goal of making data and information honest, open and available and is independent from, but well coupled with, traceability. Fully traceable supply chains can remain opaque if the stakeholders choose not to share data.

Further, storytelling content about products is often disconnected from traceability data. Some also mistakenly believe that technologies like blockchain or artificial intelligence supersede the need for human acceptance and participation in order for traceability systems to succeed. While tools like blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can improve and protect data entered into a system, appropriate reward structures can also be used to incentivize stakeholders to share data.

The supply chain is more of a web, one based on anonymous transactions.

After all, the main concern for farmers is to be able to sell their products. Agriculture is becoming more complex and markets today are caring about the whole story of a crop, from how sustainably it was produced to how nutritious it is. Farmers are now under pressure to fill these requirements.

Tools for traceability and transparency could be great allies to help them in transitioning toward more sustainable farming practices and signal all the values of their products to the end buyers.

In this way, food companies will be able to buy crops directly from farmers, paying a fair price, and consumers to see new more biodiversity-friendly products on the shelves.

What a food supply chain looks like

Three biodiverse grains to pilot with

What does a supply chain look like? To answer is not always as simple as we may think, especially if you are a consumer. In most cases, 2 things only are visible to you: the geographical region of origin and the final product that stares at you from the shelves of a shop. What happens between?

There are a lot of intermediate steps that, directly or indirectly, have an impact in the level of agrobiodiversity in our food systems. All of them are as important as the farming and consumption choices of the two ends of the chain.

A blind supply chain doesn’t allow the actors that compose it to see what’s going on in the other links, thus creating a system characterised by lack of trust that will look at uniformity and standardisation as a strategy to cope with it.

What would happen if we could “switch on” transparency throughout the whole chain? If processors could meet the farmers and consumers could see the whole path of their foods? We believe that thanks to clarity and transparency we can nudge food systems to be fairer and safer for all the actors and first of all, for the farmers. Offer of transparency will create demand for transparency and re-establish trust along the whole supply chain – both local and long ones.

To start this journey, we selected 3 biodiverse crops with amazing characteristics and we are carrying out 3 pilot tests that will show how can transparency in my food supply chain create a more agrobiodiversity friendly food system.

A Tool to enhance agrobiodiversity in our food system​

Tracking the supply chain, step by step

Market demand is the ultimate incentive to achieving fully traceable value chains. Too often, supply chain improvement programs are executed in isolation from the demand side of the value chain. Envisible’s mission is to bring visibility to global food systems and supply chains. Envisible does this by leveraging its traceability system Wholechain with procurement to capture sustainability data and enable consumer facing storytelling experiences about their products.

As a mobile first, blockchain based traceability system Wholechain is compatible to first tier producers on the most basic mobile device. Then, as a technology neutral solution with distinct user experiences from producer to processor to distribution center, Wholechain is compatible to each member in the value chain. Wholechain’s ability to gather data across the supply chain will enable Envisible to educate consumers about biodiverse foods. For example in seafood, if a consumer buys Salmon, we can recommend they try Trout or including a familiar product like Salmon with a locally grown grain that indigenous Alaskans eat like barley in place of rice.

Do consumers care?

The Demand For Transparency and Traceability

In addition to the growing importance that leading organizations are putting on traceable food systems, consumers are demanding traceability and transparency.

According to an article featuring data from Label Insight and the Food Marketing Institute states that consumers increasingly demand transparency and a closer connection to their food.

So much so that 75% of consumers are more likely to switch to a brand that provides more in-depth product information, beyond what’s provided on the physical label.

In 2016, just 39% said they would switch brands. Storytelling content can include educational information about how consumers can apply the principles of biodiversity to their diets.

Traceability of supply chains is a growing interest for food companies. Consumers do want to know where their food comes from and food companies are starting to respond. The chocolate colossus Mondelez, for example, publishes online data about its cocoa supply chain, with geolocalization of all the 93,000 farmers in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Indonesia they work with. Consumers can access a web platform and learn where did the cocoa beans used to make the chocolate bar come from.

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Case Studies


Small Millets