Ahmedabad-based agritech startup MyCrop is currently testing blockchain in the seed supply chain to track its entire supply movement — from seed aggregators, distributors, retailers to farmers. The move to implement blockchain is aimed at bringing transparency, authenticity and stop spurious and low-quality seeds from entering the market.
So far, the agriculture industry lacks a proper mechanism that can validate and track the distribution of good seeds, claims MyCrop’s founder Deepak Pareek. So much so that farmers don’t get much information about the origin of the seeds they would be sowing.
In the last harvest season alone, poor quality seeds hampered the productivity of at least 10% of overall cotton crop production in India, to name a few. Similar examples are cited for vegetable seeds, too.
It can be mentioned here that the government has set protocols for seed development. It has certified foundations which cultivates varieties of seeds under a controlled environment, keeping in view the physical and physiological parameters, before it is sent to the seed aggregators.
Pareek argues that the process in the seed supply chain is itself not transparent with substantial human errors reducing its accountability.
Generally, genuine seed producing companies apply QR Code on their seed bags, helpful in tracking its distribution from the point of aggregators and distributors until it reaches the retailers. But, by the time the seed reaches to the farmers, many unsought practices happen in between the current supply chain. Pareek cited an example, saying:
“For instance, a retailer may be distributing seeds from the same packet to five different farmers. While doing so, the retailer may not be preserving the seed the right way. In this case, there is a huge possibility that the quality of the seed in that bag is already deteriorated,” he said.
So the startup has used blockchain here to track every movement of the seeds in the supply chain. The project’s pilot is currently being implemented in one of the rural villages of Gujarat. Pareek hopes to collect a sizeable ‘sample’ from this pilot by another two-quarters of this year, before making it is commercially viable.
“Then we will take it to large players willing to apply blockchain-driven technology in their supply chain,” Pareek said.
How MyCrop Is Using Blockchain As Seed Tracking Mechanism
The startup has currently on-boarded local seed growers, distributors, retailers and farmers as stakeholders in the project’s seed supply chain. Giving more insight about the project, Pareek said, firstly, that GPS tracking of the land is done and the information is put in a distributed ledger as a ‘First Block’.
“Let’s say, it’s five hectares of land with an X variety of seeds being cultivated on A date and B is the farmer. In this chain, the quality of seeds are also checked, adding pesticides, etc., and photographs are taken to authenticate whether it’s good or bad seeds. In every process, the name of the person would be mentioned who would be evaluating the quality of seeds, whether it’s good or bad,” he said.
Once the process of filtering spurious seeds is complete, the distributor creates another block in this chain upon receiving the seeds and the QR Code is applied atop the package as tracking method until it reaches the retailers. Besides the QR Code mode of tracking, the distributor also puts a unique verification code inside the package for the farmers to send it via SMS or verify it through the startup’s in-house app — which marks the process as complete.
Inc42 has earlier reported on how MyCrop is using artificial intelligence (AI) to predict and analyse the farming output. The same article also discusses how the startup’s ‘Famer Mitras’ help educate farmers to adopt technology in farming.
“We have used blockchain atop our existing app. Using the decentralised ledger, there is no chance of human mischief because the blockchain will have all the records, and if those particular seeds were incorrectly evaluated a person evaluating would be held accountable,” Pareek said.
Challenges In Applying Blockchain As Seed Tracing Mechanism
Blockchain may be the future as seed tracing mechanism but bringing all stakeholders in the chain would be too time consuming, thinks agritech startup CropIn chief operating officer, Kunal Prasad.
He is of the view that before making the technology commercially viable and scalable, taking stock of what is currently happening in the ecosystem is important. For instance, where are the seeds being processed? Where is it being stored? How is it being supplied to the farmers? are some questions he raised.
Pareek has understood this reality very well. He said, “It depends on the viability in the business case” in order to scale blockchain as a seed tracing mechanism.
“Unfortunately blockchain in agriculture ecosystem has seen very less viability in the business case — as agro-input companies first look out for their benefits. Unless they see the value in their ROI, they don’t want to go forward with the project,” Pareek said.
So for the past few months, the founder has kept himself busy organising workshops with agro-input companies explaining how the open and distributed ledger technology can play a pivotal role in the seed supply chain and ultimately help stop counterfeit seeds from entering the market.
He tells me that their project is not only helpful in streamlining seeds supply chain but that the same process can be applied to track the supply of various agro-input products such as feedstuffs, fertilisers and other chemicals permitted for use in organic farming.
Similar workshops have already been done with Mahindra Agri Business, Zuari Agro, he says.
“The whole idea is to track all the agro-inputs. If you are able to identify the input part of it, we will have enough data which could also help shape policies applied to it. This data can be very critical,” he said.
Indian seeds market is estimated to have reached a valuation of $ 3.6 Bn in 2017, growing at an annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 17% during 2010-2017, according to Research and Markets. Although blockchain is at the nascent stage of adoption in India, its use case has been widely discussed, especially across fintech, egovernance, healthcare, energy, retail sectors.
With rising consumer consciousness towards food safety, blockchain application is playing a vital role in solving many agriculture-related problems, too. Not only in the seed supply chain but the entire food supply chain can be managed in this distributed ledger technology. And, many multinational companies are already tuned with it.
For instance, Walmart has been working with IBM on using the blockchain to digitise the food supply chain process. Similarly, global retail giant Auchan uses blockchain to track the supply of consumables as well as recording food quality data and its customers are also able to check products’ history via their smartphones by scanning the products’ QR codes.
MyCrop founder maintains that it’s early experiments in the field have proven to be promising and hopes to bring true change to the way seed supply chain should function.