Busting India’s ‘Food Scarcity’ Myth

So, you thought that India had a food scarcity problem because we do not produce enough? Well, you thought wrong!

India is not only among the world’s leading producers of Milk, Foodgrains (Cereals and Pulses), Fruits and Vegetables (F&V) but also produces ample Sugarcane, Cotton, Fish, and Poultry.

In fact, in 2019-20, India’s total production of Foodgrains reached a record high of 296.65 million tonnes and total horticultural production peaked at an all-time high of 320.48 million tonnes.

The real crux of India’s food scarcity issue is the sheer size of the country’s fragmented supply chain that makes the entire agricultural ecosystem complex for all stakeholders. It takes anywhere between 7 to 11 steps for food to travel from farm to fork i.e., from the farmer to the consumer!

Moreover, the lack of a seamless information flow between all stakeholders of the agri value chain also poses a major hurdle. The lack of timely and accurate information available with all market participants leads to high levels of food loss. The limited demand visibility with food producers results in disrupted supplies, volatile prices, and ultimately low renumeration for farmers and uncertain supplies and prices for discerning consumers.

The food loss issue is so concerning that according to a UN report, an estimated 931 million tonnes of food was wasted globally in 2019 with India alone losing food that is equivalent to the total amount of food consumed in the whole of Brazil.

To rejuvenate the country’s food economy, India needs to use her technological prowess to reimagine a tech-driven supply chain that:

a) Ensures that all market participants are seamlessly interconnected on a single, unified tech platform that facilitates real-time information availability.

b) Provides integrated Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Language (ML) analytics tools that optimises the entire supply chain, and

c) Automates a major chunk of the supply chain to not only ensure enhanced productivity but also facilitate faster and agile handling of perishable products.

An Integrated Ecosystem

An integrated tech platform is pivotal for supply and demand planning at both macro and micro levels. Such a platform will serve as an ecosystem not just for farmers and consumers, but also for other stakeholders like processors, Warehouse Service Providers (WSPs), logistics providers, and retailers.

By bringing all the stakeholders on an integrated tech platform, not only will we create a cohesive, transparent ecosystem, but also boost efficiencies by eliminating inaccuracies in demand and supply planning.

Leveraging such a platform will help:

a) Farmers use the available long term forecasts to grow crops based on a scientifically anticipated demand, and short-term forecasts to understand the forecasted market prices that will help them decide exactly when exactly to harvest.

b) Millers and Processors to plan their processes that are tightly aligned to consumer demands on one side and supply frequencies from the farmers on the other side.

c) Logistics players to develop a cohesive view of what needs to be transported when.

This real-time visibility across all stakeholders significantly improves planning and ensures that all stakeholders are working in tandem.

How AI/ML Analytics Integrated Within The Platform Helps?

An integrated tech platform with embedded AI/ML-driven analytics will help all stakeholders make informed decisions.

Long-term demand forecasting models will help farmers create crop cultivation with the right crops being grown based on the forecasted demand and the soil content. Several models around growing techniques and packaging practices can also help them accurately predict product yields and thereby enhance their income.

Retailers can leverage the embedded analytics models for consumer insights to understand what commodity sells in a particular community and stock the relevant products accordingly. With advancements in technology, today we can even go to the extent of predicting which variant of rice or fruits and vegetables are more likely to be consumed in which street! These detailed insights help retailers stock the right Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) that not only improve their earning capacity but also avoids wastages of slow-moving stock.

For the supply chain players, predictive analytics is core to demand planning. They can use the forecasts and supply information to run network optimisation as well as reduced Food Miles thereby minimising food loss.

Once enough information is fed into the tech platform, it becomes easy to analyse how much produce can be generated from a particular region as well as the consumption pattern in surrounding regions to make a sound decision. The same insights can then be shared with the farmers to make informed decisions.

Automation For An Uninterrupted Supply Chain

When one deals with food and perishables, there are two critical elements from a logistics perspective – ensuring that the produce moves from the source to the consumer in the shortest possible time and minimising the physical handling of the produce (as every human touch reduces the shelf-life of the product).

Automation is not just a strategic lever but an important cog in the seamless management of the entire food supply chain. While we have seen the use of automation in food processing, the adoption still remains sluggish in the rest of the supply chain, barring a few new-age players.

This is where we can learn from the phenomenal results that automation has delivered in sectors such as automotive and electronics assembly. These learnings should then be converted into frugal engineering solutions that ably support the complex cost structures in the food industry.

There are several use cases for automation in the food supply chain - such as robots assisting in base-level functions of moving boxes or crates of the produce along conveyor belts, automated systems for grading, sorting, and dispensing precise quantities of grains as well as fresh produce into packing machines, and companies such as Ocado that are building such solutions for developed markets. However, similar solutions are required for emerging markets such as India as well, at cost structures more suited for these markets. Besides increasing productivity, these solutions reduce effort and errors and improve ergonomics, factors that are as important in emerging markets as are they are elsewhere.

Automation can also be used in sorting and grading processes based on the quality of Foodgrains and fresh produce. Examples include IoT-integrated decision conveyor systems that automatically match the supply crates to specific customer orders and allow the produce to seamlessly flow through fulfillment centers without any human intervention.

Three Is The Key

From a process maturity viewpoint, food tech and specially agri-commerce is just evolving from a diagnostic stage to a better defined predictive and prescriptive model.

Once this transition is completed, opportunities are immense not only in reducing food wastages but across different elements of the supply chain.

The three key elements - an integrated tech platform, embedded analytics, and automated supply chain, must seamlessly interconnect to truly get to the core of solving India’s food scarcity issue. And WayCool is consistently working towards it. Stay tuned to learn how we are redefining India’s food supply chain to ensure food security.

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