Rethinking Food Miles for Sustainable Supply Chains

Posted on October 11th, 2023

How much of the food you eat today is locally produced? How much will travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles before it reaches your plate?

When it comes to food lifecycle, the distance it travels from farm to plate (commonly referred to as Food Miles) has a significant share of carbon footprint. The ‘Buy Local’ food movement, with the goal of consuming food produced and grown locally, has been gaining traction in recent years as a way of eating fresh and high-quality food and reducing one’s environmental impact at the same time.

The greater the distance the food travels, more is the energy spent on transportation resulting in more CO2 emissions. These emissions have a significant impact on air quality and contribute to global warming. Simply put, the more the food travels, the more greenhouse gases (GHGs) it contributes to, which directly impacts climate change.

The exact environmental impact also depends on the means of transport used. Cargo ships are the most efficient, followed by trains, then trucks, and lastly airplanes. That means a product flown from Chicago to San Francisco has a significantly larger carbon footprint than one shipped thousands of miles away from India to San Francisco.

Reducing Food Miles has its benefits:

Fresh produce contains more nutrients

The quality and nutritional value of Agri produce can be affected by maximized handling, storage at improper temperatures, and rough transport. So, the closer you are to the source of produce, the more nutritional it will be.

Less travel means a safer food supply

Less transportation and handling also means less chances of contamination throughout the supply chain ensuring safe and hygienic food.

Reduces food wastage

Food wastage is a tragic waste of resources, and has a large and damaging impact on climate change. Food wastage alone causes 10% of GHG emissions. Rotting food generates methane which over the long term has 28 times more global warming potential as compared to CO2.

India’s cold chain challenge

The United Nations (UN) estimates that more than 40% of food produced in India is wasted before it reaches the consumer. Keeping perishables fresh during transit is a challenge in India’s diverse weather.

One of the major reasons for food wastage is the lack of an efficient cold chain infrastructure that includes refrigerated transport, pack houses, collection centers, and cold storage.

To reduce food loss, strengthen food security, and improve rural livelihoods, India must close the logistical gap between farm and fork. Cold chain inefficiencies are responsible for up to half of post-harvest food losses in the country. A more effective cold chain would bring farmers closer to consumers, assuring them of fairer prices and access to new markets. Moreover, the optimization of the supply chain of perishables can ensure the reduction in food wastage and better utilization of the food stock.

Making sustainable cold chains a reality in India was envisaged in the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) that highlights the missing elements of the cold chain, which would be key to reducing food loss. The missing elements include ripening chambers, refrigerated transport, and rural packhouses – organized facilities where farmers’ produce is aggregated, pre-cooled, and packed. According to ICAP, India needs over 125,000 rural packhouses against 500 packhouses that we have today.

There is an urgent need for improving supply chain efficiency and an innovative analytics-led platform to intelligently connect farmers to consumers with reduced Food Miles, minimum wastage, and better returns.

Rethinking Food Miles for a cold chain deficit India

Realizing that India still has a long way to go to achieve a cohesive cold chain infrastructure, WayCool has taken the initiative of rethinking Food Miles by infusing new-age technologies like AI, ML, and Advanced Robotics at multiple stages of the Agri supply chain.

From identifying and recreating environments to grow exotic produce closer to its collection and distribution centers, to electrifying its delivery fleet, WayCool has succeeded in reducing greenhouse gas emissions of over 35 tonnes per vehicle per year. Add to it our automated distribution centers that minimize human handling, and thereby reduce food wastage, and you get food that is not only fresh but also hygienic and safe.

Here’s a short video of how we are reducing Food Miles, the WayCool way.

Sustaining Sustainability is the Way of the Future!

Posted on October 11th, 2023

Irrespective of who we are, where we live and what we do, we have a moral obligation to one another, to our future generations and to every other species in order to sustain the planet. The choices we make today have huge long-term implications on our future generations. Thus, consciously practicing sustainability ensures that we make responsible choices that promise a safe and liveable future to everyone. It improves the quality of our lives, protects our ecosystem and preserves natural resources for future generations.

Today, as we strive to recover from the pandemic and rebuild, it has become the need of the hour to direct our focus and resources towards sustainability. In the corporate world, sustainability is associated with an organization’s holistic approach, considering everything right from manufacturing to logistics to customer service. Just relying on professional communications and good intentions are no longer enough. Leading business houses are boldly committing to protect and support the planet for the future, while simultaneously achieving their current business goals.

Being actively involved in such efforts is creating a remarkable difference in terms of not just growth and risk management but also in achieving significant return on capital, thus creating a value based environment.

For us, at WayCool, this has been the mantra since day one. We strongly believe that our focus should be more than just profits, or the “bottom-line” and we ought to measure the environmental and social impact that we leave behind.

There are multiple benefits of incorporating sustainability in business:

  • Brand is protected and possible risks are mitigated
  • Being purpose-driven is a competitive advantage in today’s world
  • There is an ever growing market for sustainable goods
  • Co-operative action can drive change
  • Most importantly, and unlike popular belief, technologies that bring sustainability also improve the bottomline, given how cost curves stack up in emerging markets such as India, for resources such as energy and water.

The long-term growth approach at WayCool comes from the choices that we make. The strategic pillars of our Environmental Social Governance (ESG) structure namely Sustainable Operations, Climate Action, Social Value, Enriching Workplace are designed not only to bring efficiencies but also to deliver both quantitative and qualitative impact.

Energy Efficiency

  • Through energy efficient systems and technologies

Climate Action

  • Use of renewable energy power
  • Clean and Green logistics
  • Carbon removal and sequestration

Water Security

  • Offset operational water use through recycling and
  • reuse measures
  • Harvest rainwater and recharge groundwater

Minimize Food Waste

  • Reduce food dump generation
  • Avoid landfill of food waste

Reduce Food Travel

  • Better planning, storage and transport practices

Social Value Creation

People, in general, are only interested in sustainability if they are educated about it, and if its overall importance is effectively communicated. After all, human well-being and the well-being of society is part of what sustainability stands for. This is precisely why WayCool delivers social value through our engagement programs with the farmers and vulnerable communities in the country. Our agricultural extension program ‘Outgrow’ is designed to empower farmers with additional farming income by adopting sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices. Further, our entrepreneurial program designed for women has delivered significant change in their level of confidence and sustainable income source. That’s not all, through our co-partnering and developing rural livelihood programs, we have developed several rural entrepreneurs by providing mechanized garlic peeling and spices packaging technology and necessary training on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

To sum it all up, sustainability is a major challenge, one that matters beyond individual companies. But reassuringly a number of large companies are developing forward-thinking sustainability policies. It is really becoming clear that sustainability is a megatrend that isn’t going away, and we at WayCool are proud to be a part of it.

Focus on Food, Not Just Agriculture

Posted on October 11th, 2023

Food security is a priority for every country, considering the challenge of delivering sufficient food to the world’s population. The world population is estimated to touch 9 billion by 2050. ‘Zero Hunger’ and promoting sustainable agriculture ranks second in the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. However, currently around 690 million people worldwide (8.9%) go hungry, as per the UN. This is expected to cross 840 million by 2030, making ‘Zero Hunger’ a pipedream. A majority of the world’s undernourished – 381 million people – are still found in Asia, with Africa not far behind at 250 million.

For example, India, despite being the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, has an astounding 17.76 lakh acutely malnourished children and 15.46 lakh moderately malnourished children. This is according to a recent report released by the Women and Child Development Ministry of India. In October, the 2022 Global Hunger Index ranked India at 107th out of 121 countries indicating that India has a serious hunger problem.

Worldwide, extreme poverty is predominantly rural, with smallholder farmers and their families accounting for a very significant percentage of the poor and hungry. Achieving Zero Hunger and eradicating poverty are integrally linked to augmenting food production and agricultural productivity.

In addition, increasing pressures on natural resources and climate change threaten the sustainability of the world’s food systems. Climate-related disasters, including forest fires, droughts, hurricanes, flash floods, and storms, are happening with alarming frequency. These disasters adversely impact agricultural productivity, which means food availability suffers. This causes food prices to skyrocket and results in income losses that prevent the poor from being able to afford food.

Reimagining our food systems

Our food systems need an overhaul backed by responsible investors with a concern to enhance the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, and reduce the carbon footprint of food supply chains. Policymakers should also involve stakeholders, and develop food systems anchored by smallholder farmers who can sustainably deliver safe, affordable and nutritious food throughout the year.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s twin-track approach to fight hunger uniquely combines rural development with sustainable agriculture to enable vulnerable sections to access food.

These include:

  • Enhancing the food supply to the most vulnerable
  • Improving rural food production, especially by small-scale farmers
  • Investing in rural infrastructure and rural markets
  • Revitalisation of the livestock sector
  • Resource rehabilitation and conservation
  • Enhancing income and other entitlements to food
  • Food aid
  • Seed/input relief
  • Capital for livestock restocking
  • Enabling market revival

We need to develop food systems anchored by smallholder farmers who can sustainably deliver safe, affordable, and nutritious food throughout the year to low-income people.

Food safety is a top priority. Every country must adopt technologies that support traceability and track the food journey from farm to fork. Consumers need to know where their food comes from, and how it supports the local economy. This includes adopting comprehensive food safety policies and robust strategies to eliminate food contamination. 

Upgradation of cold chain infrastructure can eliminate food waste. The FAO estimates that almost one-third of the produced food is lost or wasted globally. That’s about 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year – enough to feed 3 billion people!

Shifting our focus to food rather than only agriculture will reveal the bigger picture and the integrated linkages between farmers and the food ecosystem, so that the consumer has access to safe, affordable food.. 

However, local knowledge must be considered while chalking out a food security strategy as a one-size-fits-all approach will not work in aligning ourselves to the Zero Hunger goal. 

A holistic approach

Building sustainable and resilient food systems that produce nutritious crops and livestock products calls for a holistic approach that supports all the stakeholders – from farmers, processors, and traders to food companies, retailers, and eventually the consumer.

At WayCool, we believe that innovations guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and environment are necessary to ensure food security.

Farmers must also diversify production in order to cultivate a variety of crops that enhance nutrition and are more resilient to external factors. Governments need to help farmers find the right balance between food and cash crops, and adopt climate-smart agriculture practices. Traditional farming methods like tilling and crop rotation must be combined with scientific techniques to support productive food systems.

Investing in agricultural research will prepare us for future challenges, including natural and manmade threats, as well as expand and protect economic opportunities for rural communities.

Busting India’s ‘Food Scarcity’ Myth

Posted on October 11th, 2023

India is among the world’s leading producers of milk, food grains (cereals and pulses), and fruits and vegetables. In addition to these products, our country also produces ample quantities of sugarcane, cotton, fish and poultry. That India has a food scarcity problem because we do not produce enough is a myth.

In 2019-20, India’s total production of food grains 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 its 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 seamless information flow between stakeholders of the agri value chain poses a major hurdle. Timely and accurate information must be available with all market participants in order to avoid high levels of food loss. The limited demand visibility with food producers results in disrupted supplies, volatile prices, low remuneration for farmers, and uncertain supplies and prices for discerning consumers.

According to a UN report, an estimated 931 million tonnes of food was wasted globally in 2019 with India alone losing food equivalent to the total amount of food consumed by Brazil.

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

  1. Ensures all market participants are seamlessly interconnected on a single, unified tech platform that facilitates real-time information availability.
  1. Provides integrated Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Language (ML) analytics tools that optimises the entire supply chain, and
  1. Automates a major chunk of the supply chain for enhanced productivity and faster and agile handling of perishable products.

An integrated ecosystem for all stakeholders

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:

  1. 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 to harvest.
  1. Millers and processors to plan their processes that are tightly aligned to consumer demands on one side and supply frequencies from farmers on the other side.
  1. Logistics players to develop a cohesive view of what needs to be transported when.

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

How AI/ML analytics integrated within the platform works

Long-term demand forecasting models will help farmers grow the right crops based on the forecast and the soil content. Several models around growing techniques and packaging practices can also help them accurately predict product yields and 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, 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 improves 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 reduce 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, it still remains sluggish in the rest of the supply chain, barring a few new-age players.

Automation has delivered phenomenal results in sectors such as the automotive and electronics industry. This could make way for 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. Companies such as Ocado are building such solutions for developed markets. However, similar solutions are required for emerging markets 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 they are elsewhere.

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

Three is the key

From a process maturity viewpoint, food tech and especially 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. WayCool is consistently working towards it and redefining India’s food supply chain to ensure food security.