improving food security using ioT
1.3 billion tons of food spoils and is wasted every single year, that's about one-third of the total amount of food that is produced. To look at it another way, 1.3 billion tons of food could feed between 2 and 3 billion people, each year.
Current figures suggest that of the 7 billion people on this planet, 925 million are starving, so even if we can't produce more food, saving just half of the wasted food could solve world hunger.
Beyond the shear wastage of food, from a sustainable future point of view, consider the carbon emissions that are being generated on food production and transportation that just gets wasted...then rots, creating even more harmful emissions as I mentioned in this article about the circular economy, and this one about robotic rooftop farming.
Of the total food loss, about 14% of it is lost between harvest and retail, if my maths is correct, that's a touch over 500 million tons.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to speak with a company that provides internet of things for shipping and logistics, to see what they could offer to combat this.
Improving Supply Chain Transparency
One of the big problems in shipping food produce is that delays often occur and can mean a whole shipment is rejected upon arrival.
Since there are very low margins in the food production industry, especially in meat and fish, food producers are very keen to make sure every shipment gets to a customer before it spoils.
For example, let's say a shipment of meat is making its way from Argentina to the UK.
Example - Moving Meat
There's nothing quite like a good cut of Argentinian beef (unless you're Vegan or Vegetarian, of course).
If you're enjoying an Argentinian steak then it took more than 30 days to get across the Atlantic into a European port, let alone to your table. That's a lot of time to keep it fresh. That also assumes there's no unexpected delays along the way.
However, there are often delays, some minor, some (like during the COVID19 pandemic) much, much longer.
Trade Volumes Between Latin America and Europe
For context and to discover the value of the problem that is being addressed, I asked the very kind people at IHS Markit for some data about how much fresh meat is actually imported into Europe from Argentina and the broader region. For more information on this data and discover how deep their knowledge goes, visit their Maritime and Trade pages here.
In addition to the volume of Fresh Bovine produce (beef etc), the median price per ton during that period was $9,311. The amount shipped in January 2020 was 9,508 tons and the price for that shipment was the highest in the period at $9,637/ton, meaning a shipment value of $91,627,496.
In other words, ensuring your shipment of beef arrives in a sellable condition is a multimillion dollar problem, every month!
So what happens, if on day 10 of the journey across the Atlantic, the shipper discovers there's going to be a significant delay reaching a port? What happens if the refrigeration system develops a fault?
In either scenarios, there's a good chance that by the time the goods reach the intended destination, they will have spoiled. What would be ideal is if the supplier could monitor the state and conditions of the goods whilst in transit, and make adjustments to the delivery schedule as required.
IoT, communications and AI technologies are making this possible in maritime, logistics and freight. So I wanted to speak to a company that specialises in just this, SenseFinity,
Delivering IoT in logistics
To find out more, I spoke with SenseFinity who provide Internet of Things for shipping and logistics providers. Their solution enables food producers, manufacturers and suppliers to keep tabs on their products and produce as they travel through the global supply chain.
Their solution consists of battery powered IoT sensor devices that can be installed inside containers or freight vehicles, and a connectivity solution that allows those sensors to communicate back to the supplier in real-time anywhere in the world, using cellular (2G, 4G or NB-IoT) or satellite communications technologies.
digitisation of the supply chain is essential
Speaking with Orland Remédios (CEO of SenseFinity) in Portugal, he explained to me why using technology to modernise and digitise the supply chain was so important.
He said on the topic of global food security, our planet, with it's shrinking farmable land and highly constrained fresh water supplies can feed approximately 10 billion people. This is just a little more than the UN predicts will inhabit the earth in our lifetime.
He continued to say that, if we continue to waste as much food as we do today, we will need to be generating enough for for 13 billion people, either that or we run out of food for the planet much sooner.
It seems pretty bleak, but there are many companies that are challenging the status-quo and championing the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals. From SenseFinity's point of view, they are very much focused on improving sustainability within the shipping and logistics supply chains.
In just over six month's they've helped their customers significantly reduce carbon emissions, cut costs and reduce food waste.
How IoT and AI Helps Reduce Food Waste in the supply chain
When the cargo is sent for shipment via container or lorry, little sensors are placed in side the freight that measure a range of different parameters, including temperature, humidity, light and global position.
In the example of the Argentinian Beef, these sensors would be looking to measure that the refrigeration was operating correctly. If there is a significant enough variation in the ambient conditions, perhaps suddenly it becomes brighter (more light) or the temperature starts to increase, the system alerts the customer that something's not right with the shipment.
Let's say the temperature continues to increase at a steady pace, this could mean the refrigeration has failed, which would be a rather pungent disaster if it was still weeks away from its destination. In this case, the shipper could decide to re-route the beef to a closer port before the meat spoils. With this ability they can still sell their product whilst it is in good condition, even if it wasn't to the originally intended buyer.
Even better, Orlando said that one of their big customers is in Turkey where a lot of the goods are transported by road. In those situations, mechanical repair can be arranged to the truck whilst it is en-route, ensuring minimum delay and the intended buyer still gets the product in good condition.
Machine Learning Improves This Further
Having collected mountains of data from shipments all over the world, SenseFinity's platform can now predict refrigeration failures typically 90 minutes before they actually occur. With this, their customers can arrange predictive maintenance to take place before the situations becomes critical - saving even more inconvenience, time and cost.
Beyond Food Security, IoT Tracks Things Everywhere
There are many interesting uses of Internet of Things in shipping, this is just one.
In a recent scandal, face-masks intended for Germany during the pandemic "disappeared" en-route. In this example, trackers and light sensors would have been able to have determined if the container was opened in a location it wasn't supposed to be opened, alert the shipper, customer and/or authorities.
This example hints towards another known limitation of the global supply chain, that being that were humans are involved there will always be room for error and fraud. Combining these types of IoT technology with global, immutable ledger technology (in other words "blockchain") can help reduce error and fraud.
Industrial IOT - IIOT
Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) is another topic all together, but I just wanted to tie one aspect of that into the broader topic of shipping and logistics.
A big piece of digitising industrial processes is tracking (as per the "Finding Really Big Things" topic in this post). Part of SenseFinity's solution is a robust capability to track and measure things indoors as well as outdoors. That means it is possible to follow a product from production line to retail shelf.
Why's that important? As more retailers become accountable for the ethical integrity of their products, being able to audit the entire product lifecycle is becoming increasing important from a sustainability, ethics and circular economy point of view.
its like google street view but on the sea
For a bit of fun, head over to MarineTraffic.com and have a browse of all the different ships sailing around the seas. The information for these comes from a system called AIS, in fact a company I used to work at owns that global network.
When you look at the world map you can really get a sense of just how much traffic there is in the oceans. Go take a look, and see if you can find where your next purchase is currently being shipped from. 😊