“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food” is how the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations defines food security. In the case of India, while we have seen impressive economic growth in recent years, there is still a struggle with widespread poverty and hunger. India’s poor population amounts to more than 300 million people, with almost 30 percent of India’s rural population living in poverty. But there’s good news too: poverty in India has declined from 37.2 percent in 2004-05 to 28.9% in 2009-10. The time has come for the use of digital technologies to improve the food security situation in India. These digital technologies provide data-driven decision-making support to precision farming and climate-smart agriculture, as well as for supply chain management and traceability. Broadly, these technologies fall under the SaaS (software as a service) model that is already in use and is witnessing widespread implementation in several parts of India. But first, a peek into what SaaS is all about.
What is SaaS?
Traditionally, enterprise software such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) was licensed to customers and these software applications were internally hosted and managed by the customers themselves by having a large internal Information Technology teams. These models were prohibitively expensive for smaller organizations for two reasons; initial acquisition of software and the need to maintain and support the software with large internal IT teams.
As the high-speed internet has evolved and became ubiquitous and affordable, there was no need for software to be installed within the walls of the customers and supported by internal teams. The software vendors are hosting the applications in their own data centers and providing it as a service to their customers based on the usage or subscription, which has come to be known as SoftwareAsAService or SaaS models in the industry which has drastically reduced the overall cost of using the software and hence making it accessible for smaller organizations.
SaaS models have come as a boon in digitizing the agriculture value chain. Agriculture value chains are very fragmented and there are no big margins to invest in technologies. However, SaaS models made the enterprise-class software accessible to the smallest players in the agriculture ecosystem.
How SaaS enables food security?
Food security ultimately boils down to the availability of food, access to food and climate-smart farming. For all of these, SaaS-based solutions come handy. Food security can be improved by design. Some of the methods include the prevention of wastage of resources during the crop cycle – resources such as water, fertilizer, and pesticide so that the environment that supports food production is not depleted. At the core of SaaS technology is the use of data-driven decision making. This helps in precison farming, supply chain management, climate-smart agriculture, and warehouse management, all of which help increase food security by curtailing losses during production and post-harvest stages.
SaaS-enabled smart farming is a precise and resource-efficient method, so it has real potential to deliver higher productivity and sustainability in agricultural production. This is achieved through a combination of satellite data and ground truth data processed through advanced AI/Machine Learning Algorithms which can provide precise actionable advice to help farmers make informed decisions. For example, the use of soil moisture sensors helps farmers make decisions on how, where and when to irrigate thus reducing the costs. Trends indicate that the continued implementation of smart farming in agriculture will help mitigate some of the food security problems that many parts of the world are experiencing. Precision in the use of pesticides and fertilisers can help reduce leaching problems and release of harmful greenhouse gases to the environment. Overall, smart farming encourages the use of technology in site-specific weather forecasts, probability mapping of diseases and disasters, and yield projections. Smart farming comes with all of these opportunities, and the added benefit of reducing the ecological footprint.
The connection between food security and food safety
Food security is closely related to the concept of food safety, both of which have a profound impact on the quality of human life. For that matter, there is no food security without food safety. Food safety has to do with the quality of food, not the quantity. If a person cannot eat the food they have, there is no food security.
Food Safety Issues in India
Some of the challenges with regard to food safety in India include compromised quality, increasing adulteration cases and instances of product integrity issues. Such issues can cause irreplaceable damage not just to individual health, but also to the reputation of brands that manufacture and market these products. With the advent of social media, companies have become prone to scrutiny from both government and consumers. One key element of keeping product integrity intact is to have a full view of the product and throughout the various processes. Digitisation is helping manufacturers manage their risks more effectively with a range of tools aimed at communications between employees and support teams, and improving access to data and analytics. This is another SaaS-based application that supports food safety. This means that if food safety issues arise, they can be resolved quickly and effectively without impacting production performance.
How SaaS enables food safety through traceability
Meeting food safety challenges brought about in the new global context requires a “whole value chain” approach that identifies and addresses risks right from production through consumption. This solution is called traceability. Traceability is getting increasing attention because, in all the unforeseen food safety lapses, the response action needs to be immediate. When we understand food safety beyond recalls, the important thing is to keep track of the origin of products, ingredients and their attributes, from the farm through food processing to retail, foodservice and consumers. The food safety chain is more complicated in our globalised world because it can span international borders and encounter domestic and global regulations. Without technology, managing this complex network is next to impossible. SaaS technology enables the capture of relevant data related to the food supply chain from remote and multiple locations, which is stored in a central repository, enabling near real-time and complete visibility so that any anomalies that spotted can be corrected easily, minimizing risk and saving costs.