Reimagining global agriculture will require numerous efforts of various size and focus, such as those in the news this week from a global agribusiness firm trying to meet targets across complex supply chains, a startup developing ways for bees to deliver natural pesticides, and teens looking to utilize unused space for agriculture or alleviate hunger.
Traceability and sustainable assurance are persistent problems in agricultural supply chains. While numerous tools address one or the other, a new digital platform from agribusiness Olam International will provide both. Called AtSource, Olam claims the platform “will provide unrivalled environmental and social insights into the journey of agricultural raw materials and food ingredients from the farm to manufacturing and retail customers.”
The company says that AtSource will enhance its ability to assess and positively influence the environmental footprint of the 4.7 million farmers in the company’s supply chain, the vast majority of whom are smallholders growing crops such as cocoa, coffee and cashew in emerging markets. The platform has been launched with 5 product supply chains — cocoa and cashew from Côte d’Ivoire, coffee from Brazil and Vietnam, and onions and garlic from the US — and more gradually coming on board in the future. By 2025, Olam’s vision is for 100 percent of its physically sourced volumes to be AtSource ready.
“Leading companies in the food sector have been investing significantly in social and environmental programmes to source their raw materials more sustainably, but change is not happening fast enough. In the current context I would say it is impossible to state how much of the world’s food supply can be considered truly sustainable. It is the old adage that if we cannot measure it, we cannot improve it,” said Sunny Verghese, co-founder and Group CEO of Olam.
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“AtSource will provide our customers with the most comprehensive sustainable supply solution for their raw materials. With AtSource we can now deliver the critical sustainability factors for the long-term resilience of a crop or ingredient from a particular producing country or region. Using this information we can drive meaningful improvements through the supply chain from farm to customer. Make no mistake, capturing this information at scale and across all our supply chains will be a huge and costly task. But as the company closest to the farmer, we believe AtSource is a key driver in helping us to re-imagine global agriculture, by starting to mainstream sustainability before it is too late.”
AtSource presents manufacturers with rich and granular data through a digital dashboard which tracks the social and environmental footprint of a product. There are three tiers for customers to choose from: an entry tier that minimizes key risks at the country level for signatories of the Olam Supplier Code and gives reassurance that suppliers are using responsible sourcing principles; a “Plus” tier focused on identifying opportunities for improvement; and a tier that allows Olam and its customers to co-create programs to achieve a net positive impact through regenerative agriculture at scale.
Meanwhile, a Canadian agri-tech startup called Bee Vectoring Technology (BVT) is working to protect crops using bumblebees and a naturally occurring fungus. After a decade of R&D and extensive testing, recent commercial trials carried out across the US, Canada and Europe on berry and sunflower crops have resulted in consistent yield increases of over 30 percent and improved plant health with no chemical spraying of any kind.
BVT’s process uses no water or harmful chemicals, rendering it harmless to bees, animals and humans. Commercially reared bumblebees walk through a specialist tray dispenser of organic, inoculating powder before exiting their hive and dropping spores on each plant they visit while naturally foraging. The powder is a combination of a light adherence agent — which helps it cling to the bees' fur — and a naturally occurring fungus named Clonostachys rosea which, when absorbed by a plant, enables it to effectively block damaging diseases such as botrytis in strawberries.
Most recently, a trial with low bush blueberries in association with the Wild Blueberry Research Program at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada delivered yield 77 percent higher compared to the nontreated control group, increased the number of marketable berries per stem by 50 percent compared to the chemical standard, and reduced the incidence of Monilinia blight (mummy berry) by 21 percent. The trial used BVT’s newly developed honeybee system, consisting of a honey bee hive with proprietary dispenser technology through which BVT’s proprietary plant beneficial microbe BVT-CR7 is delivered to crops using honey bees.
“I was really surprised by the first results. I went back and double checked the raw yield data, then the spreadsheet to make sure the statistical program was correct. The results indicate the potential for floral blight disease control and increased berry yields with the use of BVT technology,” said Dr. David Percival, blueberry research program director and professor at Dalhousie University. “Future work will allow us to fine tune the use recommendations.”
“Notably, this was the first time we tested our honey bee delivery system in a replicated R&D study, and we got great results,” added BVT CEO Ashish Malik. “Having a proven system that works with honey bees alongside our first system designed to work with commercial bumble bee hives allows us to reach a far wider market and gives us options to deliver solutions for growers based on the specific needs for their crops.”
The trial was designed to determine the effectiveness of the BVT technology in controlling Botrytis blight (gray mold) and Monilinia blight (mummy berry), two common and devastating diseases affecting blueberry crops across North America, compared to untreated control and current chemicals standards used by growers, as well as increases in productivity of the crop measured by marketable yield. The results are promising for the blueberry production in North America, which represents 54 percent of the worldwide cultivation of the crop. It is also a high-value crop, fetching as much as US$18,000 in revenue per acre in certain regions. There are almost 300,000 acres of blueberries cultivated in the US and Canada with total farm gate value of US$1.1 billion.