IBM's vision of a smart planet is proving to be an interesting intellectual platform from which to invite all actors to think how best to improve sustainability performance with smart use of IT. Yesterday's announcement (hat tip James) of a partnerhsip between IBM, FXA Group, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters & Producers and the Vietnamese government is particularly interesting. The group will collaborate to improve traceability of seafood from sea floor to restaurant floor recording vital data such as point & time of origin, chill chain, transportation, processing points and other essential information. No doubt there is also obvious application here for conservation efforts through montioring of the catch and prevention of over fishing of vulnerable stocks.
With ever tightening technical requirements for export to markets such as EU, Japan & US the Vietnamese aquatic industry is looking to, not just comply, but also build an international brand & reputation for quality over the long run. Consumers too are asking hard questions about the provenance of food so the industry is gearing up to be ever more responsive to consumer sentiment. Dr Chu Ngoc Anh, Director of the Vietnamese State Agency for Technological Innovation commented:
In the long term, advanced traceability solutions can help boost the quality and prestige of Vietnamese seafood industry in the global market.
Beyond brand building and export licensing, traceability can also be an extremely important strategic apability for food safety crisis management. Recent food safety disasters, though relatively local in occurrence, have led time and again to industry shut down of production & recalls from the shop shelf. Having more precise information to enable traceability holds out the possibility, that if a crisis occurs it might be quickly identified and isolated without destroying the trade for the entire industry. For example, last January the entire Irish pork export trade was temporarily shut down and product recalled from 23 nations after a crisis relating to tainted pig feed supplies effecting only 9 farms. Ireland's pork trade is worth €450 million per annum & 6000 jobs are still threatened by ensuing reputation damage. Experts reckon that it could take the best part of a decade to recover the trade to pre crisis levels. The worst part is that the industry might have been saved if there had been better capability for traceability. The former Chair of the European Food Safety Authority Dr. Patrick Wall said:
Because the regulatory authorities in Ireland had no way of knowing which meat came from the nine farms, they initiated a recall on all pig meat. There are 400 pig producers in Ireland and, although only nine pig farms fed the contaminated ration, meat from the other 391 is also caught up in the recall.
More than food safety it would be great to see traceability efforts such as this applied to other sensitive supply chain issues. Closer to home for the tech industry, tracing traded commodities such as cassiterite, which has been mined in conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo that seriously impinge human rights really should be a higher priority. Another good candidate might be the diamond industry where illicit trade has fueled conflict in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola. The UN backed Kimberly Process set up to curb such trade might benefit from traceability solutions. Illegal logging another. The imagination runs riot.
This is good stuff on sustainability from IBM.