New, science-backed green-farming projects are proving that the collaboration of research and agricultural production can bear fruit. The idea behind it was to create highly automated, interactive systems for food production. A number of different applications are possible here, for example, in urban areas where there is little room for cultivable land. Greenhouses and plantations are also benefiting from green chains of traceable sustainability.
Controlling fruit and vegetable cultivation by means of sensors in order to influence product quality and share data with growers, producers, and consumers – how does it all work?
The perfect interplay of cloud, IoT data, and blockchain is essential here as a means of providing transparency across the entire production and supply chain – from cultivation through to verified sales and what consumers see. A plant diary is being created. This tracking process therefore also meets new legal requirements. But how do you win consumer trust? What added value can be gained from these “monitored” plants?
Helping mother nature grow and thrive is an age-old endeavor. People have always developed new concepts – such as granaries, the three-field system, the use of wind and water mills, and modern agricultural technology – to ensure food supplies and thereby prevent famine. But of course, the growing population across the world calls for more and more food. Shortages and famines continue to be an unresolved problem to this day. Over 800 million people are still starving, and almost 2 billion suffer from malnutrition.
One reason for this is our dependency on properly functioning supply chains. The main challenge is to reduce disruptions and make design infrastructures less dependent on climatic and geopolitical influences. However, this cannot be achieved with complex supply chains and products that have travelled across the world.
Decentralized, regional approaches are changing the way we think. Regionally sourced products have shorter delivery routes, which in turn reduces carbon footprint – the necessary CO2 emissions generated from production and transport. New communication channels are now enabling consumers to digitally check the shortest possible distance travelled by their product in a closed loop.
A blockchain provides all of the information gathered about the product. The starting point may be the regional organic farm, but the tracked journey continues with transportation and sale right through to the consumer’s table. Consumers scan a QR code to obtain data about when a product was harvested and produced, and who produced it. But how secure and reliable is this?
The information recorded in the blockchains cannot be changed. Once activated, they provide reliable information arranged in a chain through a consensus that is transparent for all participants. The information is not checked by a central authority, but organized as a decentralized registry, which contains all the transactions for a block, and links the blocks together in chronological order – across the entire value creation chain for all operations and people involved.
Tamper-proof time stamps and digital signatures ensure protection against forgery. All participants can see any changes and therefore keep each other in check. Which blockchain solution can achieve this?
T-Systems has used blockchain solution tDAO to create a registry which enables access to the separately stored information about the delivery item, as well as certificates and detailed product information. Participants can specifically release the read access to this. They are then free to provide only the necessary information to trusted auditors – or, in a bid to guarantee maximum transparency, ensure the public has a full insight into a product’s origin and supplier relationships. This extends to organic farmers just a few miles away.
By using open blockchain Ethereum as a basis, as well as tailored smart contracts and APIs, tDAO is supporting various company philosophies, marketing strategies, and security requirements. T-Systems acts as the gatekeeper by protecting access to this blockchain solution, reducing the risk of misuse even further.
In partnership with tDAO and Ethereum, rather than requiring high levels of energy like well-known crypto currencies, the transactions can be posted very efficiently, making the solution sustainable and energy efficient. This is ideal for associations of smaller growers and producers that want to position their products on the market in a sustainable, transparent way. This creates collectives, which meet consumers’ needs regarding sustainability and traceability in supply chains. But what kind of technology is needed to do this?
The use of IoT in supply chain management makes it possible to gather data for better inventory management, transport, and incident response. IoT devices collect data about the location or temperature during transportation. This allows the consistency of cold chains to be monitored. The sensors are comparatively low cost and can be easily fitted to euro-pallets, for example, during transportation.
In other words, IoT devices provide supplier management with fast-response equipment that saves time and money and responds flexibly to incidents. Transportation is monitored and swift action can be taken in the event of disruptions, for example, with automated replacement orders. But traceability is not the only advantage of the sensors. They can, in fact, work small wonders in small spaces during production.
Patrick Köhler from T-Systems has managed to grow chilies and coffee beans in one of these small spaces by using sensors. The mini greenhouse features at the Innovation Center in Munich. The Connected Greenhouse use case is a great example of what is possible today. The aims were to maximize yields and consume as little energy as possible in the process. Integrated IoT and blockchain make it possible to grow food much more efficiently in a small space by means of vertical configuration.
Optimum growing conditions and a highly reliable supply result over the course of a year. This use case won the ISG Paragon Award. But that’s not all. The greenhouse makes it possible to influence the quality and properties of the plants.
By controlling the environmental parameters, such as irrigation, light, fertilization, temperature, and air humidity, we can grow plants in an optimum way. This isn’t enough, though. We therefore have the option to influence the speed of growth, the fruit-ripening process, and even the final taste. We are therefore essentially writing a diary for our plants, which allows us to produce specific crops. Less is thrown away and we all end up with more.
Patrick Köhler, Senior Innovation Manager at T-Systems
The latest research projects in close collaboration with the agriculture industry are showing that the combination of IoT, blockchain technology, and machine learning is well proven on a grander scale.