Food Ecosystem: Time to disruptively innovate

datafoodTwo decades ago, nobody thought that Amazon would change the way consumer products are sold.  Starting with books, they reinvented the entire supply chain and fulfillment infrastructure of everything to be sold online. But more importantly they empowered their customers with a lot of relevant information by making it easily accessible and trustworthy. For the first time the consumer believed that they were making well informed purchasing decisions without requesting cryptic brochures from manufacturers. And this was a disruption to the prevailing wisdom of keeping the customer in the dark and instead inundate them with carefully crafted and sugar laced marketing messages.

Food and agriculture goes to the heart of our civilizations. Religions, cultures and even modern civilization have food and agriculture at their core, and sadly, we are still in Middle Ages in implementing the science, art and best practices for such an important human need.  While most of Africa and Asia is malnourished, 40% of food produced in US is wasted from field to plate. The time is right to rethink how to effectively and sustainably feed our hungry planet, as the perfect storm of depleting natural resources, increasing population and global warming is forcing the global challenge of planning, production, distribution and right pricing of food on all of us. The food ecosystem needs an Amazon, or a Google of Food and Agriculture.

Before the futurists and technologists jump into making 21st Century food production data and technology driven, there is a more basic question to ask. Why has this not happened yet? After all, Agribusiness and its ecosystem represents 17% of US economy and the government and private businesses have been investing in precision agriculture and farming practices for a long time. Why is the ecosystem not driven by useful and accurate data? When we looked at this question closely and talked to the folks on the ground, we realized that technology and the data that it generates, is more of a cost than a solution to the growers of our food, and they are the prime producers of the basic data for the industry. They are proud and self-reliant folks who love what they do. They are sincerely concerned about the perfect storm. But they are also, not so thrilled about paying for the entire cost to capture, manage and report the data that brings efficiencies to others, but to them brings regulatory, reporting and governance requirements.

We propose a disruption where data generated from the fields combined with other private and public data from the entire industry and markets becomes an asset to the grower instead of a liability. What if it can make their field operations more efficient and less expensive? How about bringing their crop to market just at the right time? What if they could easily fulfill their reporting requirements without touching a spreadsheet?  And apply right inputs to their fields based on up to date knowledge of their efficacy. We propose a disruption where right information at the right time in the right context is as easily available to our growers as it will to the processors, retailers, planners or the financial markets, and they all value and invest in this information together. We believe in the disruption of data democratization, where knowledge derived from this data is a trusted friend to our food providers, and not a tool to control them.

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