Digitising the farm – UTS and IIT Madras tackle food waste with technology
Greater research collaborations with India have proven a step closer for UTS’s commitment towards sustainability.
Dr Ashinder Kaur from Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) India’s Department of Management Studies, and Dr Renu Agarwal, Director of the Strategic Supply Chain Management within the Management Discipline Group at UTS Business, are investigating innovative ways to change the relationship between consumers and farmers to avoid food wastage at the local and global level.
“The aim is to reduce the length of the supply chain through deployment of sensory devices in farms to connect the farmer directly to the consumer,” Agarwal said.
“If we can come up with a solution that arms the farmer with an ability to communicate with the consumer directly, I think that would result in some sort of value co-creation.”
Digitalising the supply chain would allow consumers to send feedback to farmers on what they valued the most about the produce, for instance: taste, size or texture of the food. This interactive process allows farmers to align their produce with customer demand. The feedback sent to farmers would ensure that only the most valued aspects of food are continued and undesirable aspects are discontinued, hence a solution to food wastage.
“They could be sending out information about the produce. That's what the consumer latches [on to] – these intangible factors really add value from a consumer perspective,” Agarwal said.
The food security and traceability component will maximise profits for farmers and in turn allow consumers access to healthy, fairly produced and sustainable food.
“My dream would be to see a disruption in the business model where the farmer drives the future supply chain as opposed to the big giants who drive the current fresh produce supply chain,” Agarwal said.
The business model for digitalising the food supply chain will be applied universally to agricultural businesses.
“The design will allow seamless, integrated data flow transparently both upstream and downstream for any type of agribusiness in the supply chain,” Agarwal said.
However, farmers will not be able to build this technology alone. Government intervention and an industry consortium are needed in order move forward and fund the technology and the logistics and warehousing infrastructure.
“All these stakeholders have to collaborate to make a full digital supply chain, covering aspects of social sustainability, reduction in waste, minimising pollution of the environment and at the same time, [securing] economic sustainability by providing value to the consumer,” Kaur said.
During her visit to UTS, Kaur held talks with Australian industries involved in food sustainability, such as CRC Food Agility, and Consulate General of India and the Australia India Business Chamber.
“When we talk to them and when we put our ideas in front of them, they also come up with the real issues which they're facing. It gives us a good avenue where we can discuss our ideas. We get the industry ideas and other perspectives, which would give real life challenges to work upon. It aligns our direction with the real needs of the industry. That was a major benefit of my coming here in person,” Kaur said.
The collaboration between UTS and IIT Madras has been facilitated by the UTS Key Technology Partnership (KTP) program. Under this arrangement, academics from UTS and its partner universities have the opportunity to deepen their research links through academic exchange, co-publication and the joint supervision of PhD candidates.
In addition to their joint research, Kaur and Agarwal supervise doctoral students on the research area of food and agribusiness sustainability.
“The student gets the opportunity to get a degree at the end of the day from two, well-known, brand institutions, and actually from two different countries.
This is great for the knowledge contribution and exposure to different industry protocols, and standards, and legislative protocols within each country. I think it's the wide experience and a very good doctoral journey experience, that's what I feel a doctoral student will live while being here,” Agarwal said.
Following the KTP fellowship visit at UTS the two academics plan to collaborate on joint papers on their research for top-tier journals and will consider Australian, Indian and/or Australia-India research funding initiatives.
“We will go back and we will see the interest of respective academics in respective countries, so we will try to expand the network,” said Kaur.