Spruce up the spice supply chain with blockchain traceability

, 8 minute read

Quick summary: The food safety challenges, hygienic practices and the aflatoxin and pesticide issues are impeding exporters to satisfy the requirements of destination markets for spices. Traceability in the spice value chain is the solution to boost consumer satisfaction and enhance the sustainable growth of the spice sector. Digital platforms capturing the barn to bottle story of these spices will bring visibility and transparency to these value chains.

Indian tradition is truly entwined with spices and this makes it the home for spices. Spice adds flavor and aroma to food and also serves as a seasoning agent. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of spices. It has a domestic trade value of USD 1 billion and an export value of USD 3 billion, which necessitates a robust spice supply chain.  

India produces a wide variety of spices like chilly, ginger, turmeric, garlic, black pepper, cardamom, cumin, and other tree products. Spice production in India is done by millions of smallholder farmers and it serves as a livelihood for the rural population. The diverse Agro-climatic conditions favor the production of a variety of spices, a few of them distinctive to geography. 

The Spice Market 

Spices are normally traded in whole form, powdered form, as oils and extracts. They are used in food, pharmaceuticals, fragrances, and cosmetics. They are widely used in ready-to-eat food, packaged meat and seafood, and soups and sauces. Spices are produced in many developing countries, with China being a major competitor.

India is a leading supplier of crushed pepper, turmeric, spice mixture, and oils. India accounts for two-thirds of global trade in these spice commodities. 85% of the spice trade involves the sale of whole unprocessed raw materials. Both in the EU and US, about 60% of traded spices are used by processors, who have a distinctive requirement for quality, taste, and color. The demand is linked to dietary changes and dynamics in the processing industry. With new cuisines, the demand for seasoned food is high.

The high value of output from the unit area of spices makes the spice economy vital to agriculture. The food safety challenges, hygienic practices and the aflatoxin and pesticide issues are impeding exporters to satisfy the requirements of destination markets.

Spices travel long distances to reach our kitchens and it is necessary to understand the food mileage of all spices. The spice value chain has a number of players and processes and a number of challenges too. Also, read about Decoding the food supply chain

Challenges in the Spice Supply Chain 

With the awareness of microbial and chemical hazards and the growing concern of consumers, the focus on quality and hygiene has become a demand from both the regulators and consumers.

Spices are vulnerable to food contamination. Bacteria like salmonella are found in Black pepper and paprika. Toxic chemicals like aflatoxin are derived from molds in foods, especially in chilies and nutmegs.

Spices grown in tropical conditions are susceptible to insect infestations. Hence the usage of chemical fertilizers may result in presence of pesticide residues in harvested spices.

There is also a potential hazard of the inclusion of lead in a few of the post-harvest practices.

The spice supply chain has a few challenges 

  • Lack of farmer organization structures and the majority are smallholders. 
  • Lack of coordination among the various players in the supply chain, starting from producers, manufacturers, retailers, exporters, and finally the consumers. 
  • Inadequate quality farming inputs like seeds and chemicals.
  • Presence of aflatoxins and pesticides causes market rejections. 
  • Lack of accountability and authenticity impacts sustainability demands. 
  • Insufficient credit facilities to farmers 
  • Food security and fraudulence 
  • High labor costs and gap between demand and supply is wide. 
  • Fragmented supply chain 
  • Climatic changes

Though India is a major producer and exporter of spices, the volumes are low due to these challenges. Meeting the quality standards with respect to food safety is crucial in satisfying export regulations. 

It is for these reasons the spices are being brought within the fold of governance to address challenges due to microbial contamination, MRLs, additives and labeling. 

Spicing up the Supply chain 

Spices and Herbs contribute to 5% of farm production in India and a number of households depend on spice production. Developing the spice value chain has the potential to benefit a number of people.

There is a need to harmonize and tighten the standards related to aflatoxin levels, MRLs, and other contaminants. Spice production is highly dependent on the proper functioning of ecosystems.

Technology interventions are a necessity to identify operational risks, measure impacts and develop systems to mitigate risks and manage them.

Spice, Sustainability and the Carbon Connect

With the increasing demand for flavours and authentic tastes, sustainability needs to be at the heart of world’s spice supply chain. Spices need to be sourced sustainably. This helps in realizing quality yields, eliminating unfair practices. This also satisfies regulatory compliance and assures consumers of a pure and  authentic product. Spice companies in US and Europe struggle to commit to sustainable requirements. A sustainable model in the spice value chain helps to geta premium price for the product in markets, increasing profitability. The Sustainability Spices Initiative program commits to sustainable sourcing, best farming practices, advanced processing equipment and improved packaging.

Organic uses less CO2. Sourcing spices and herbs locally and relying on fair and sustainable trade with organic practices leaves a smaller footprint. Buying high quality spices in bulk reduces food wastage, saves packaging costs and lessens transport requirements all great contributors to  carbon emissions

Embracing sustainability with Technology helps to build visibility in the spice  supply chain and protect the quality of the product

Traceability Solutions – Traceability in the Spice sector 

Traceability in the spice value chain is the solution to boost consumer satisfaction and enhance the sustainable growth of the spice sector. Digital platforms capturing the barn to bottle story of these spices will bring visibility and transparency to these value chains. The tracking of the product journey from the source to end consumption can help in addressing challenges of identification of contamination due to pesticides and toxins and facilitate easy recall of products in times of safety breaches. 

Consumers can make informed decisions about their purchases and be assured of food safety. Food traceability is important to establish that the spices added to our food are free from pesticides, additives, and climate changes. Traceability will also drive sustainable farming practices that will bring resilience and profitability to millions of farmers. Soil health, reduction in water usage, eliminating pesticide residue, and enhancing biodiversity will create a huge impact on the people and the planet. 

Blockchain Solutions for Traceability 

Blockchain technology has revolutionized the food sector. Blockchain is a decentralized process of recording transactions in a digital ledger, that allows easy capture of data at all stages in a supply chain and ensures both visibility and transparency. Shared information on a collaborative platform among stakeholders builds trust and credibility for the various claims.

The immutable ledgers prove a single source of truth among the various participants in the network. Onboarding all the participants right from the farmer to the end supplier streamlines the supply chain operations, increasing efficiency and preventing food loss. The blockchain eliminates the need for intermediaries and promotes equitable sharing of profits. Digitization of the supply chain ensures adherence to farm and crop management at the pre-harvest stage and compliance to quality standards in the post-harvest and processing stages in the supply chain.

A digital identity attached to the product assures a transparent and traceable story of the spice, building trust in the consumer and empowering brands with a competitive edge. 

FOODSIGN, a digital traceability platform of TraceX harnesses the power of blockchain to build sustainable and ethical food supply chains. The pre-harvest module helps farmers to track their farms and manage their crops. Sustainable package of practices is configured for the crops to realize effective yields and a quality product. Effective usage of pesticides, water, and other inputs are managed to help the farmer obtain profitable yields.

The MRLs are measured and quality certificates from testing laboratories can be uploaded to the network to prove authenticity and auditability. It facilitates regulatory compliance and ensures food safety for the consumer. The harvest dashboards generated help in gaining insights into the market and making the right decisions. The data captured in real-time helps to track products easily, helping in targeting recalls accurately and immediately.

This saves costs and protects the brand image. The post-harvest processes are also managed and tracked. The inventory management helps to reduce food wastage and identify affected batched in times of recall. The digital records serve as an audit trail with a layer of security.  

The traceability solutions from TraceX capture the farm to fork the story of the product using a QR code and bring transparency to the system. The spice giant MTR has used TraceX’s solutions for digitizing the chilly value chain. The problems due to aflatoxin levels in chilly and lack of agronomy practices have been accordingly addressed with these solutions.  Read how MTR Foods Limited leveraged TraceX’s  solutions to trace the byadgi chilly used in their spice range of products.

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