Ambrosus – from Farm to Fork with Blockchain
A few weeks ago, I wrote a speculative article on how Blockchain technology will revolutionise the wine industry. You can read about that here. In so doing, this article attracted lots of interest and attention from the Blockchain community. So much so that it ended up going to number one in the Google search rankings. Meanwhile, I hadn’t realised just how far some parallel developments have advanced in the food industry. These mean that it’s possible to assure food quality and provenance in the food industry today. Hence, this article is about how new companies like Ambrosus are making that happen, from farm to fork. The wine industry could adopt this model and start to use Blockchain tomorrow. Or maybe the day after.
From farm to fork
Consequently, this article is about Ambrosus and the food supply chain. I hope to demonstrate in this piece that what Ambrosus are doing with food translates readily to the wine industry. This article uses my interview with Dr Stefan Meyer, co-founder of Ambrosus, which launched its platform last week. Welcome then to the Zeitgeist.
In the words of Ambrosus, their objective is to create the world’s first trusted food ecosystem. They are combining three complementary technologies; high-tech sensors, the Blockchain distributed ledger and smart contracts. Doing so creates the world’s first publicly verifiable, community-driven ecosystem that assures the quality, safety and origins of food. That sounds like a big ask, but it could revolutionise global food supply chains and markets.
Before we get to what they’re doing, who are Ambrosus? CEO Angel Versetti and CTO Dr Stefan Meyer founded Ambrosus in 2016. Before this, Versetti was at the UN Trade and Investment Division and Department of Technology and Industry. He was also at the World Resources Forum and Bloomberg. He sits on discussion panels for Davos, the Vatican, UNESCO, and COP21.
Meyer meanwhile brings over 20 years of R&D experience in food analysis, ultrasound sensors, and data encryption at companies like Nestlé.
They also have a highly talented team, and advisers like Dr Gavin Wood, the co-founder of Ethereum and Parity. Ethereum is probably the best-known Blockchain distributed ledger after Bitcoin. It facilitates smart contracts and the transfer of real tangible assets. It’s, therefore, a core part of the Ambrosus offering. Integrating the food sensor and security technologies with Ethereum Blockchain is being achieved by partnering with Parity.
In short, it’s a highly credible cutting edge company in Zug, Switzerland. This area is now known as Crypto Valley. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the Swiss Quality and Safety Association endorse it. Ambrosus also boasts the support of global bodies including; the United Nations, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and the Crypto Valley Association. It has financial backing from the Government of the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland.
The problems with food quality and provenance
Ambrosus knows that the global system of food production and distribution does not adequately serve us. There is little trust amongst consumers and poor remuneration for many farmers. There is malpractice, within supply chain networks or by large manufacturers. What about potential contamination and regular major food frauds? Think of the Horsemeat scandal, CJD, E.Coli, melamine in Baby Milk, or the adulterations of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and wine.
The potential solution
Ambrosus say, “with a dynamic ecosystem of complementing technologies developed within and around the Ethereum ecosystem, we have devised a bold rethinking of how global food supply chains and markets could operate”.
In layman’s terms, how does it work? It combines new technologies; Blockchain, smart sensors for Big Data and smart contracts.
A system of interconnected quality assurance sensors can reliably record the entire history of food from farm to fork. Blockchain can protect the integrity and verifiability of sensor data and transactions. Smart Contracts can enable automatic governance of food supply chains and manage commercial relationships.
The producer is key to consumer trust
The key is the consumer confidence in the manufacturer, no matter who they are or claim to be. So before the food, the manufacturer’s credentials need verifying.
Credentials could include an Organic certification or PDO/Appellation verification, for example. Now add the details about the farm, facilities, use of feedstuffs, fertilisers, pesticides, and additives. Specific quality and quantity measures can come from smart sensors for quantities, storage, and chemical analysis. Now we have Big Data.
This data can be in “real-time”, rather than obtained by an annual inspection or surprise audit. That proves the provenance and the quality at the outset in a highly transparent way.
Smart sensors and tracking tags exist today as part of the “Internet of Things”. In the vineyard, for example, sensors are capturing not only weather data but also water stress and disease risk. Similar methods exist in manufacturing, including wineries. So quality is more than the physical composition of the food product. It’s also the practices in making, storing and shipping it. More Big Data!
The smart contract, in turn, sits on the blockchain, so it’s secure and transparent. The food product can then bought by transacting on blockchain with the smart contract. Once the product enters the supply chain, smart sensors and tags track it and monitor its physical and storage conditions automatically. Complete traceability.
RFID tags are already tracking wine bottles, for example at Tenuta San Leonardo. By the way, RFID tags are in common use; they are following vehicles, airline passengers, Alzheimer’s patients and even pets! They are embedded in your Passport. Just add their tracking data and the sensor data to the Blockchain, and you have an unbreakable history. Here’s an innovation for the wine industry; why not invent smart corks?
Any number of uses, including wine
So many different food chains could use this technology, but one size does not fit all. Foods and their supply chains are all different, so each “use case” needs a definition at the outset. Consequently, Ambrosus is initially concentrating on two particular “use cases”, these being Olive Oil and Cheese. However, the principles are the same, whether it be Wine, Baby Milk, Farm fish (e.g. Salmon), animal feed or coffee. The possibilities are enormous and not just for food or wine either. What about cosmetics and clothing? So it goes.
But here’s the real beauty of the system. No one in the chain wants to set this up from scratch. Think of the expense and the technological know-how required, never mind the current scarcity of blockchain developers. Ambrosus is, however, a platform that can be an enabling technology. Ambrosus will provide API links to their platform from the internet. Then it’s entirely feasible for anyone to use it with no more than their web browser of choice. And sensors are already in extensive use and becoming ever cheaper. It’s possible that even I could do it!
From grape to glass?
Ambrosus aren’t the only new company looking at these opportunities, and of course, this technology is still in its infancy. However, Ambrosus is an excellent example of what’s happening right now, and I’ll be following their progress closely. From farm to fork? What about from grape to glass?
But are there current limitations to the technology? Is it scalable? How will it evolve? What will it cost? Who will be the early adopters and how, where and when will this technology become commonplace? Will wineries take it up? Who will win and who will lose? And will we care?
Well, for some thoughts on those questions, and more, please keep checking back! Meanwhile, comments and questions are of course welcome.
Ambrosus Technologies GmbH
Disclosure: I have absolutely no connection with Ambrosus other than interviewing Dr Stefan Meyer for this article.