During the Circularity forum conducted by National Geographic channel on Recycling plastic one of the points which has come to the fore front is the ability to trace the plastic waste within the supply chain. The problem of identifying an item within the supply chain is not new, like many previous studies suggested using incentives to collect back the materials, using central collection centers or even using reusable containers or reverse vending systems etc. The concept of reverse logistics is very complex and not cost competitive and its implementation using reverse vending or reusable systems is still a topic of discussion. In this blog I am trying to put my thoughts on prevalent digital techniques which can be used for managing circularity within agriculture sector.
The topic of circularity within agriculture supply chain is very complex owing to it being very linear as suggested by Lazzarini way back in 2001. It starts with farmers or producers and moves on the ladder with processors, distributors and retailers at various stages in a linear fashion. The possibility of applying the circularity principles is at the end of the pipe technology like collection of agriculture waste and putting that for anaerobic digestion / energy recovering systems for creation of energy, other possibility of being recycling the nutrients back to producer scenario. That is generating the energy to run the production systems and applying nutrients to the source systems.
However, when we closely check the E2E supply of an agriculture sector it has lot of issues right from production systems, supply chain management, processing and marketing. In case of production environment the major issues include the low productivity per acre of land which when properly managed will result in freeing up the land for biodiversity. Similarly issues around producing non demand produce is also an issue which results in waste being released to the environment. When it comes to supply chain stage the issues like storage space availability, transportation issues, cold storage availability and checking for contaminants is still an issue. During the processing stage it results in waste due to low capacity utilization, quality issues. Other issues like delays in produce reaching to customers, infrastructural issues also contribute to wastes within the agriculture life cycle. These all issues can be managed by devising a coordinated supply chains strategy for the agriculture sector.
These coordinated supply chains design involves using systems like storage environments, facility for reaching out to hyper markets, controlled chambers, collection center management, these all result in circularity within the agriculture sector.
The availability of the digital tools is helping in getting such information at a much efficient way. The digital era has seen supply chains being transformed in three major areas like ability to use big data and artificial intelligence, ability to track trace items within the supply chain and ability to collaborate with stakeholders to share the information.
To begin with the use of big data for major source identification i.e., not all processes or stages are responsible for the waste generation at times select few points result in big impact wastes. Identifying those using the big data technologies and analysis using machine learning is very much possible with the available tools and methods. Using the data collected at various stages of the supply chain and processing the data using the big data will help in the identification of the trend in the system and corresponding bottlenecks.
Now coming to the concept of trace-ability, the RFID or even block chain based sophisticated models are being used to check and trace the products, raw materials in the supply chain. Even those technologies are used to find the unintentional introduction of substandard products into the value stream, which result in waste generation.
New transparency and collaboration tools are emerging within the supply chain to share the data among the stakeholders be it product or product disclosure information. These traceability within the supply chain can be used or tracking the products and end user reach. Similarly introduction of concept like Product as a service model, whereby key products which supposed to result in waste or require maintenance are leased rather than bought which results the responsibility being put on the manufacturers. These products include the machinery which is used within the life cycle of agriculture produce.
Each of the system component can be connect with digital technologies for easy traceability, real time decision support system and deriving insights from the data. When these issues are tackled by the organizations by proper production systems like guidance in the crop selection, support in using right techniques and methods, and appropriate precautions will help in reducing the waste.
Similarly when organizations extend the concept by borrowing the principles of oil and gas supply chain like providing support with storage, processing or other retailers accessibility with right decision support system via individually or private – public involvement it will result in elimination of waste produce within the supply chain. Besides the standard implementation of circularity principles of energy and nutrients, like support in collection agriculture waste and development energy recovering systems for energy generation and composting for returning the nutrients to the main stream.