Connectivity a key hurdle for traceability in Latin America
According to Thomas Eckschmidt, founder and CEO of Brazilian traceability advocate and solutions provider PariPassu, the spectrum is much wider in Latin America between the large, modern growing operations focused exclusively on exports, and smaller farms that sell to the national market and to exporters. The lack of computers and access to Internet is one challenge, as is the lack of understanding of what traceability is and why it matters to the grower.
Additionally, the priorities in the production of crops continue to focus more on cost, but Eckschmidt said that growers must not let these factors keep them from advancing with traceability solutions and controls, or the transition will be more painful down the road.
“If you delay your entry in to traceability for now it can cost you more later on since you will have to accelerate much faster to reach where the rest of the market is,” Eckschmidt told FreshFruitPortal.com.
PariPassu is a provider of technology solutions for agriculture and has focused on traceability for the last three years. The name PariPassu means “step by step” in Portuguese (not to be confused with the Latin phrase which is used as financial term for “equal footing”) and according to Eckschmidt represents the most important concept when considering traceability: Start simple and keep it simple.
“Always start as simple as possible, because then you can start,” Eckschmidt added.
Furthermore, traceability must be introduced in a way that makes sense for the farmer. Eckschmidt said that when PariPassu started focusing on implementation, he realized that there was a dramatic lack of understanding among growers as to what traceability means.
To deal with this information gap, Eckschmidt wrote “The Little Green Book of Food Traceability: Concepts and Challenges” in Portuguese to talk about implementation in a simple, plain language. The book has since been translated into English.
“We then started using the book as the focal point to educate farmers through seminars and workshops, talking directly to the contents of the book,” Echschmidt said.
Behind the increased focus on implementation are three key players: government authorities, the retail sector and NGOs. Government authorities mandate the use through legal means, while retail edges towards more transparency in the supply chain in order to isolate possible problems to the sources of the problems, Eckschmidt said.
NGOs also play a role by demanding greater transparency into the supply chain and grading the economic, social and ecological impact of different food products.
Eckschmidt said the U.S. market is moving slowly on its own. But in Brazil there have been options for consumers to trace their products for three years. One example is the supermarket chain Pão de Açúcar, which has a website where consumers can track where products were grown and how they arrived to the supermarket.
Every link in the supply chain exposes food to possible contamination, but safe food shows proper handling, Eckschmidt said. This creates an opportunity for the retail sector to open the supply chain to greater transparency and use that proper handling as a marketing tool, he added.