Supporting Farmers, Driving Food Security with IoT and Blockchain

The Atlantic Monthly explores people, companies and communities that are innovating in their monthly Possibilities Report. The March edition featured the work of Context Labs' business units Spherical|Analytics and IoT ImpactLABS in small and middle market agriculture operators and food security networks. A number of ImpactLABS partners were highlighted.

Opportunities for Digital in Agriculture

Since 2013, ImpactLABS -- now part of Context Labs and a sister company to Spherical|Analytics -- has been collaborating with small and mid-sized growers, ranchers, horticulture operators and their partners. The work has centered on learning as richly as possible about the opportunities for digital in agriculture by listening deeply to the growers themselves.

Most growers start conversations about food security by stating that food is immediately and persistently influenced by climate, soil, energy, transportation, and financial markets locally, and globally. The interconnectedness of our food systems with other work, data, and financial flows serves as a benefit and a huge risk if not managed brilliantly.

Add to this the reality that for too long, small and mid-sized growers and their small and mid-sized partners have been hobbled, hamstrung or outright eliminated by over-sized buyers, aggregating demand and wielding enormous power over SMB agriculture operators.

Farmers need a new generation of power tools to help bolster their stability, independence, and optionality in an increasingly risk intolerant marketplace.

In other words, to a grower, digital is about a lot more than just crop yield.

This sensor monitors soil conditions at an ImpactLABS pilot site.

This sensor monitors soil conditions at an ImpactLABS pilot site.

Helping SMB Farmers Reclaim Independence

During the past few years, ImpactLABS brought IoT to SMB farmers, horticulturists, aquaculture operators and commercial fisheries in Southeastern New England and a number of other markets in North America also.

Our approach to IoT and other digital systems was inspired by the goal of small and mid-sized growers and producers to achieve the oft-cited operational yields and financial results. But our deepest passion is to help them rise to the grand challenge of food insecurity in their markets locally and globally by reducing their risk, and increasing their strength as independent, if networked operators.

Today, and going forward, CONTEXT LABS will bring blockchain-enabled trust platforms to the food security supply chain. Adding to this effort, Spherical|Analytics will help stakeholders baseline their climate risk, monitor progress, and document their climate risk mitigation.

Our work is aimed directly at two of the key risk factors growers battle daily: supply chain transparency and efficiency; and local and global climate risk.

This sensor monitors climate conditions inside a greenhouse.

This sensor monitors climate conditions inside a greenhouse.

Global Food Security Goals

In order to achieve the goal of global food security with small and mid-sized growers, we have been told by those middle market operators that we need to help them manage risks that can impact their internal operations, and their external opportunities:

  • Internal Goals of SMB Growers:
    1. Operational impact – reduce losses, enhance yield, enhance quality, forecast accuracy
    2. Financial impact – reduce cost, predict expenses, enhance pricing, grow revenue
    3. Social impact – reduce environmental impact, enhance nutritional quotient, contribute economically
  • External Goals of SMB Growers
    1. Prove lower risk to existing buyers to enhance terms, and potential buyers to capture new orders
    2. Prove lower risk to capital sources to reduce friction from lenders and investors, grow capital pool/ sources/ options
    3. Prove lower risk to insurance, re-insurance, bonding, and other risk sharing partners

SMB growers are some of the original conservation-oriented capitalists. They embrace, own, and live by the creed that if they take care of the planet – soil, water, oceans, coastal flats, herds – that the planet with take care of them.

And they will take care of us.

Ensuring food security for future generations is one of the most important challenges of our lifetime.

Ensuring food security for future generations is one of the most important challenges of our lifetime.

Next Steps:

ImpactLABS will continue to do the work in the field, listening to growers, finding and field-qualifying strong solutions for them, and driving the new era in digital rights management, where farmers own and control access to their digital harvests.

CONTEXT LABS will deploy its blockchain-enabled trust platform, Immutably™, with growers, cold-chain operators, and other food security network partners to remove friction, cost and loss; and enhance trust, velocity and resilience in food security network supply chains anywhere in the world.

Spherical|Analytics is using CONTEXT LABS’ Immutably™ Trust Platform to build environmental data, climate analytics and resilience platforms for a number of markets managing significant, intimate relationships with the under-pressure climate, environment and natural resource portfolios.

Read the full Atlantic Monthly article: The Internet of Growing Things