Fusebox EPFL

WINNER

This looks like a software problem to me.

Let’s analyse the problem: Three causes of loss can be identified in the supply chain: Harvesting time, Storage and Transport.
  • Harvesting is often done at the wrong time, which implies a reduced quality and therefore a reduced monetary value (harvests are not ripe / too ripe or rotten for instance) 
  • Storage is the second issue, often harvests are stored in bad conditions (harversts get moist, dry, or dirty.) 
  • Because transport is not synchronised with the harvests, storing of them is inevitable and increases the risks of food losses. This also adds several intermediates which reduces the farmer’s income.
A solution : For the Storage and the Transport part, there is a pretty straightforward way to reduce the losses and increase the value of the products.   We need to reduce the number of intermediates and time between the farmers and the processing plants by transporting directly the fresh harvests to the factories. This could appear to be fastidious to organize manually but can be done in the blink of an eye thanks to software solutions.   In developing countries smartphones are cheaper than computers to connect people, as it is cheaper to install a 3G cellular connection for the entire territory than to run wires to every houses. Smartphones are now sold as cheap as $37 in developing countries, and the data bill is way cheaper than in our developed countries.   With a smartphone app, connecting the producer to the factory becomes super easy. The producers just have to enter what they produce and the factory will tell them when a truck can be sent to pick up the grains / fruits / vegetables ! The truck weights the production right on the spot and the farmer gets paid instantly thanks to the SMS payment system that is widely used is African countries (or with any other type of checks, accounts..)    This system allows the factory to avoid production peaks by scheduling the number of trucks for each geographical zone. The key is to provide the farmers with a basic but essential service for their empowerment through an awesomely simple to use app (see the mockups).     Harvesting at the right time and cultivating the right way is more of an education and training question. That’s a second thing that can be improved a lot thanks to software. Giving the farmers instructions on what to do depending on local weather forecasts (water / fertilise or not), and displaying a calendar with the most important milestones would be of a great help to increase their efficiency.   Main features of an additional app or website could include:
  • Best practices to grow up each crop type the best way. 
  • Meteorological forecasts based on their GPS location and advice on whether or not to water / fertilise on a given day. 
  • Forum for farmers : fast/urgent questions & answers (for instance if a farmer has detected a suspicious disease on one of his plant) or ask for additional workforce and goods (borrowing / lending / renting / selling machines or installations for instance).
  • A market place (some leftovers from the last harvest / reduced quality harvests ? just sell them to another farmer who needs it for its cattle for instance).
edited on Mar 6, 2014 by Aureline Grange

Nadina - Buhler Expert Mar 5, 2014

Dear Aureline

I love your idea and solution - very well thought out!

Nadina

 

Jean-Charles Gasche Mar 5, 2014

Probably the factories could pay farmers a small amount or offer them the smartphones they need to bypass intermediates! A small investment for the factory, but big savings in perspective! I don't see why the system would not spread if it doesn't even need an expense from the farmers!

Zenghuan Shan Mar 5, 2014

I find this idea is somehow related to mine too ;) (Use smartphone/online platform to relate farmers and consumers closer).

Just as feature, the app could allow the consumer to plant a vegetable "virtually" by buying its seed and cultivate it. The farmer on the other side will deliver the product when the plant is cultivated. The money flow is  between customer (user) - platform provider (ads, games income) - farmer

Adriana Basbous Moukarzel Mar 5, 2014

Great minds think alike !
Maybe you guys could form a team, who knows what other ideas you could come up with ! : )

Leila Ojjeh Mar 6, 2014

Status changed to INTERESTING

Leila Ojjeh Mar 6, 2014

Status changed to No special status

Leila Ojjeh Mar 6, 2014

Status changed to INTERESTING

Buhler experts like this idea because it is addressing the local needs in the developing countries. In addition it could communicate delivery problems (traffic in India), events (something went wrong) or similar. What else?

Andrea Navares Mar 7, 2014

Hi Aureline, 

I like your idea, specially the storage and transport related part! For the harvesting part, there is already an Android application that has been developed in collaboration with the Media & Design Lab from EPFL, as part of a bigger project called Common Sense Net 2.0. The application (called FarmBook) covers all your points listed above (Meteo, best practices for farmers, social network/forum, market prices...) and some others and it has already been tested in a small village in India.

You can find some information here:

I collaborated in the development and implementation of the Yield Tool Comparison part of the application as a EPFL semester project, and it was very interesting. There is a lot of research going on about mobile phones for illiterate farmers in less-developed countries. I could send you more information about it and about the project if you are interested! 

However, in the Farmbook project, the part of storage, transport and connecting the producers with the factories was not developed, and I think is a great idea! I will be happy to work with you on it and develop the idea further.

Nicole B. Mar 7, 2014

Aren't softwares hard to develop? I am always thinking that it is reserved to very big companies like Microsoft or Oracle to develop such things, companies often pay a fortune to have up-to-date professional softwares.. 

Andrea Navares Mar 7, 2014

Define "hard" :) Honestly, it depends on what kind of software you want to develop, if only big companies could afford to have up-to-date softwares and pay a fortune for them, then all the computer science and programmers would be rich and famous! There are 13 years old boys programming  excellent apps now-a-days... I don’t think this idea requires a fortune to be developed, just some time and knowledge! In any case, where there is a will there is a way, easy or hard! 

Nicole B. Mar 7, 2014

You will be more skilled and up to date on that subject than me for sure! If it is feasible then it was the only question I had about this idea! It could really reduce the wasted production.

Nicholas Molyneaux Mar 7, 2014

I agree that reducing the number of intermediates and making collaboration between farmers and factories easier is a good thing. I see one issue with the original idea and the transport/harvesting aspect: you can't choose when to harvast, the crops need to be harvested when they are ready ! Taking cereals for an example: they must have been left long enough to dry out once finished growing, and then harvested as quickly as possible before rain falls otherwise the grain will rot. So the factory can't decide when to send trucks. Do you see a work around this issue ?

Nicolás Meneses Mar 11, 2014

Connecting the producers with the factories by an app sounds pretty cool. This could not only solve some logistic problems, but also this app could allow food processors (which can't afford a specific processing step) making use of other processing technologies. For example, instead of sending a truck to pick up the vegetables, why not sending a truck to partly (or completely) process the vegetables on-site? so the app could have an additional feature?

Aureline Grange Mar 11, 2014

@Nadina & Jean-Charles: Thank you for your kind support! :)  

@Zenghuan Shan: We can do all variety of things with softwares, but to my mind letting the heavy-lifting to programmers and keeping it simple for users is key to success.

  @Leila Ojjeh: I am glad people and particularly you find my idea interesting, and I am still working on some ways to make some improvements! :)   @Andrea Navares: Thank you for your support! Yes, that kind of app is great, but like you said the biggest challenge is to make it awesomely easy for people of whom some of them don’t even have a high school degree! Of course, I will be glad to hear more about related projects if the idea is selected as interesting for the next phase! Thank you again :)   @Nicole B.: Software was in the past something really hard to develop and reserved to big companies, but nowadays many useful and sometimes complex softwares are coded by students in their room at night! It feels good to have your support about the capability of this idea to address the challenge. My best.   @Nicholas Molyneaux: What you say is true, except that the farmer has a margin of usually at least 2-3 weeks to harvest its production. The idea here is that the farmer can schedule when he will start harvesting depending on the weather and trucks availability. He wouldn’t even have to make a decision, software could just calculate for him what’s the best choice!   @Nicolas Meneses: You are completely right, that’s absolutely something that could be integrated and very useful! However I don’t really know about the efficiency of mobile processing units compared to fixed factories (in terms of costs, time, and investment to be made to adapt the existing supply chain). Let me gather some information about that and come back to you!    Does anyone know about truck-embedded processing units that could process stuff on board while driving, like fishing "factory-ships"?

Aureline Grange Mar 11, 2014

Sorry for the re-post ... Couldn't edit the previous comment!

-----

@Nadina & Jean-Charles: Thank you for your kind support! :)

@Zenghuan Shan: We can do all variety of things with softwares, but to my mind letting the heavy-lifting to programmers and keeping it simple for users is key to success.

@Leila Ojjeh: I am glad people and particularly you find my idea interesting, and I am still working on some ways to make some improvements! :)

@Andrea Navares: Thank you for your support! Yes, that kind of app is great, but like you said the biggest challenge is to make it awesomely easy for people of whom some of them don’t even have a high school degree! Of course, I will be glad to hear more about related projects if the idea is selected as interesting for the next phase! Thank you again :)

@Nicole B.:Software was in the past something really hard to develop and reserved to big companies, but nowadays many useful and sometimes complex softwares are coded by students in their room at night! It feels good to have your support about the capability of this idea to address the challenge. My best.

@Nicholas Molyneaux: What you say is true, except that the farmer has a margin of usually at least 2-3 weeks to harvest its production. The idea here is that the farmer can schedule when he will start harvesting depending on the weather and trucks availability. He wouldn’t even have to make a decision, software could just calculate for him what’s the best choice!

@Nicolas Meneses: You are completely right, that’s absolutely something that could be integrated and very useful! However I don’t really know about the efficiency of mobile processing units compared to fixed factories (in terms of costs, time, and investment to be made to adapt the existing supply chain). Let me gather some information about that and come back to you!

 

Does anyone know about truck-embedded processing units that could process stuff on board while driving, like fishing "factory-ships"?

Daniel Heine Mar 13, 2014

Check out this container solution to pre-process perishable Cassava roots at the site of harvest into shelf-life stable Cassava cakes that then can be further processed centrally:

http://www.dadtco.nl/ampu-flash-dryer

Although the containers are not convincing because they need electricity & ample amounts of water at the local site of operation.

Emilio Lenoir Mar 16, 2014

creating an app is not very original, and it depends too much on the phone. please use your good reasoning creating a product which is independent from others.

Aureline Grange Mar 16, 2014

@Emilio : I'm not looking for something original, but for some good results. And if an app can really help reduce wasted crops, then it's a cheap and efficient solution.  "Please use your good reasoning creating a product" or improving this solution! :)

Guy White Mar 17, 2014

Its a great idea... but I wonder is it utopian in a commodities market often filled with far more malevolent forces at play... http://www.forbes.com/sites/saritharai/2013/08/27/the-mysterious-case-of-levitating-onion-prices-in-india/ (this is a small example of what some would argue global commodities companies are doing on an enormous scale in a market far less regulated and more murky than the NYSE or FTSE markets. Food for thought... if youll excuse the pun!

Nicole B. Mar 17, 2014

That could actually be a great argument in favor of bypassing the usual supply chain!

Nadina - Buhler Expert Mar 17, 2014

It would be fantastic if you found a way to estimate how much food can be saved using your app and how much more money the farmer as well as the manufacturer could make this way to show the win-win-win... Since this will be too complicated to do for all sub-ideas that can be implemented into your app, why not pick one aspect of your idea and one product, to give the selection board some figures to go by...

By the way and as an answer to Emilio, creating an app might not be very original, but creating an app that serves a real need and on top a desire certainly is. Some of the best ideas often combine existing knowhow with a new application...

Aureline Grange Mar 20, 2014

Here are some easy calculations to get insight on the potential of the app. I only considered the main application : the application connecting the producer to the factory. The more complete application would improve the situation even more, especially on the farmers' side.

 

Food waste reduction potential

In developing countries (See attached graph from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology):

  • 45-50% of wasted food is wasted during post-harversting stages
  • 30% of wasted food is wasted at the farm level
  • 15% of wasted food is wasted during the manufacturing stages

These percentages give the maximum waste reduction potential of the app (I did not find any more detailed figures so I’m presenting the maximum optimisation / waste reduction that the app could induce). This means that the application could potentially reduce the total wasted food by 90% in developing countries, which is equivalent to about 15% of the worldwide wasted food.

 

Financial benefits 

This application reduces to a minimum the intermediaries. From a study from the FAO, the margins for the intermediaries are of about 20%. By bypassing the intermediaries (but still taking into account the transportation cost of course !) we would be able to redistribute about 15% of the intermediaries' margins between the farmers and the processing factories.

 

Numbers are pretty rare on the Internet but some articles highly the potential of improving the supply chain. Kellogg’s is for instance looking to optimise its supply chain to save £300 million. 

http://www.supplymanagement.com/news/2013/kelloggs-looks-to-supply-chain-to-save-300-million

Aureline Grange Mar 20, 2014

Here is the graph from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology : http://hpics.li/73aa6fe

View all replies (2)

Leila Ojjeh May 5, 2014

Status changed to WINNER
Congratulations to Aureline Grange and Jean-Charles Gasche for their great presentation! Bühler's Executive Board found the idea very interesting and with great potential. Mpre thoughts need to be put in to develop the right business model. A prize of 1000 CHF has been awarded to the team! Well done!