Tomorrow Talks

Geoffrey Quartermaine Bastin

CEO, FoodWorks Group of Companies

Geoffrey Quartermaine Bastin is an Oxford-educated agribusiness specialist, economist, and engineer with over 35 years of professional work experience. He specializes in food value chain development and market analysis. Most recently he has worked on risk and uncertainty in food systems and food security. He resides and works mainly in Asia and is the CEO of the FoodWorks Group of Companies. FoodWorks Group is an association of independent companies that have come together for business, trade and marketing purposes related to the food supply.

Questions & Answers

You have experience in working across value chains across 30 countries. How do you think global trade in high value commodities will be affected post COVID?

Commodity trade is largely demand driven, at least on the fundamental side of the market – technical (purely price) movements are different. Lower economic activity and reduced incomes has reduced effective demand and limit trade. The collapse of the hospitality industry (tourism, hotels, and restaurants) has significantly and adversely impacted the food prices and therefore supplies. I am expecting to see more volatility in the market for few more months.

Your company, Botanical Extracts Asia, specializes in niche commodities like saffron and botanical extracts. What is the current role and scope for increased adoption of digital technologies in these sectors?

Botanical Extracts Asia is one of our enterprises in the FoodWorks Group. Digital technology and automation – the use of robots – is becoming far more common in all aspects of agriculture, not just high value crops. We see a strong demand for AI throughout. One of the drivers will be a greater focus on controlled environment cultivation, i.e., greenhouses using hydroponics and in aquaculture. The Covid-19 pandemic has unfortunately shown that human labor carries significant risks, and food companies might be looking to replacing labor with capital in the form of smart machines.

Food origin and safety are becoming increasingly global concerns. Do you see an increase in adoption of technologies like traceability?

Absolutely, I would agree. “Truth-in-Labelling” has been around for a long while. Bar code technology has done a lot towards that. However, consumers now want to know much more about the product they purchase like the origin country of what they consume. Moreover, they want to know why they should be eating it. There is a nexus between the food on the table and the health of the individual. Providing reliable dietary advice on packaging by food retailers, makes a huge difference to both purchase decisions and to customer’s health. Increased demand for organic produce also necessitates the requirement of reliable information on labels. Similarly, Nutraceuticals and Health Food Industry, requires benefits of each product specified on the pack in the consumer hands and shopping aisles, explicitly mentioning the terms of affect and certifications. We do foresee the need for improved and digitized certification processes for example ISO, HACCP etc.

When it comes to food safety, what role does policy have to play? Does availability of effective and affordable technologies impact it in any way?

Policy plays an overarching role in determining how food safety is implemented. However, too often it is a wish list drawn up by officials who know little of the realities on the ground. Having a well-written policy is necessary but not sufficient for implementing real-world food safety. Frequently the authorities, especially in developing countries, pay little attention to what really happens. What is needed are (a) effective regulations based on policy, (b) enforcement.

Technology has a part to play in this, but mostly it requires the legislative and enforcement parts to be strengthened. These depend on proper funding and training, and sadly these are low on budgeting priorities.

At the food ecosystem level, are there any specific projects, efforts or legislation that you think present an ideal model for the future?

With food systems and food safety the devil is in the detail and in application of legislation that is culturally and technically appropriate for a given circumstance. I am against generalizing. “Ideal models” have a habit of breaking down in practice. Food systems have usually developed in an evolutionary way over long periods, and we interfere with them to our cost.

That said, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the trend towards very large-scale agribusiness and food supply is fragile. Small disruptions have led to large changes in the market. We would like to see more emphasis on local food production. Technology has a significant part to play in this, for example in vertical farming in an urban setting.

About SourceTrace

SourceTrace is a SaaS (Software As A Service) company that focuses on sustainable agriculture and empowerment of farmers.

SourceTrace's advanced technology platform DATAGREEN provides comprehensive solutions to manage all aspects of the agricultural value chain.

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