Traceability in Agriculture Food Supply Chain

Thu Sep 03 2020
Traceability in Agriculture Food Supply Chain

Why traceability is important in overall perceptive?

Traceability is standardised because the whole supply chain is inter-dependent and all stakeholders are involved since the food chain is very complex. One product can involve several companies from where the ingredients, content and packaging have been supplied. The food chain begins with the origin of the food, ingredients and continues with processing history, definition of the batch, links between manufacturing batches, methods of production, methods of analysis, storage, personnel involved, the entire supply and distribution chain system, etc. Traceability necessitates the establishment of product integrity, authenticity and identification at all the stages including food inspection and certification system so as to build consumer coincidence. Another important objective of traceability is to ensure safe food and prevention of unfair trade practices and for these objectives to be fulfilled it is important to have in place Food Safety Management System (FSMS) and record maintenance.


Before going to WHAT should be done& WHY should do Traceability in each node of food supply chain, first we should understand the nodes in chain.

Typical Farm2Fork supply chain

The major nodes in the food supply chains, from its origin to the consumption are:

  • Farms

  • Farm Aggregator (Storage / Market)

  • Food Processor

  • Wholesaler or Distributor

  • Exporter

  • Retailers

  • Consumer

What should be traced in different nodes of the chain?

Farm level 

Farmers nothing but the growers, they should maintain the records some essential information related to production of the product

  • Crop protection materials    

  • Seed information,            

  • Fertilizers,

  • Soil  Health

  • Packaging material, -Type of material whether is it gunny bags, plastic, cardboard boxes etc.,

  • Harvesting, - Date of harvest, Mechanical or Manual harvesting

  • Water source- either through irrigation, rain fed etc.,

  • All other day to day activities in farm location 

We should record

  • A unique ID code will be generated while recording the data. Attributes include

  • Geo locating the land

  • Farmer, Farm and Crop information

  • Package and Practices 

  • Contact details

  • Farm Registration Number 

What is the risk and why?

  • It is important to grow the crops recommended as per the prevailing agro-climatic conditions in the region. Failing which the crop may suffer. 

  • Difference in temperature, water variations, stress and lack of the required soil nutrients push the farmer to take help of external sources like chemical based fertilizers.

  • Use of inappropriate or unapproved crop varieties where it is illegal to use.

  • Use of ad hoc or incorrect cultivation practices

  • Incorrect pest and disease management such as use of banned chemicals, high dosage, spraying the chemical directly on the produce, untrained labor, disposal of the residue bottle/container in the water stream, etc.

  • Harvesting of the produce immediately after pesticide spray, etc. 

  • Use of wax to protect the food wastage or use of the chemical to expedite the ripening.

  • Majority of the farms being small scale, there is lack of resources to bring them under food safety standard compliance. Also monitoring and documenting the entire farm operation becomes difficult.

How digitalization helps?

  • Digitization helps in enhancing the farmer knowledge about the correct and recommended practices. Best Practices and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) help in identification of the correct seeds, nutrients and recommended pest management practices. This helps in multi-media (photo, audio and video based) learning on the mobile phones, in local language.

  • Use of the photo gallery is very crucial in IPM. It helps in identification of the good and bad bugs (pests). Hence, it helps in the appropriate use of the pesticides only when the pests count is above the threshold (known as ETL). 

  • Uploading the soil testing reports for every plot in the web and expert recommendations on the relevant farmer queries, helps personalize the farm advisory. 

  • Pest management best practices include the list of the new and widely used recommended chemicals with the required warning about the maximum dosage. It also helps disseminate the information about the banned chemicals. 

  • Digital Record-keeping helps in generation of the periodic reports, which can be submitted for the crop certification too. 

  • Based on the pest management data entered, it can help alert on the recommended harvesting date. 

  • At the advanced level and for large farms the technologies like soil and plant sensors, automatic weather stations, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Global Positioning System (GPS), etc. can be used to monitor multiple farm and weather materials and helps in analysing their impact on the food quality and safety. 

What Output we can get by doing above operations?

  • It helps in keeping the total chemical consumption  per unit of the area and hence, able to generate the training records of the labor, 

  • Date and time of the spray and the time gap between the spray and the harvest, etc. 

  • The digital photo helps in keeping the record of each farm operations, stamped by the system date and time.

  • The farm can be traced in the map and can also be easily linked with the QR code. Hence, origin of the food is easily traceable.

  • Digitization helps in a “traceable” artefacts system, which is good for the crop certification processes like Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).

  • Easy reference and archival helps develop a history of the records for the farm. Learning from each season is fed into the system and the improvement can be tracked too.

Traceability at Aggregator Level (Packhouse)

What is the Risk and why?

  • An aggregator collects the food from the various farms and stores it at a warehouse or market yard, before it is sent to the processor or the buyer. 

  • Since the farm operations and the plot conditions vary from farmer to farmer (or the plot by plot), it is important to maintain the separation of the produce at the warehouse. This is one of the (potentially) biggest nodes, where the mixing of the produce may occur, hampering the entire traceability process.

  • An integrated harvesting and storage calendar schedule can help improve the inflow of the material (produce) at the storage as well as the outflow. This also helps the effective utilization of space as well as lesser storage duration required for the produce.

To avoid risk and to make sure transparency

  • Growers deliver product in bulk using various containers or logistics units for transport. 

  • Common examples of logistics units include totes, bins and trailers. 

  • Each Logistic Unit must be individually traceable. 

  • For this reason, each Logistic Unit carries a tag or label that shows a unique identification number.

  • System generated plot code labels can be affixed on the large crate having the produce from the same plot.

  • CCTV cameras also help monitor the process remotely and keep an audit trail for the entire process.

  • Some of the sensors such as weighing machines, room temperature, moisture level, etc. can help give the automatic data about the inflow/outflow as well as the storage environment conditions.

What to be recorded?

  • To enable traceability, packers/repackers must also maintain records of other product inputs (e.g.packaging material, packing line information, etc.). This information is equally critical to your company’s body of internal traceability information.

  • Commodity name and, where applicable, variety name, procured date from grower.

  • Additional grower/harvest information.

  • The grower’s unique company identification.

  • Receipt date, Ship date (from previous trading partner), sender’s identification, sender’s ship from location (from next trading partner), Receivers identification, ship to location. 

  • Trade item, quantity, unit of measure, and other description.


  • Farmer and plot wise produce-quantity reports, uniquely identified by the QR code can help maintain the food segregation and support traceability.

Traceability at Food Processor Level

What is the Risk and why?

  • Similar to the food aggregator, food processor gets the food inflow from multiple sources; this increases the risk of mixing of the food. 

  • Food processors either repackage the food by sorting, grading and repacking them into smaller packets or pallets, or process or transform them into a different value added products like juice.

  • There is risk of usage of chemicals for ripening of the food or use of preservatives. Hence it is important to keep a record of such usage and need to highlight the same on the packets.

How can Digitisation help in this?

  • RFID technologies can be used on the produce and the pallets containing the produce. Sensor data helps in managing the cooling temperature whenever it rises above the thresholds. Various reports helps establish the tracking of the foods inflow and outflow between premises.

  • Pallets are grouped and put into a bigger box, which too has the required labelling. These boxes are loaded in large frames. All these information are entered and maintained in the digital system. Hence, enabling a tracking of the frame to box, box to pallets/packs, and packs to plot. This enables an end to end tracking of the food


  • System generated plot code labels can be affixed on the produce. The packaging labels must have the details of the processors, date of processing and also have the QR code, containing all the farm level details or pointers.

  • Tracking helps in finding the quality of the food and rejection at multiple levels due to inadequate quality standards or compliance.

  • The inflow and outflow of the produce from the processing bench helps understand the difference between the raw and the processed food, indicating the wastage.

  • This can also help analyze the quantity of the wastage and help minimize.

Traceability at retail store

  • Retail stores must capture traceability information from the products (Consumer units) sent by their suppliers.

  • Normally retailers need to cut and re-pack fresh produce that arrive from their suppliers in large sizes or in bulk (e.g. rice, flour, sugar, beans). Each time there is a need to identify these products it is necessary to use batch/lot number. The batch/lot number is determined by the trading party that created the individual trade item.

  • Retailer’s name

  • Retailer BID

  • Trade item identifier (Batch or Lot number)

  • Trade item description, quantity and unit of measure 

  • Shipped from& to location identification 

  • Date of shipment & receipt 

  • Sales Receipt number 

  • Name of person who dispatched the product 

  • Name of person who received the product 

Traceability at Consumer Level

Consumers use the QR code to trace the food origin. This same information can help the regulatory authorities like FSSAI to recall the unsafe foods. The package information helps in tracing the food source, and hence can be traced back.