This series provides insights into the global array of companies participating in this challenge as innovators or sponsors.
The 4th of this Spotlight Series focuses on IBM, one of the sponsors of this program. In the coming weeks leading to the grand Finale on the 7th of October, we will profile the other innovations and sponsors of this challenge.
IBM goes Deep on aquaculture.
(Dublin, Ireland) A salmon farm located in a remote Norwegian fjord or a shrimp pond in Ecuador’s tropical Guayas delta might seem far removed from the digital strategies inside a company like IBM. But that’s just where the century-old tech firm is aiming.
The IBM Food Trust has emerged as the leading blockchain solution to bring higher traceability in food systems. Seafood is one of the biggest offenders among food categories for mislabeling, and IBM’s indelible ledger brings a new level of transparency. But the company’s designs on the $250 billion dollar aquaculture industry run deeper.
CEO Arvind Krishna has embarked IBM on a journey to become a leader in helping all sorts of traditional companies become digital, from oil and gas, to agriculture. This strategy requires understanding how industries like aquaculture farmers can harness vast amounts of potential data to improve fish health, or optimize feed consumption.
“If you are going to ask nation states to limit wild ocean fishing you need to have aquaculture as an alternative, as long as you don’t end up with a different set of sustainability issues,” said Vince Smith, IBM’s sustainability communications leader. “We need to get much more intelligence about how to do that without creating new environmental issues.”
IBM has a dedicated team to pre-commercial aquaculture research led by Fearghal O’Donncha, who has been involved in the industry since writing a doctorate thesis on ocean modeling and the hydrodynamic impact of aquaculture structures. IBM’s current work in this field includes the deployment and integration of IoT sensors that can measure water quality and weather patterns at coastal farms.
This capability stems from IBM’s now well established effort to improving age-old farming practices using IoT and data. The company bought The Weather Company in 2016 and has developed an array of cloud services for agriculture, including a partnership with fertilizer producer Yara to set up a digital farming platform.
"Bringing digitalization to aquaculture requires unique new practices, including the capture of underwater data from sensors and understanding the patterns of millions of fish that swim in coastal net pens", said O’Donncha. "There is AI involved in looking at fish in the water. You are using a lot more tech than agriculture, and we had to build that intuition into the model.”
IBM has partnered with several major Norwegian salmon farmers through a shared initiative called AquaCloud to capture and share data in the industry. The initiative will be the basis for a better knowledge on fish health issues in the industry. An example is control of sea lice, a parasite that proliferates in salmon farming fjords and costs the industry up to $1 billion in additional costs a year.
On a blockchain level, IBM is also partnered with the Sustainable Shrimp Partnership, an alliance of leading Ecuadorian shrimp exporters that sell antibiotic-free shrimp to Europe and the US, using the IBM Food Trust.
"The attraction for IBM in teaming up with The Yield Lab Asia Pacific was to collaborate with start-ups that are at the front end of improving aquaculture systems globally", O’Donncha said. "That ranges from vaccine makers such as TeOra to companies that are seeking to implement inter-tropic, multi-species aquaculture systems such as Seawater Solutions, among the cohort of eight companies. "
“As we learn more about the eight companies involved [in the Global Aquaculture Challenge] we work to match them up with our consultants and researchers,” O’Donncha said. “When I talk to research teams engaged in this everybody wants to be involved and we are 3,000 people across six continents.”
11 Aug 2021.
Matt Craze and Oriana Aguillon, Spheric Research.