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February 22, 2021

Transparency Tech Collective

Melissa Baer

What is the Transparency Tech Collective? 

It’s not traditional Agritech, it’s not blockchain, it’s not IOT, it’s probably all of those oriented to a problem, which is how do we reproduce the sustainable outcomes that occur in short supply chains where transparency is high, over longer supply chains?

New Zealand is far away from everything and produces some of the highest quality products in the world.

This challenge presents the biggest opportunity for New Zealand to be EXCELLENT at communicating value over distance.

From compliance, fraud management, market access (traceability) all the way though to Value Added products, and new product categories (transparency), we all need to collaborate to address a growing global challenge.

How do we create the intimate experience similar to that of a local food/short supply chain?

We know that these short supply chains connect the consumer and the producer in a way that produces such amazing social, economic and ecological outcomes. How do we do this and start to achieve some of the sustainability outcomes we so need.

Can we help the world eat/consumer their way to sustainability?

This sustainability and transparency challenge presents the greatest opportunity for our domestic capability to be oriented to a challenge/ opportunity that would allow us to be the best in the world at THE SOLUTIONS (tech or otherwise) that communicates value over distance.

The problem is global, the capability specialist expertise is local. Let's get collaborating.

Transparency Tech - Kick Off Summary

“Today’s economic map of the world is dominated by what I call clusters: critical masses—in one place—of unusual competitive success in particular fields. Clusters are a striking feature of virtually every national, regional, state, and even metropolitan economy, especially in more economically advanced nations. Silicon Valley and Hollywood may be the world’s best-known clusters. Clusters are not unique, however; they are highly typical—and therein lies a paradox: the enduring competitive advantages in a global economy lie increasingly in local things—knowledge, relationships, motivation—that distant rivals cannot match.”

These words were written by Michael Porter in a Harvard Business Review article over two decades ago. But it is still relevant, so relevant that local agricultural entrepreneur, CEO and Cofounder of Webtool Agritech Melissa Baer hosted a session this week in Christchurch to discuss the idea of forming a purposeful cluster called the Transparency Tech Collective.

The group that attended the inaugural discussion had experiences ranging from leading food assurance services, farmer cooperatives, IoT startups, technology groups, control systems manufacturing and community fundraising.

As a group, we discussed the difference between traceability and transparency and the opportunity that is available for New Zealand and the primary sector in this space.

  • Traceability is something that you have to do (eg. audit). It’s currently pretty loose in NZ, but compliance is increasing now. Traceability is just a part of the story of a company or a process.
  • Transparency however, it’s the full picture. It’s a rich nuanced story empowered by data. It’s where we need to operate in order to add value to our products.

But, the group acknowledged New Zealand historically hasn’t felt the push for this level of transparency. As a small, wealthy, well regulated and trusting nation, we find it harder to justify the need for transparency domestically. In larger, more complex countries and marketplaces, it’s required for food safety and security.

“Experts found the inattention to food safety most pervasive in low-income countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which make up 41 percent of the global population but are estimated to account for 53 percent of all foodborne illnesses, 75 percent of food-related deaths and 72 percent of disability-adjusted life years.” Unsafe Food, A Killer in Poor Nations

Melissa made the point that with so many natural resources we don’t have the constraints of some countries that require them to use and adapt with traditional Agritech more quickly. She gave the example of Israel and desertification where the lack of arable land, being landlocked and access to water has required them to innovate to ensure food security. If traditional agritech isn’t something we will lead the world in, could Transparency tech be something we could lead the world in as we feel the effects of every global market and their requirement for high quality food, we’re excellent at ensuring market access requirements are met.

But she also made the point that New Zealand takes up solutions quickly. As a small country, we can test, share and action ideas quickly, which presents a huge opportunity to establish excellence in this global mega trend.

Melissa gave the example of the MicroBiome tests and platform. You can take a personal test to assess your gut health, and understand which foods are helpful and which are not for your optimal health. Consumers are starting to seek this level of transparency. This technology reached 1 Billion in investment globally in 2020.  This trend is not going away, this is the level of transparency going to be required by the consumers that New Zealand food is targeted to.

Nylos - Gut Microbiome Testing (

So what would it look like if we decided to address opportunities around transparency collectively?

The group made a comment that Seafood had been forced down the transparency path. Some examples of transparency increasing value and outcomes include:

At one point the Atlantic was being overfished and so they divided the area and allowed America to fish some of it and Iceland to fish the other part. With the same amount of area and stock at the time, Iceland managed to achieve 400% more profits on the same allocation of fish compared to America. Due to an articulation of attributes and value through their  Responsible Fisheries Management Certification Programme. The certification covers all sectors of the Icelandic fishing, and includes a chain of custody certification programme to allow handlers to demonstrate traceability back to a certified fishery. The certification confirms responsible fisheries management and good treatment of marine resources. Over the past decade the Icelandic cod exports have increased. Considerable effort has also been put into the development of valuable products from formerly low value by-products, this includes dried heads and protein for human consumption as well as high value products for use in cosmetics and for medical purposes. This certification process has increased sustainability in fishing and increased value with over 400% more profit because of different products.

Melissa provided a more recent anecdotal example in New Zealand, where fishers have started live streaming their fishing. Because of this transparency they sold for a premium of over thirty times more than the normal price.

The counter example given was in deer velvet where they have been using RFID chips to tag and track. One of the group gave a presentation on this recently, and found that one of the largest importers of this product didn’t want more transparency. This came down to the import duties that they paid, without transparency they could continue paying a lower duty, get the product in the country and then proceed to selling the product as the original higher quality.

One of the group commented that we need to “skate to where the puck is going”. Transparency is coming, and not only should we be part of the conversation, we could lead it. We may as a country be slightly behind, but the challenge Melissa gave was, could we leapfrog forward?

The next session will be on August 17th, if you’d like to join register your interest here.