Transforming Food Transparency with Blockchain Technology - An Exclusive Interview with Diana Sabrain, CEO of OneAgrix
OneAgrix is a pioneering digital platform that revolutionises the global agricultural and faith-based food trade. Dianna Sabrain, the company’s Founder & CEO, sat down with Gulfood to provide insights into its inception, and the inspiration behind it.
The OneAgrix story is multi-faceted and centres around heart-to-heart human connections and the need to make lives easier. It was through these in-person, deep, and insightful conversations with people – listening to their challenges in their day-to-day operations – that inspired what you would see today in OneAgrix. Depending on whom and when we met at the early stages of inception, it was all these collective conversations – be it with farmers, food manufacturers, FMCG brand owners, HoReCa foodservice buyers, retailers, ethnic store owners, and government entities – that formed the inspiration, vision, and mission behind OneAgrix. While we are crossing over very quickly into the world of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and the new world, I am a strong advocate that technology is but a tool. It is how we utilise the wide array of technologies we have today to improve the food sector that matters. There is no point in advanced technology if it is not used for the greater good.
OneAgrix’s mission is to provide safe faith-based food, ingredients, and raw agricultural products with surety and without any doubts about the “halal-ness,” “kosher-ness,” or ‘vegan-ness” in each and every food ingredient on the label for generations to come, in every corner of the world and across communities. Faith-based food fraud – particularly in the fraud and trust deficit of Halal food – is on the rise, as criminally and profiteering-inclined food producers resort to cheating and counterfeiting. End consumers are worried and want to know more about where their food comes from and what they are consuming. Do we truly know what is behind the scientific names and numbers of the ingredients, preservatives, additives, and colouring in your food? Let alone how authentically Halal, Kosher, or Vegan they are? We understand how huge this problem is, and it goes even beyond the Halal and faith-based economy.
This gave birth to the vision behind the OneAgrix digital trade ecosystem, where we, along with our global strategic partners, provide an end-to-end supply-chain technology solution for improving food safety and increase food transparency and traceability. This, in turn, has a direct influence on how strong food security is in the countries and communities that we are in. At the same time, the B2B SAAS-powered e-commerce platform, payment, and logistics solutions embedded in our marketplace greatly reduce the barrier to doing cross-border business between buyers and sellers, providing access to new markets, thus aiding the flow of Halal food trade and distribution on a global scale.
The faith-based economy in the food vertical is at least a USD$1.4 Trillion industry; an industry that could very well be an entire economy on its own! It is often overlooked, under-represented, and fragmented with stakeholders in these supply chains acting in silos. OneAgrix and ecosystem partners take pride in our culture of collaboration and understanding that we cannot act alone in such a huge economy. We are determined to always be at the forefront in solving food security and fixing the food system in this vertical, especially right now where we see major import markets to the US, Europe, and others mandating food traceability and transparency as a regulatory requirement.
In today's fast-paced digital landscape, OneAgrix plays a key role in the witnessing and response to current trends and innovations in terms of digital solutions. Diana shares her perspective on the future of B2B digital trade, and how OneAgrix plans to stay at the forefront of innovation and industry trends:
There is more reliance on automation and artificial intelligence, which makes sense because we want to work smarter, faster, and cheaper, and leverage is everything. When you have such technologies, you use them to maximise effort and expenditure. We depend on it to improve processes and make informed decisions.
The future of B2B food trade – especially in international trade transactions at 7, 8, and 9-figure values – looks promising, despite being the last sector to digitally transform. Food has always been a very personal affair within communities, and it is an industry that is glued to human relationships.
We have all heard that data is the new oil. This cannot be said loud enough. OneAgrix sees the future of food where faith-based food data is pivotal to rapidly accelerate food transparency, and ease of trade and distribution globally. Together with our strategic partners, we are leveraging AI and machine learning to make this possible and are always proactive in working with our advisers, academic experts, and scientists to ensure that we stay at the forefront of innovation and industry trends.
Eventually, like all technological solutions, adoption rates will increase as users get more comfortable and trust the new norms of trading.
To stay at the forefront, I like to quote the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: "Change is the only constant in life."
Inventions and fads come and go, so be ready to adapt and keep up with the Next Big Thing. Because we have all heard the stories of Kodak, Xerox, Nokia, and their unwillingness to change.
Given your vast experience in cross-border trade, what are the critical challenges and opportunities that currently define the global agricultural and halal food markets? Furthermore, how does OneAgrix proactively tackle these issues to benefit its stakeholders?
The critical challenges we found revolve around increasing food fraud cases, brand counterfeits, certifications, import and export laws, embargoes, geopolitics, and international trade payment terms. It is a complex topic to tackle in one interview but here’s a start to understanding why digital transformation of the faith-based sector is necessary if we want to effectively contribute to feeding the world by 2050 with a population jump of 10 Billion.
The Faith-based sector is a highly sensitive sector whereby consumers are bound by religious laws or personal moral and ethical preferences as to how and what they eat. It is often overlooked that it is indeed a food security issue in many countries. What we have done to tackle these challenges is to approach them in a holistic manner by being the go-to ecosystem platform where we consolidate and simplify these challenges for the buyers and suppliers in an all-in-one platform in partnership with shipping aggregators, trade specialists, reliable payment methods, and the best-in-class traceability technologies.
Enabling this helps stakeholders in the food supply-chain overcome these barriers and shorten the time taken to trade in the export market. It is also beneficial to Agrifood and FMCG manufacturers that OneAgrix and ecosystem partners have a plug and play traceability system that they can rely on to help them prepare their manufacturing facilities and factories to become compliant as they export because of the increasing mandatory regulatory requirements in many countries, including the US and Europe. The main purpose here is to ensure that faith-based foods distribution is not disconnected in the global food supply-chain, and we can ship Halal, Kosher, and Vegan food products globally.
It is encouraging to note that we are seeing willingness to go digital in the sourcing and procurement process from food buyers, whereby procurement officers and sourcing managers increasingly browse for products digitally to save time and money in the decision-making process, which before the internet age of platforms and marketplaces, saw them spending time and money to get on the plane to procure and trade. On the supply side, we see FMCG manufacturers and brand owners leveraging digital trade platforms like OneAgrix to showcase their products and test new markets without adding operational costs with having to build a new department from scratch.
We are also experiencing brand owners with established brands in their home countries, up-and-coming brands from countries major imports market are unfamiliar with, leveraging digital tools like OneAgrix as a bridge to go global, giving the young population of the faith-based communities a wide variety of Halal, Kosher, and Vegan food products from different cultures! This was once painstakingly, almost impossible and muddled with many exploitative middlemen to establish.
Ecosystem platforms like OneAgrix introduce a future of food where it is transparent, sustainable, and levels the playing field in food trade. This would then allow us to increase economic empowerment at many levels in society.
While change is constant, change is also especially difficult because humans are creatures of habit. But understanding human psychology and testing/tracking results to convert people to new ideas and ways of doing things are key to tackling these issues. It's not a sprint. It’s a journey. Branding, or I prefer to call it top of mind awareness (TOMA), is everything.
Could you provide some specific examples or case studies that illustrate how OneAgrix's smart-tech solutions, such as Traceability, Secure Serialisation, and Verifiable certification management, have made a tangible impact on improving transparency, traceability, and trust in the global Agri and Faith-based food supply chain?
In December 2022, OneAgrix showcased the world’s pioneering and comprehensive end-to-end traceability solution in Dubai, UAE with the best-in-class technologies. In partnership with Inexto and OriginTrail, we demonstrated the supply chain journey of Hill Farm Finest beef from their farm in Bedfordshire, UK, to the distributor Longino & Cardenal in UAE, to the restaurant Il Borro in Dubai. Enabled by the OneAgrix platform, diners at the restaurant could confirm the halal certification of Hill Farm Finest, the halal certification of the slaughtering process, and the integrity of the supply chain via serialisation (showing that what was received matched what was shipped) and DNA analysis (showing that the product was authentic).
Given the complexities of today’s food supply chains, how does OneAgrix leverage blockchain technology to bridge the gap between food producers and suppliers, thereby enhancing connectivity, transparency, and traceability in the food industry?
Blockchain provides an immutable, timestamped record of any data that it stores. Certifications, such as those for the farm and for the slaughtering process, are placed on the blockchain at the time they are declared, and it's impossible to go back in time to forge any declaration that would speak fraudulently to the integrity of the product. The openness of the blockchain, and the mathematical algorithms behind it, make any tampering of the data immediately visible and impossible to reconcile.
Sustainability is a paramount concern in today's agriculture. Could you explain how OneAgrix actively contributes to sustainable agricultural practices and responsible sourcing, and how your blockchain solutions play a pivotal role in ensuring food safety throughout the supply chain?
Sustainability is critical to all parties: from the farmer who wants to farm consistently year after year to the consumer who wants assurance that their food doesn't come with the hidden costs of soil degradation, overuse of pesticides, and biotoxin contamination. The verifiable certification provided by OneAgrix applies equally well to sustainability as it does to halal conformance. Independent agencies provide training to farmers on best practices and periodically certify that the farmers are in compliance. OneAgrix can store the farmers' certifications, along with those belonging to aggregators and distributors, providing whole-chain visibility, giving buyers the necessary assurances, using the immutability of the blockchain, that the food they are purchasing, whether for animal or human consumption, is safe and has been produced in a sustainable fashion.
As a trailblazer for Women in Foodtech, could you share personal insights into your journey, highlighting the challenges and opportunities you've encountered along the way? Furthermore, could you elaborate on how these experiences have shaped your approach to driving growth & innovation within OneAgrix and the broader food industry?
It is very kind of your team to see me as a trailblazer for Women in Foodtech. The credit truly goes to our brilliant board of advisers, talented team, investors, and global strategic partners who have supported me and allowed me to stand on (their) shoulders of giants. Collectively, we strive to trailblaze the faith-based food economy, realizing our shared vision for a better food system, food distribution, and food transparency in the industry.
I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words and that collaboration is necessary if we want to fix the world’s food system inefficiencies. Being self-aware that I am leading a team in two very male-dominated industries; food and technology, the foundation and culture in which OneAgrix is being built have to be bulletproof. I knew very quickly from my observations that I needed male allies and strong women in these two industries to realise our vision.
We executed exactly that across departments at OneAgrix from our investors, shareholders, board of advisers to our management team to our partners. We have a diverse culture where a growth mindset prevails, and ego is left checked at the door. Both women and men collaborate regardless of gender, race, religion, and age, and we adopt a spiderweb hierarchy system where ideas and feedback will be heard based on their validity and viability, and never by job titles. We respect each other as human beings and know that deep within our DNAs we are interconnected souls wanting to plant seeds of the future in the food sector.
These experiences gave me the introspection to shape my approach in a concept I coined as the OPEN mindset to drive growth and innovation within OneAgrix and the broader food industry.
Opportunity, People, Evolve, Network: Identify the problems in the current food landscape and see where the opportunities are for you to contribute expertise and solutions to make processes and lives easier and better. While doing so, find talented people to solve these problems with you, in a company where we put people first and give solutions for people because consumers, farmers, manufacturers, and the entire food supply-chain are first and foremost, people. We cannot underestimate the human connection in the broader food industry. Seek advisers, mentorship, and remain coachable as a person and as a company. No one can do it alone, and no one knows everything. It is pivotal to create an environment in which collaboration amongst people is critical to accelerate growth and safe space for innovation to occur.
This strong anchor allows for the food sector to evolve quicker and do away with complacency and over-reliance on sticking to old operational processes and embracing technology now and in the future as tools to trade quicker, distribute food to places where previously disconnected to the supply-chain and ensure food security of faith-based citizens in countries globally.
Lastly, we have a network as part of the OPEN mindset. What we have found successful at OneAgrix was to create an open ecosystem of which each of us partners in the ecosystem leverage our respective networks to rapidly accelerate the solutions we envision to see in the faith-based, FMCG, and agricultural food sectors. Network far and wide and encourage a win-win as ecosystems and leverage on the network effects between ecosystem platforms to leapfrog the future of food.