E-certificates delivering greater efficiency in international agro-food chains - transparent, efficient, and paperless supply chains

Published: 29-11-2019

A research project intended to increase the competitive edge of the Netherlands’ agricultural sector by digitalising paperwork and certificates launches on 1 January 2020. ‘Government Digitization to Enhance Agro-food Chains’ looks into digitalised e-certificates that can contribute to the efficiency of international supply chains and is funded by two organisations; knowledge and innovation partnership TKI-Dinalog and scientific research organisation NWO, in partnership with the Province of Limburg. The project is headed by Rob Zuidwijk, Professor of Global Supply Chains and Ports at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

A shipment of fresh produce is always accompanied by a certificate containing data relating to freshness, origin and food safety. A ‘passport’ like this means the shipment can travel from checkpoint to checkpoint until it reaches its final destination. The aim of the research project at RSM is to enable the paper certificate to be replaced by an e-certificate which will allow participants in the logistics chain to access information in digital format when a shipment comes in, and to learn from trends and differences in the cargo and freight information. A consortium of Dutch stakeholders has agreed to start digitalising certificates and to jointly develop a computer simulation – a ‘serious game’ – that can kindle enthusiasm among the parties involved.

One of the project champions of the Fresh Logistics theme among the horticultural organisations under the umbrella of Greenport Netherlands is the member of Limburg’s Provincial Executive Hubert Mackus: “It makes sense to start this project precisely here – along the logistics axis that runs from Rotterdam and Venlo to the European hinterland. Agro-food and logistics go hand-in-hand in this region.”

Paper certificates form a weak link in international supply chains; they contribute to inefficiency and form an obstacle to trade because they delay lead times, reduce predictability, make activities unreliable and create additional administrative burdens. These have a particularly negative effect on perishable products. E-certificates simplify and accelerate processes relating to certification and compulsory documentation, which in turn enable the improved co-ordination of global supply chains.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can benefit from these advantages, which strengthens the competitive edge of the Dutch economy as a whole. Greater logistics efficiency and the avoidance of food wastage can increase sustainability and contribute to reducing CO2 emissions.

The research project is transdisciplinary because it involves the integration of agrologistics and supply chain management with legal and customs aspects in the phytosanitary and veterinary domains.

Han van Hagen is managing director of dairy commodities company Numidia BV: “The project was set up to convert the paper trail associated with the export of agro products into a series of electronic documents. It aligns perfectly with our ambition to work as transparently, efficiently and with as little paper as possible.”

The project will be executed by a consortium made up of government agencies Dutch Customs and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) with industry partners Total Produce BV, Wiskerke Onions BV, Eosta BV, Hoogwegt International BV, Jonker & Schut BV and Numidia BV. Knowledge partners are RSM and the School of Technology and Logistics at Fontys University of Applied Sciences. The project is supported by SmartPort, Topsector Logistiek, LIOF, GroentenFruit Huis, Erasmus Centre for Urban, Port and Transport Econmics and TripleOre BV.

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