Opinion: Transforming Food Transparency with Blockchain Technology – An Exclusive Interview with Diana Sabrain, CEO of OneAgrix

Gulfood Manufacturing: 7-9 November 2023, DWTC, Dubai

OneAgrix is a pioneering digital platform that revolutionises the global agricultural and faith-based food trade. Diana 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 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 OneAgrix. Be it with farmers, food manufacturers, FMCG brand owners, HoReCa foodservice buyers, retailers, ethnic store owners, and government entities – we formed the inspiration, vision, and mission behind OneAgrix.

The world is very quickly going over to artificial intelligence, quantum computing but 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”. Faith-based food fraud – particularly in the fraud and trust deficit of Halal food – is on the rise. End consumers are worried and want to know more about the source of their food and what ingredients they are consuming. Do we truly know what is behind the scientific names and numbers in food? We understand how relevant this problem is now, and that it has gone over into mainstream food as well; with governments now introducing new food traceability regulations.

This is 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.

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 their ecosystem partners take pride in their culture of collaboration and understanding that we cannot, and do not want to, 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 now where we see major import markets to the US, Europe, and others mandating food traceability and transparency as a regulatory requirement.

Please explain your 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.

The common view now is that data is the new oil. 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.

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 can be a food security issue in many countries. What we have done to tackle this is by being the go-to ecosystem platform where we consolidate and simplify things for the buyers and suppliers. OneAgrix is an all-in-one platform in partnership with shipping aggregators, trade specialists, reliable payment methods, and the best-in-class traceability technologies handling the complexities each of these areas have.

This enables stakeholders in the food supply-chain to shorten the time taken to trade in the export market. Agrifood and FMCG manufacturers and ecosystem partners then have a plug and play traceability system that they can rely on to help them prepare their manufacturing facilities and factories to become compliant.

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.

We are seeing willingness to go digital in the sourcing and procurement process from food buyers. Procurement officers and sourcing managers increasingly browse for products digitally now to save time and money.

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 new brand owners establishing new brands. These up-and-coming brands are from countries whose culture the importers may not be familiar with. Leveraging digital tools like OneAgrix as a bridge to go global, gives the young population a wide variety of Halal, Kosher, and Vegan food products from different cultures!

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 a case study that illustrates one of OneAgrix’s smart-tech solutions with Traceability, Secure Serialisation, and Verifiable certification management?

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. This proved 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).

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. It’s then 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.

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.

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?

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 trail blaze 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 means:

  • 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.

Diana will be speaking at Gulfood Manufacturing on the 8th November 2023 in the:

Innovation showcase: Never mind Bitcoin – is blockchain the holy grail for food safety and traceability?

08 Nov 2023
Al Multaqua Ballroom
Gulfood Manufacturing
  • Why transparency and traceability matter more than ever
  • Explaining the technology and application implications including cost, data requirements, regulations, etc.
  • Halal and dietary requirements assurance through technology
  • Real life examples of blockchain implementation across the food manufacturing value chain