Seed Traceability Can Aid Conservation Efforts | Zebra Blog

One Small Step for Seedlings, One Giant Leap for Native Species

How a pilot program for seed traceability is using technology to aid conservation efforts

Seed markers used by Project Green Code
by Luiz Cunha
January 15, 2020

Maybe you’re a nonprofit that just received a grant to purchase seedlings for a reforestation project in the Amazon. Or maybe you’re a city dweller who’s passionate about urban farming and looking to cultivate a sustainable communal garden on a vacated lot. No matter who you are, those overseeing the environmental conservation efforts at Legado Das Águas (Legacy of Waters) Votorantim want to change the way you shop for plants.

Legado Das Águas is the largest private protected area in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest with 31,000 hectares (which is approximately 76,600 acres) of land. It is also the site of the award-winning Codigo Verde (Green Code) project, a pilot program seeking to set a standard in supply chain transparency.

This collaborative initiative between the Legado Das Águas team, GS1 Brasil, Zebra Technologies, 3M and PariPassu is using an innovative mobile technology-based solution to track the production of trees that originate on the private land. It gives the grower insight into a tree’s geographic history as it develops, enabling the future owner to better care for the tree.

Those who purchase trees from the Legado Das Águas nursery can use a simple QR code on their mobile phones to trace the trees’ origins all the way back to the seedling stage to understand how the production process was conducted.

So, how does it work?

As explained in this video

1. Each tree grown on Legado Das Águas property is given a tag with a GS1 standards-compliant barcode printed using a ZT400-series printer provided by Zebra on 3M labels. The barcode holds information about the species and location of each tree.

2. Staff members shake out the trees and collect the fallen seeds.

3. Seeds are brought to the nursery where over 200,000 seedlings and 80 different plant species are held.

4. Seeds are replanted in seedling trays and then given signposts with barcodes. The new barcode maintains all the information as the previous – including the species and origin location of the parent tree – but with added information on the location of the seedling in the nursery.  The seedlings are occasionally fertilized and watered.

5. Eventually, once the seedlings have grown, they are moved to individual pots that are given new labels and barcodes with a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) and guarantee of origin.

Throughout the process, the barcode accompanying a seedling is updated with qualitative data on the life of the seedling in the PariPassu traceability software. When the seedling is ready for purchase, the potential buyer can scan the QR code on the pot and see what type of tree the seed came from and where that matrix is located.

Ok. Why does it matter?

Traceability is important to supply chain sustainability and, ultimately, the healthy maturation of the tree – a key component to environmental conservation and sustainability, which is the mission at Legado Das Águas. By providing a detailed record of the tree’s lifecycle, a purchaser can verify that the seedling was grown, collected and transported sustainably. The purchaser can also ensure the seedling is planted in a native habitat.

Without traceability, good intentions can heed disastrous results.

Take Asian carp, for example. In the United States, they are an invasive species. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an invasive species is one that is not native to an ecosystem and which causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. The same concept applies to plant life as well. A single seedling can be native to one forest but invasive in another. Traceability helps to ensure seedlings aren’t planted where they pose a risk to native flora and fauna.

An especially innovative and well-executed traceability solution, such as the one used by the Project Green Code team, can help to educate consumers – you, me, our neighbors, our families – about the risks posed by planting seedlings in the wrong place.

Case in point…

According to the National Park Service, carp were originally brought to the U.S. to keep retention ponds clean. Four types of the voraciously eating and prolifically breeding fish quickly made their way into the Mississippi River system – where they exist as an invasive species. These carp remain in the system today and continue to out-compete native fish species for food and habitat.

Luckily (to some degree), U.S. rivers and the Great Lakes have benefited from solid marketing of the dangers of Asian carp. Between aggressive awareness campaigns coordinated by national parks and the virality of videos capturing hundreds of fish leaping straight into the air after being stunned with electric currents, many people are familiar with the fish and know they should do something if they see one.

Seedlings, on the other hand, do not enjoy the same awareness. In contrast to 100-pound Asian carp launching themselves straight upwards and onto fishermen’s boats, seedlings might be considered small, fragile and innocent. That could be an accurate depiction – but only if they’re planted where they belong.

When a seedling is mistakenly or carelessly planted where it’s invasive, both the economic and environmental costs are high. For the environment, one glaring problem is the unmatched ability of invasive species to outperform native species. Say the native species is part of a reforestation project while the invasive species is toxic to a critical native pollinator like bees or bats. Eventually, the pollinator will go extinct in that area, as will all the plants that depend on it for fertilization. Add in the failed reforestation project and this whole situation is doomed – the ecosystem will collapse.

Why should my business care what’s happening in another industry in Brazil?

1. Economically, invasive species are expensive. Both public sector agencies and private companies spend millions of dollars on eradication each year. One example is the zebra mussel (not a relative, we promise), which cost the U.S. power industry over three billion dollars between 1993-1999 by clogging up hydroelectric systems. Depending on your business, invasive plant species could impact your operations and bottom line.

2. You don’t have to be a horticulturist, landscaper or home gardener to pay attention to the plants going into the ground. Your business is likely responsible for the landscaping around your facilities, which means you’re responsible for sourcing the plants (or the service provider who does so on your behalf). Depending on the type of plant purchased and where it’s from, supply chain transparency may also be required for legal reasons. Because each seedling sold by Legado Das Águas has a record of where it has come from and where it has been, buyers can be confident they are purchasing legally collected seedlings and not indirectly or directly fueling the corrupt forestry industry.

3. It doesn’t matter if your company sells to other companies, consumers or the government, investors will look toward future-proof, sustainable companies for greater returns in the long term. Customers will too as the pressure to report on their own supply chains increases. Demonstrating that you have a track and trace solution in place to provide complete supply chain transparency and promote sustainability can pay off. Not sure what that solution might entail? Take a look at what the Project Green Code team is doing. Though designed for an agricultural supply chain, the fundamental application and technologies can be harnessed across nearly any supply chain.

Project Green Code is setting an example for all companies, regardless of industry or operating region. I highly recommend you follow its lead for the good of the environment – and your business.

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Editor’s Note: The Codigo Verde ecosolution has been presented to the United Nations and has also been recognized with a number of awards: the Prêmio ECO® 2018 Award, a coveted Brazilian business sustainability award created in 1982 by AMCHAM, the 25th Edition of the FIESP Award for Environmental Merit, and GS1’s 21st  Prêmio Automação in the category of Sustainability. Zebra is proud to support the mission of Legado Das Águas.

Want more stories like this? Read how Zebra technologies are being used by researchers working on the Net Zero Deforestation Project in Colombian rainforests.  

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Luiz Cunha
Luiz Cunha has more than 15 years in the technology industry, with deep expertise in RFID, real-time locationing service (RTLS), voice, wireless LAN, beacon and security solutions.