What’s in that apple? Elif Buluç can tell you.

Don’t think that digital tools can bring you closer to nature? Elif Buluç SF ’08, might be able to convince you otherwise. Buluç is CFO of Anadolu Etap, Turkey’s largest fruit producer and distributor. The company processed 162,000 tons of fruit last year purchased from 150,000 farmers in 3,000 villages across the country. It’s also the first Turkish agribusiness executing its operations within the framework of sustainable agriculture principles.

elifBuluç says that software innovations are making it possible for Anadolu Etap to disclose the specific origins of every piece of produce it brings to market. “The only way to better know the provenance of a piece of fruit is to pick it yourself,” she says. The company worked with a digital development firm to create a revolutionary new enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system that gives the company the ability to monitor every aspect of the growing and processing of fruit.That traceability means that the company—and its consumers—are able to learn where and how the fruit or fruit product was produced.

“Knowing the origins of what they’re eating is important to today’s consumers,” Buluç says. “They worry about safety—especially the safety of the fruit, juice, and baby food they feed their children. Every step of our growing process is digitally recorded, so we can vouch for the full life cycle of every single piece of fruit. That makes full disclosure possible and gives our customers a sense of comfort.”

Monitoring the life cycle of a piece of fruit

The ERP system integrates information from three business units: operating plantations for the growth of fruit (more than 100 varieties), producing processed fruit for the makers of fruit juice and baby food, and selling fresh fruit for consumption. The analysis it generates informs management about the production of every piece of fruit at every plot at every Anadolu Etap plantation as well as the costs and outcomes of production, how much labor was used to produce each crop, climate conditions, and other essential metrics. “We can compare and contrast the success of various methods of planting and processing and quickly course-correct when necessary,” Buluç says. “We learn something every day that allows us to maximize our harvests, boost our productivity, and design new plantations with those lessons in mind.”

Buluç says that she has new reasons to be excited every day about the advances Anadolu Etap is able to achieve because of the continual flow of digital knowledge. “When people think digital, they think it’s a substitute for the human factor. But our digital tools have everything to do with the human factor. They connect the entire Anadolu Etap family, from climate scientists and agronomists to workers in the fields and processing plants. Everyone is part of this network—including the consumer. It’s now possible for us to draw a direct line from the farmer to the consumer. When someone eats a pomegranate that we grow, they know exactly which little rural farm brought it to life.”

Read more about Anadolu Etap’s digital quality control system.

Hope for humans in a digitally-enhanced labor force

Humans can vote—and revolt. These characteristics, among many distinct qualities we homo sapiens possess, give MIT Sloan Professor Erik Brynjolfsson and MIT Center for Digital Business principal research scientist Andrew McAfee hope for the human labor force in the age of digital business. Writing in the Foreign Affairs anthology The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the coauthors consider the question, “Will humans go the way of horses?” Spoiler alert—their answer is a qualified “no.”

The equine analogy for the future of human labor was posited by Nobel laureate Wassily Leontief in 1983. He argued that horse labor appeared to be impervious to technological advances in the 19th century, only to be undercut dramatically by the success of the internal combustion engine. As Brynjolfsson and McAfee write, “once the right technology came along, most horses were doomed as labor. Is a similar tipping point possible for human labor?”

Erik Brynjolfsson
Erik Brynjolfsson

At the macro level, the future of human labor may represent the ultimate back-end challenge. Indeed, the authors argue that “as digital technologies race ahead, they have the potential to leave many workers behind.” If that is indeed the case, why are Brynjolfsson and McAfee cautiously optimistic? “Even if human labor becomes far less necessary overall, people, unlike horses, can choose to prevent themselves from becoming economically irrelevant.”

For starters, as a species we are stubbornly interpersonal, and our economic lives reflect our deeply social natures. Sporting events, theater, bars, and restaurants continually draw our dollars, generation in and generation out. “In these cases and many others, human interaction is central to the economic transaction, not incidental to it,” according to Brynjolfsson and McAfee.

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