We were inspired about this topic when we learned about the recent controversy revolving around the palm oil industry. In its current state, most farming practices are unsustainable and detrimental to our environment. Cargill has a very open stance in regards to its goal to "build a 100 percent transparent, traceable and sustainable palm supply chain by 2020". While researching this topic, we found many shocking statistics on the lack of sustainability, such as extreme deforestation and high levels of toxic gas emissions. Our goal was to provide a product that would provide more transparency and a push for higher sustainability in the industry.
What it does
Palm Oil Transparency is a product made to support the movement towards more sustainable palm oil production standards. To do this, we created a database of Cargill's palm oil mills in which we can apply "ratings". These ratings are based on the mills' sustainability certifications and standards. This is relevant for both producers and consumers, as consumers are pushing for producers to be more transparent and sustainable, while producers want to meet the desires of their consumers and gain their business. In addition to providing clear sustainability ratings, we have provided a way to track the entire supply chain of palm oil. Our system uses QR codes to create a "signature" in which a producer/supplier handing off the oil to the next company in the supply chain can be sure that the oil maintains its high quality, while those receiving the oil can be confident in the quality of the product they are receiving. This ensures both accuracy and transparency throughout the entire supply chain from producer to consumer. It's important to note that we opted for QR codes instead of a more complex technology such as blockchain. We did this because of the high number of palm oil mills in developing countries and emerging markets. QR codes can be read by most modern cell phones which would lower the barrier of entry to use our product - expanding access to sustainable palm oil practices.
How we built it
We built our application with a MERN Stack (MongoDB, Express.js, React, Node.js). This structure allowed us to have a frontend that pulled information from our databases via the endpoint connections supplied through the API. We also hosted a MongoDB on an AWS EC2 instance.
Challenges we ran into
Our team had limited experience putting together a full-stack application. Learning how to connect an API with the frontend proved to be challenging for us. We had to work together to bridge the gap between our different skill sets.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We are proud of the fact that we were able to set up an entire full-stack application. We also have gained a better understanding of popular technologies like React and MongoDB.
What we learned
We learned that when working under a tight schedule, understanding how to build out an MVP (minimum viable product) is important. It's really easy to get carried away and caught in a cycle of scope creep. Though we struggled with this right away, by the end we started to narrow our focus to the essential elements - allowing us to finish our MVP.
What's next for Palm Oil Transparency
We had a lot of ideas for expanding this product further. We would love for Palm Oil Transparency to become a product that contains all of the information necessary to improve sustainability, transparency, and traceability standards in the palm oil industry while also improving the relationship and trust between the oil's producers and consumers.