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AiThority Interview with Luq Niazi, Global Managing Director, Consumer Industries at IBM

Hi, Luq. Please tell us about your role and the team / technology you handle at IBM? How did you arrive at IBM

I’m the IBM General Manager for the Global Distribution Sector and Consumer Industries. I’m also a member of the IBM Global Management Board for Industries. My team’s current focus is helping companies and industries transform to become sustainable enterprises, empowering Consumer (Retail, CPG, Agribusiness) clients to transform their products/services, capability and ecosystems through digital technologies including Cloud, AI, Blockchain, IoT and Interactive to deliver new levels of experience, performance and value. I came into IBM via the acquisition of PWC Consulting in 2002.

Tell us how sustainable aquaculture could recover marine biology?

I recently hosted a panel discussion on this topic, with a range of experts in ocean conservation, academia and industry from across both sides of the Atlantic, to mark World Ocean Day. It’s firstly important to address why we celebrate World Ocean Day, which is a UN observance. The ocean is home to most of the Earth’s oxygen and biodiversity, and beyond this it provides many, many people worldwide with their main source of protein and their livelihoods. But manmade impacts – be it plastic pollution or other environmental damage caused by blue economy activities – have meant that the health of the ocean, and its ability to continue to provide for us, is under threat.

The aquaculture industry – or fish farming – has suffered from a negative perception, that it isn’t sustainable. But through the use of advanced technologies – like AI and IoT – the aquaculture industry has been able to minimize its environmental impact, and with blockchain, can prove this impact to stakeholders throughout the value chain. One of our panellists, oceanographer and Profesor Jon Grant of Dalhousie University in Canada, put it really well: when you think about it, fish farms equipped with these advanced technologies and sensors are not just fish farms, but ocean data platforms – collecting information about the ocean environment that can be acted upon to help preserve it.

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What kind of technology do we need to recover oceans?

One of the things we discussed a lot – particularly with Jon but also Donna Lanzetta, who runs Manna Fish Farms out of the US – was marine spatial planning, which seeks to undertake a kind of conflict resolution among different users in the ocean so that everyone is able to sustainably use the ocean, but also be certain that their interactions are not negative. This is similar to what happens on land for terrestrial planning, but it’s more complicated in the ocean because the water is moving and changing and things can be hidden. But from an aquaculture perspective, the tools and sensors have evolved quite a bit in recent years to better see the granularity of the sea floor and detect any type of marine habitat reefs or potential life, so that farms can be designed in the least impactful locations and allow minimal interference with the ecosystems.

Jon also spoke about how to plan for when fish farms go out of production, which is called fallowing. Imagine technology and remote sensing are especially import for monitoring the ocean on a larger scale to mitigate any immediate or down-stream effects.

Technology aside, we shouldn’t forget about the passion and potential of young people to help recover the ocean. Mhairi McCann, who is a World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council member, talked about some of the projects young people are working on through her NGO, Youth STEM 2030. From tackling hypoxic regions, or dead zones, within the marine environment to creating coral nurseries to tackle coral reef depletion, it’s really inspiring to see how young people are using engineering and technology to take on the world’s biggest issues.

Tell us more about the eco–intensification of the aquaculture industry?

Over the years, the aquaculture industry has been called out on issues such as the build-up of fish waste that depletes the water of oxygen, contributing to harmful algal blooms; disrupting natural biodiversity due to fish escaping from cages; and environmental degradation due to a site’s location.

IBM is working with a broad group of industry and academic partners on an EU-funded project, Green Aquaculture Intensification in Europe (GAIN), which is embedding sensors and machine learning technologies into fish farms across nine countries. It looks to tackle many of these issues – through better feeds, circular economy practices and application of ocean technology. Technology really plays a role in all three components. With feed, for example, we can apply artificial intelligence to ensure the optimal amount of feed is provided, and sensors and models that can calculate exactly what the impact of that feed is on the ecosystem.

We can do all kinds of monitoring of the environment to make management decisions that minimise environmental impact. Data about fish movement, oxygen levels, water content and many other factors is available from a variety of sources including environmental sensors, underwater video monitoring, hydroacoustic technology and drone imagery. Together with satellite data and other geospatial datasets, the information is sent to a cloud platform where machine learning produces useful recommendations, correlations and early warnings of potential risks.

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IBM blockchain technology is enabled in marine exploration. Could you tell us more about the role of blockchain capabilities in aquaculture?

The crux of blockchain, for the seafood industry and so many others, is that it is key for driving traceability, transparency and trust. So blockchain creates an immutable ledger that documents what happens at each step of the cultivation process – from egg to shop or restaurant, in the case of fish. It can show everyone in the value chain where exactly it came from, the conditions under which it was raised, and all the steps of the journey until it arrives at your plate.

As we’ve been discussing, there’s a lot of data that is collected when fish is raised in an aquaculture environment. The data that is collected from the different sensors and monitors can be automatically stored in the blockchain, where it will be accessible to the other players in the value chain. And they can trust that it’s accurate, because the information can’t be changed.

Over the last several years, consumers have been increasingly demanding to know more information about the food they are eating and the products that they purchase, wanting reassurance that the provenance is sustainable. And we’ve actually seen this increase over the COVID-19 pandemic – a recent IBV study found that 55% of consumers cite sustainability as very or extremely important to them when choosing a brand, which is up 22% from before the pandemic. So using blockchain can give fish farmers a really tangible business advantage, a way of showing that their products really were produced according to certain certifications or standards in order to reap the benefits of the marketplace.

Have you seen faster adoption of blockchain and emerging technologies when it comes to aquaculture in some countries compared to others?

IBM Food Trust is our blockchain network specifically for players within the food industry, and we have a number of members from all over the world involved in aquaculture and seafood production. In fact, we’ve recently welcomed two new partners: Nueva Pescanova, a Spanish multinational that sources its seafood across the Americas, Africa and Europe, and NovaSea, which is one of the largest salmon producers in Norway.

We work a lot with different enterprises in Norway when it comes to aquaculture, which perhaps isn’t surprising when you consider that fish is Norway’s second largest export; it’s hugely important for their GDP. Steinar Sønsteby, who is the CEO of global systems integrator Atea that we work with quite closely, has said that 70% of that value comes from farmed fish – even though wild caught fish accounts for more than half of the exports.

With Atea, we’ve built the Norwegian Seafood Trust, a national seafood tracking network on blockchain, for the national Norwegian Seafood Association (Sjømatbedriftene). So I think Norway is an interesting example where you see the whole industry investing in advanced technologies.

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What is the future of marine and freshwater aquaculture in a sustainable economy?

Aquaculture has an important role to play in the future of a sustainable food system. One billion people around the world depend on seafood as their main source of protein, and in the least developed countries it’s the main source of protein for 50% of the population. So ensuring that it is sourced and cultivated sustainably is critical. Through the different technologies we’ve talked about, fish farmers are able to have more control over the environmental impact of cultivating fish. Aquaculture can help alleviate pressure on wild stocks; in fact, more than half of the seafood consumed today already comes from fish farms.

But whether it’s aquaculture – marine or freshwater – or commercial fishing, the most important thing is to have responsible actors participating in the ocean economy.  Donna really emphasized this; she is on the Board of Directors of the World Ocean Council, which is a global, cross-sectoral ocean industry alliance committed to corporate ocean responsibility. It brings together leaders from a range of ocean industries to collaborate on responsible use of the seas. This kind of collaboration – across sectors and throughout value chains – that can ensure a sustainable ocean economy. And of course, technologies like blockchain have a key role to play in holding each piece of the value chain accountable for doing its part to behave responsibly.

Thank you, Luq! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

Luq is General Manager Global Distribution Sector and Consumer Industries – IBM and a member of the IBM Global Management Board for Industries. With over 27 years of experience across the value chain and multiple industries. His current focus is helping companies and industries transform to become sustainable enterprises.   He is responsible worldwide for industry strategy and client service, business development, solutions and platforms, alliance partnerships, thought leadership and senior talent. His strengths lie in helping clients shape and deliver strategic business and technology transformations for both multinational and national clients, organisational change and IT advisory.

Luq’s current business focus is to empower Consumer (Retail, CPG, Agri) clients to transform their products/services, capability and ecosystems through digital technologies including Cloud, AI, Blockchain, IoT and Interactive to deliver new levels of experience, performance and value.

Luq holds a BSc (1stClass Hons) in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from Loughborough University and an MBA (Distinction) from Imperial College, London. He is a Chartered Engineer and Member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology. Luq is also a Board Director of the UK Maserati Club.

Luq is married and lives in the UK and in free time enjoys travel, classic cars, walking, skiing, photography, music, art, theatre, comedy, food and wine.

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