Last Thursday, July 2nd we added another edition to our series of international webinars as we delved into the power of agtech investment to building a more resilient food system amid the covid crisis. In our latest offering Investing in Agri-Food Tech: Building Resilient Food Systems we were joined by some of the agtech industry´s biggest experts including Anne Greven, Global Head of F&A Startup Innovation at Rabobank, John Friedman, Director of AgFunder Asia & our very own José Luis Cabañero, CEO of Eatable Adventures, who offered their insights into the keys behind investing in agtech, the main drivers of change and which companies are currently leading this new agricultural revolution.
As the covid crisis affects every part of the food industry, investor and entrepreneur mindsets are changing and the pandemic has uncovered a fragile and overly traditional food supply chain that begs for change. Agtech offers new power and possibilities to leverage disruptive solutions. In 2019 startups raised approximately 20 billion worth of investment as they develop new solutions towards redesigning a more active supply system across the industry including in blockchain, automation and robotics.
Here are the key takeaways from the webinar in case you missed it:
What are the main drivers for agtech investment?
For John Friedman there has been a significant increase over the years, specifically compared to the year 2015 when agrifood made up only 5% of VC funding, which is miniscule if you consider the industry employs 40% of the world’s population. John stated that “we all rely on food and sustainability” and the lack of awareness and attention the sector has garnered is what motivated AgFunders founders to launch the initiative. He added that we are currently facing massive challenges as a food supply chain, including in population growth, climate change and changing consumption patterns.
This is something Eatable Adventures Jose Luis agrees on, adding that these factors were definitely the kickstarters to realising the need for quick actions towards producing a kinder way to make food for our planet. We´ve also seen a spike in agtech players enter the market. For example, when plant-based pioneers Beyond Meat announced they were going public people realised that agtech investment was accelerating and a space definitely worth investing in.
Another driver for investment has also been the outbreak of the covid crisis, as it uncovered a stressed-out supply chain begging for change. Anne Greven added that just now we are truly beginning to see more investors and entrepreneurs interested in the space, including governments and universities who are also recognising the need for change.
Singapore is a small country which relies on 90% of food imports to feed its population. With covid restricting everything from transportation to social distancing, importers were left with tonnes of food waste after supply and demand issues, which is another reason for creating a more nimble food system, and John Friedman believes agtech has the power to do so.
“Perhaps one of the silver linings from this experience is a sort of awaking around the fragilities of how we as a society live our lives and how we have taken so much for granted” – John Friedman.
How is agritech innovation adding value to the more traditional farming and agricultural practices?
“More and more is moving faster than we realise–more tech is being implemented” – Anne Greven.
The agtech space is definitely considered one of the more traditional spaces in the food industry. For Anne Greven one of the benefits of agritech innovation has been “creating greater efficiencies in the farms”. Technology offers more margins for farmers and those are the innovations poised to take off to help create a more sustainable food system.
It was agreed between our panelists that the main factor we are seeing, and that is securing the most support and funding, is low tech but high impact development and there are many corporations looking to help their farmers implement such technologies. John offered community farmer apps as a prime example, which help in a small way by “putting the power back in the farmers hands..and cutting out the middleman”.
How do they compare in terms of profitability, complexity and availability of quality deal flow to other areas in foodtech?
“It’s a complex space that requires some solid engineering” – John Friedman.
The agrifood space is implementing increasingly more technology making a bigger market year on year. Jose Luis believes that even more doors of opportunity are being opened and that the “return is similar if not better, we think, than other areas”. He assures that the technology implemented doesn’t need to be that strong; “you can make big things with very simple solutions”.
In Rabobank the volume of applications are growing each year, and many agtech startups are able to secure financing when other spaces haven’t. In fact, this years 300 alumni alone bagged 120 million in funding. People are recognising this is a growing area worth investing in, and the greater implementation of tech, the greater return for the investor. John adds that although AgFunder has always been typically focused on the upstream, he has started to recognise the commercial opportunity of downstream areas like CPG, alternative proteins and foodtech over the past few years and admits the investment landscape has shifted across the food system.
What are the most relevant and promising areas worth investing in?
For Anne, one of the most exciting emerging areas is that of carbon trading soil; “the farming and agritech impact (to) reduce carbon emissions..there will be a lot of people looking to invest there”. But she adds that anything offering greater efficiency for the farmer as a general goal will be an area worthy of investment. Since margins are razor thin for farmers across the world, there is a huge need to manage this and give back dollars to the people actually producing our food.
Predictive analytics was also an area of interest, since despite being present in the industry for some years now, data sources are always getting bigger and with more predictive measures now available there are more efficient ways to help farmers than ever before. This goes for artificial intelligence, too. Jose Luis states he’s seen a few companies already giving back to farmers, even a solution as simple as through a phone app where they can download real time data on crop performance and weather patterns. The CEO of Eatable Adventures also believes that products offering higher nutritional values are one to watch.
“We also believe that this industrialization approach is going to be a great area getting production closer to consumers”.
Missed this webinar? Check out the video