Integrating finance with agriculture and finding sustainability’s ‘Northstar’

Defining sustainability and helping companies build it into their foundations were key themes woven throughout a recent three-day working event for StrikeTwo.

Based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and run by blockchain-focused food and beverage consultant The New Fork, StrikeTwo examines how technology can positively impact the food system. Experts, startup founders and entrepreneurs come together to collectively address some of the global food system’s most pressing problems.

This year’s key themes focused on building more consumer trust, creating farm income, and managing the supply chain.

Within those themes were discussions on building more sustainable solutions, with a special emphasis on integrating the financial sector deeper into ag in many parts of the world. Each theme was split out as a track and run by “track owners.”

Sustainability needs a ‘Northstar’

“There are about 400 competing labels in the marketplace in Europe alone, all claiming to be sustainable,” Lise Colyer, OmniAction founder and a track participant, said during a presentation at the end of the StrikeTwo summit.

These labels, she said, are very contradictory and don’t always make much sense.

This has led to a lot of consumer cynicism.

“Study after study shows that consumers absolutely want to live more sustainably and they want information that they can trust,” said Colyer. “But they have very little faith in the information they’re seeing on labels at the moment.”

Sustainability needs what she called “a Northstar,” which is a framework for sustainability metrics that is “harmonized, agreed, and fully globally accepted.”

OmniAction, of course, is developing such a framework, though Colyer pointed out that the process has involved around 600 experts and scientists from around the world. Its focus areas are environment, nutrition, food safety, land rights, and labor rights.

Making farmers bankable

StrikeTwo’s perspective on sustainability was appropriately broad. It encompassed not only discussion around soil health and carbon but also the incomes and livelihoods of millions of people around the world.

Smallholder farmers make up a major portion of these people.

Kenya-based eProd addresses this through its supply chain platform for agribusinesses and co-ops. The company participated in StrikeTwo as a track owner.

At the event, COO Scott Lout laid out the particular finance problems his customers faced.

“Our core client, which is an agribusiness, a co-op, is carrying the entire load of bringing inputs or more capital to a farmer. So farmers don’t have access to capital, they don’t have access to finance, and usually they’re relying on the co-op to make that happen. Those co-ops are operating very much on the margins.”

EProd’s goal is to link farmers directly to financial institutions

Another track owner, aESTI, addresses the finance question around regenerative agriculture. The digital marketplace focuses on small- and medium-sized farmers, providing them with credits for sustainable soil management.

aESTI plans to first sell CO2 soil sequestration credits before branching out into water storage, water quality, and biodiversity credits. The company says 90% of the sales price goes directly to the farmer and 10% is used to cover the costs of hasESTI.

“We have a good set of metrics that measure the actual value of regenerative farming,” Frank Sloot said during the event. “That basically means that you don’t only look at yields, but you also look at all of the components that bring value to regenerative farming.”

StrikeTwo overview

The year-long StrikeTwo package includes a three-day working summit featuring “tracks” where companies and experts work on pressing problems in the global food system.

Attendance is free, albeit selective. Those not attending as track owners can attend as experts and join a specific track.

The working event is followed by a shark tank before companies “buckle down” with the support program.

Every track has an owner. These are companies and entrepreneurs aiming to solve a problem in agrifood with technology. Working with StrikeTwo-chosen experts, track owners refine both problem and solution over the three-day working event.

Track owners go on to pitch at the shark tank event before working on a roadmap in subsequent months.

“The thing that I am most proud of is that every track owner made their innovation roadmap with a concrete year[long] plan, including commitments from different experts, and they were all happy with their results, StrikeTwo director Patricia Leek tells AFN.

Additional tracks & takeaways

Four other track owners spoke to the particular problems they are addressing through technology:

Beverage solutions provider Refresco underscored the challenges and complexity of ensuring a living wage in the supply chain.

ChefChain provides chefs, farmers and consumers with an open, searchable blockchain that can improve food safety, traceability and transparency.

Ardhi Farm is creating an app for the African diaspora to invest in local farming processes.

Vegan Sushi Bar hopes to develop a plant-based fish with high nutritional value via “an expert consortium.”

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