Research from the UN shows that 821 million people in the world are currently undernourished, a figure that is expected to rise along with population. With land and soil becoming increasingly scarce, and climate change expected to dramatically affect crop yields, how will we feed the projected global population of 11.2 billion people in 2100?
In recent years, startups have emerged providing some incredible innovations in the agricultural industry, with new technologies to make farms more productive, efficient, and sustainable, and to help small farmers increase their yields and incomes.
Among other applications, startups are introducing technology to monitor crops using drones and sensors, manage farm activities and logistics from platforms and apps, use robots to perform farm maintenance, grow food hydroponically on a mass scale, monitor the health of livestock using AI, and provide invaluable data to help millions of small scale farmers – many of whom don’t even have access to a smartphone.
Here are 10 promising agtech startups that are innovating for the next green revolution to feed the globe sustainably:
InFarm: Berlin-based InFarm has developed a vertical indoor farming system that can be implemented in supermarkets, restaurants, local distribution warehouses, or even schools – allowing businesses to grow their own fresh produce on site to deliver to customers. InFarm controls the farms remotely using IoT, Big Data, and cloud analytics. Founded in 2012, that startup is already opening indoor farms in 1,000 locations in Germany, and expanding in other European markets, while planning to launch in North America in 2019.
Peas & Love: Launched in 2017, this French urban farming startup rents out gardening parcels for €38/month. The best part? You don’t have to maintain it yourself – the garden parcels are maintained by an on-site community farmer. Peas & Love offers a selection of over 60 fruits and vegetables to grow in your community garden and use in your meals for a healthier diet. The startup’s app will alert you to the harvest plan and schedule of your vegetable farm, and the upcoming urban farming events that are hosted by the startup.
WeFarm: An agtech startup based in London, WeFarm is a digital peer-to-peer network that aims to serve small farmers, of which there are over 500 million in the world, the majority of which live on less than $1/day. Founded in 2015, WeFarm gives farmers access to advice and solutions from other farmers to solve daily challenges. Small scale farmers can use the network to receive crowdsourced answers to their farming questions, such as, “How can I prevent my tomatoes from getting diseases?” or “Why isn’t my farm producing more maize?”. Users don’t need a smartphone, but 90% of small farmers now have access to a mobile phone, and can ask their questions via SMS. So far, 1.2 million farmers have registered with the platform, asking 2.2 million questions with 4.8 million responses, providing them with advice and knowledge that has helped them to increase their incomes and start micro-businesses.
Agroptima: Founded in 2014, this Barcelona-based startup allows farmers to manage their farms from their phones. Using its app, farmers can track jobs, fields, products, workers, and machinery. The app records daily farm operations such as sowing, fertilising, and harvesting, and farmers can access all of the data on its web-based platform. Agroptima’s software also provides farmers with personalised reports based on this data. The startup currently has 1,700 paying customers.
Ignitia: Founded in 2015, this Swedish startup provides accurate, hyper-local weather forecasts to small farmers in tropical climates. Rain in the tropics doesn’t follow the same pattern as weather in temperate regions – storms appear rapidly and are more unpredictable, making traditional global weather forecasts undependable for tropical farmers. However Ignitia’s forecasts are 84% accurate – twice as accurate as global models. Ignitia’s precise forecasting allows local, tropical farmers to increase yields and profits. Farmers don’t need a smartphone – forecasts are delivered by SMS, and pay using their phone credit.
Phytoponics: Land and soil are becoming increasingly scarce as the population increases, and clearing land for agriculture has led to deforestation on a mass scale, contributing significantly to climate change. Hydroponics allows farms to grow crops without soil or the need for arable land, instead placing the roots of the plants in a nutrient-rich solution. Founded in 2016 and based in the UK, Phytoponics has developed a commercial-scale hydroponic growing system called Hydrosac, which is cheaper and easier to install than traditional hydroponic systems. Employed on a large scale, hydroponics provide an innovative solution to address world hunger and sustainability. The startup’s CEO, Adam Dixon, says that his vision is that using hydroponics, we’ll only have to use 10% of land for agriculture in 2050.
Connecterra: This startup uses an intelligent dairy farmer assistant to apply IoT to food, in what it calls the “Internet of Food”. Its app, Ida, monitors cow behaviour and activity, and allows farmers to detect health issues in livestock to improve dairy farming and milk production. Ida measures each cow’s eating behavior and milk yield, helping farmers to identify which cows are most productive and why. Using this data, farmers can make better decisions regarding fertility, breading, milk yield, and heat detection.
VisualNAcert: This Spanish startup uses technology including sensors, drones, satellite imagery, geolocation, and Big Data to help farmers manage all aspects of their farms in an all-in-one platform. Farmers can use the platform to create work orders and control costs and stock, track their crop cycles and plan harvests, and register the activities performed on each plot. Founded in 2014, VisualNAcert (or “VISUAL”) also provides farmers with valuable information, including reports with advanced agro-climatic data for each crop and crop growing cycle, and monitors the temperature and humidity of the air and soil using sensors.
Vitibot: If there’s anything France is famous for, it’s wine. This startup from France’s champagne region has developed a solar-powered robot, Bakus, to maintain vineyards. Founded in 2016, Vitibot’s robot can perform all of the groundwork in vineyards, and is capable of working for up to 10 hours at a time.
Ecorobotix: Founded in 2011, Swiss startup Ecorobotix has created a smart weeding solution; an autonomous machine that can efficiently detect and destroy weeds among row crops. Powered by solar energy, the robot can work for 12 hours without recharging, and can be remotely controlled using a smartphone. Ecorobotix’s solution allows farmers to use 90% less herbicide, improving yields for farmers.
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