Investments in Feeding the City: Picking Alpha workshop at the 7th Annual ERIAFF Conference in Hague. Focus on marketing for innovators are a priority today.
Prof. Mila Kletsky, President and Academic Director of the Picking Alpha and Fabio Boscaleri, Policy Officer, Toscana Region Representative Office in EU and coordinator of the ERIAFF network organized the workshop on Investments in Feeding and Greening the City. Everybody today acknowledges the importance of sustainable development of agriculture, AgTech innovations development and implementation, R&D support and development – anything that will boost the European Agriculture competitiveness, jobs growth and rural areas development. All these efforts are targeting one major goal – to feed Europeans and other nations with highly nutritious food, prevent hunger and boost overall well-being of the Humanity. Of course, these huge tasks require lots of financing, and as EU Governing Bodies keep saying – this time funding is expected to be co-funding, meaning money streams coming from the private sector AND the Governments. Who and on what conditions will invest in innovations aiming to feed the city? What kind of innovations do farmers really need to feed the cities today and in the future?
We discussed these topics with three very different experts, Caterina Santachiara, ABACO Systems, Precision Agriculture Lead, Niels Snoep, Relationship Manager F&A Innovation Rabobank, and Dr. Marco Locatelli, Director of Public-owned Farms in Tuscany, Italy.
Niels Snoep made an insightful and very comprehensive presentation of Rabobank functions and goals in agricultural innovations support and financing. Speaking of AgTech innovators support from the investors’ side he warned that as research is indicating now there are signs of a growing AgTech “bubble” in Agriculture. This situation brings to life new requirements and criteria for any investments inflow in the AgTech with the orientation towards the consumer demand being the leader in the group. Niels also made one disruptive and rather paradox statement. In spite of the traditional expectations of anyone looking for funding – banks, in particular Rabobank, – possess much more valuable opportunities for the applicants than their own funds. These opportunities can provide innovators with an access to the funds that could be tenfold bigger than the bank they apply to can deliver. Moreover the opportunities of the banks are very limited by their responsibilities to their clients. Banks literally cannot risk their clients’ money unless they find a startup which fully addresses the risk management requirements of the bank. But the network of the bank’s big clients consisting of diverse organizations, family offices, wealthy well connected individuals possess much bigger opportunities for investing.
Caterina Santachiara, ABACO Systems, in her very customized presentation paid a lot of attention to the modern solutions for Risk Management for farmers; she showed how the ABACO platform on precision agriculture can provide not only skilled assistance but also risk prevention services to the farmers. She also demonstrated that the platform is equally well equipped for working in different geographical zones and weather conditions. In questions and answers part Caterina has explained how ABACO’s business model contributes to start ups growth and development. Working in different countries they find partners locally and if required invest in startups that offer services and products which ABACO needs. It illustrates the newly emerged trend when non-financial companies make investments in startups and SMEs. They select the companies which they know for sure will produce technologies and products that will be consumed, by doing it locally the companies like ABACO hedge their choice because they can easily test the market demand in this situation.
Dr. Locatello, who considers himself a farmer in the first place, shared with the audience his experience of working at the farms he is heading in Tuscany. Talking of farmer’s needs he pointed the ongoing demand for finding energy solutions, by finding some cheaper and easily accessible alternatives for farmers, such as for Methane for example. In spite of various controversies debate in the media on methane efficiency, Dr. Locatello confirmed that farmers would gladly accept technologies which enable the production of this energy source.
Various possibilities of vertical farming development in the future as a solution addressing the declining arable lands availability was also discussed. As we expected the workshop was spinning around really practical questions of financing the solutions for various arising needs of agricultural producers and showed some new directions in search of funding for innovators.
ERIAFF (European Regions for Innovation in Agriculture, Food and Forestry), established in 2012 by the initiative of Tuscany and informally lead by Toscana Region with Fabio Boscaleri as an informal coordinator of the ERIAFF network. 7th Annual ERIAFF Conference: Feeding and Greening the City, was held in Hague and supported by the Westland Municipality, the South Holland and North Holland provinces.