Seaweed pasta on the menu as agtech looks to feed world

[Netherlands] How do you feed a global population that is expected to grow to 9bn people by 2050 with increasing pressures on land and water resources?

Replacing pasta with seaweed is part of the solution, according to Willem Sodderland, a Dutch entrepreneur who is raising up to €2.5m to expand his company Seamore.

“Seaweed is incredibly healthy, nutritious and the most sustainable food on the planet. You don’t need land to grow it, just sunlight and seawater,” says Mr Sodderland.

The company’s “I Sea Pasta” product is Himanthalia elongata seaweed, which is harvested off Ireland’s Atlantic coast and sold in health food shops and supermarkets in Europe and Australia. It can be prepared in a similar way to pasta or soaked and used in salads.

Seamore, which has raised €1m through a mix of crowdfunding, bank debt and venture capital, is one of a dozen agricultural technology, or “agtech”, start-ups that were pitching for funding at the Rabobank Farm to Fork summit in Sydney earlier this month. Sustainable animal feed created from fly larvae feasting on food waste, online platforms to source skilled farm labour and drones to help harvest grapes were among the ideas vying for support.

The sector is responding to a unique challenge. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts food supply will need to increase 60 per cent to meet global demand by 2050. Asia’s rapidly expanding middle class is increasing demand for protein-rich foods while climate change threatens to reduce crop yields.

This is prompting a boom in the agtech sector, which spans the agricultural, food and technology industries. In September, German group Bayer inked a $66bn deal to buy Monsanto and create a crop seeds and pesticides group while Canada’s PotashCorp and Agrium have agreed a merger to create a $30bn crop nutrients group.

A report by AgFunder, a US marketplace for agricultural technology companies, shows early-stage investment in the sector hit a record US$4.6bn last year, almost double the previous year’s total. Indigo, a Boston-based start-up that identifies microbes that can boost plant health, is in one of the biggest venture capital deals in the sector so far. The group, whose first product is a cotton plant that can grow in areas where water is scarce, raised $100m in July in a round led by the Alaska Permanent Fund.

“Over the past five years a lot of things have come together to make agricultural technologies more interesting for investors,” says Manuel González, head of start-up innovation at Rabobank North America. “Consumers want more sustainable food that is good for them and we have more people to feed at a time when climate change is happening. This makes food technologies more important.”

Eradicating food waste is one of the priority areas for Rabobank, which has total lending worth €93.2bn to the farm and food sector. A report, which it commissioned recently, found Dutch consumers throw away 800m kg of edible food every year, worth €2.5bn.

Australian start-up Goterra is aiming to cash in on the growing food waste mountain by using it to propagate soldier fly larvae, which can be recycled as a source of protein for animal feed.

“We raise the black soldier flies in an aviary, collect their eggs and seed them into a container with enough food waste to consume,” says Olympia Yarger, Goterra managing director. “It takes about 12 days to feed the larvae, which can then be fed to chickens or other animals.”

She says Goterra’s business model is sustainable as it provides a quality waste removal and recycling service to communities and a nutritious, sustainable livestock feed.

Companies developing solutions that replace traditional sources of protein, such as meat and eggs, for human or animal consumption attracted $88m in the first six months of 2016, according to AgFunder.

Mr Sodderland says many of the solutions to global food security are already known about but the challenge is in marketing them correctly to change consumer preferences. Seamore’s latest product “I Sea Bacon”, which is palmaria palmataseaweed, or dulse, is soon to be launched.

“Seaweed is already a big industry in Asia and people have known for a long time it is a fantastic food source. In Ireland they eat dulse, which tastes like beef jerky when dried,” he says. “It’s my ambition to serve up 1bn portions of seaweed to consumers by 2030.”

 

View original article at: Seaweed pasta on the menu as agtech looks to feed world

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