Climate change threatens to undermine agriculture at a moment when food production needs to increase, and quickly. The UN estimates that 1.3 billion people were food insecure in 2022, with most living in areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia that are especially vulnerable to climate change. To feed a global population of 9.7 billion in 2050 under volatile and more extreme weather conditions, production may need to increase more than 50%. Clearly, agriculture needs to adapt.
Can we grow more food despite more extreme temperatures, floods, wildfires, droughts, and heat-loving pests? At the SOSV Climate Tech Summit (Sept 26-27 / free & virtual), we met pioneers in adaptive agriculture who believe it can be done.
Crops are adapted to a particular range of temperatures, sun exposure, humidity, and soil microorganisms, but global warming is changing those conditions faster than plants can adapt naturally. Climate researchers predict that the probability of crop failures in global bread baskets—responsible for almost half the world’s calories—will be 3.5 times higher by 2030, and 25 times higher by 2050.
However, agriculture already accounts for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of global freshwater withdrawals. Hence, the predicament: how do we adapt agriculture to a warming climate while feeding another 1.7 billion people—without depleting freshwater resources, clearing more forests, burning more fossil fuels, or increasing prices? Three startups have potential answers.
Brendan Collins is co-founder and CEO of Avalo.ai, a Durham, NC-based startup using machine learning and AI to design climate-resilient crops. Their key innovation is Gene Discovery by Informationless Perturbation (GDIP), which simulates changes in plant genomes. Basically, it enables researchers to find and breed desirable traits—like heat and drought resistance—in two to three years instead of the usual 15. A graduate of IndieBio (SOSV’s biotech startup program), Avalo has raised $3M in funding from Better Ventures, Giant Ventures, At One Ventures, Climate Capital, David Rowan, and SOSV.
Franco Martínez Levis is co-founder and CEO of Puna Bio, which uses extremophiles (microbes that thrive in extreme conditions) to help crops adapt to the dry, salty, degraded soils of the near future. The Buenos Aires-based startup has sourced extremophiles that first emerged 3.5 billion years ago in La Puna, the highest and driest desert on Earth, to create biofertilizers that increase crop yields and protect crops from extreme weather without the need for carbon-intensive chemicals. Also an IndieBio grad, Puna Bio has raised $3.7M in funding from investors that include At One Ventures, Builders VC, SP Ventures, Air Capital, SOSV, GLOCAL, and Grid Exponential.
Dr. Ramadan Borayek is CTO and co-founder of Drip.ai, developer of a hydropanel that harvests water from thin air, at utility scale. The technology is passive, meaning it doesn’t require energy inputs, and it yields water that is up to five times cheaper than tap water, Drip claims. Drip could facilitate growth in food production by preserving scarce groundwater, reducing irrigation costs, and mitigating droughts. Based in Singapore, Drip.ai completed HAX (SOSV’s hard tech program) and has raised seed financing from SOSV and Entrepreneur First.
Watch the discussion below to find out—and tune into the rest of the sessions here.
Brendan Collins is the Co-Founder and CEO of Avalo. He is a cell biologist, programmer, and lover of nature. Prior to founding Avalo, Brendan co-founded and worked as a software engineer at two early-stage startups. He also played a key role in developing cell-based therapies for treating traumatic spinal cord injuries during his tenure at University College London. Brendan holds a BS from the University of Notre Dame and an MS from University College London.
Franco Martinez Levis
Franco Martinez Levis holds a degree in Economics from Universidad Torcuato Di Tella and an MBA/MA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Having worked for McKinsey & Company in Operations and Digital implementations across Argentina, Chile, Brasil, and Perú, he has always focused on the food value chain. With prior founder experience as the CEO of a restaurant software startup, he founded Puna Bio after meeting his three scientific co-founders in the midst of the pandemic. Today, he leads a team tackling one of humanity’s most pressing challenges: ensuring food security and building resilience in agriculture.
Dr. Ramadan Borayek
Dr. Ramadan Borayek earned his PhD in Material Science from National University of Singapore. Based on his PhD work, he submitted two US patents regarding smart materials for environmental and energy applications, and in November 2021, he co-founded Drip.AI Pte Ltd in Singapore to commercialize them. Drip.AI produces water out of the thin air powered by the sun. It can harvest water anywhere, including in locations with low humidity levels. Drip.AI’s solution is also scalable to industry levels with prices comparable to worldwide water prices. The company aims to address water scarcity, which is likely to worsen as the climate warms.
Marina Schmidt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of the impact media outlet Red to Green Solutions. Red to Green hosts the most in-depth podcast on food tech and sustainability, covering each topic in 12 episodes. It is ranked in the 5% most shared and followed globally with a loyal listenership spanning over 160 countries. Before founding Red to Green Marina worked as a Lead Venture Developer for Creative Dock, the world’s largest independent corporate venture builder. She also headed the Fightback Movement, a European collaboration platform focused on health & climate, working closely with the World Economic Forum. She currently lives in lovely Lisbon.