Eradicating Poverty With Upcycled Food

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Helping eradicate poverty and the climate using upcycled food. (Image: Agricycle)

Agricycle recently won FoodBytes! Pitch 2020 with their vertically integrated portfolio of ethically sourced and upcycled CPG brands with the mission of eliminating extreme rural poverty through market-based solutions. The team gratefully shared more information on their business and impact.

How/why did you start Agricycle?

Josh, the CEO and Founder of the Agricycle, was an engineering student in 2015 when he started a school project in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica to create dehydrators for the purpose of transforming food waste into products. The farmers there said the technology was great, but it was not actually a solution they were looking for — the project was taking waste of product and making it into another product they couldn’t do anything with. Josh then recognized a viable solution would need to have not only this component of preservation technology, but also market linkage.

Can you describe Agricycle’s business how you differ from other competitors in the space?

Agricycle is a company that bridges the gap between rural farmers and global markets through a vertically integrated supply network and portfolio of upcycling brands. We work with farmers and then we buy, brand, and sell the upcycled products.

We have three main pillars: our technology, network, and market. These three components set us apart from others.

On the technology side, we have passive solar dehydrators that we sell so the farmers can transform their food. Our network consists of over 40,000 farmers, and we have field officers that support these farmers in many ways, including financial literacy, food safety training, and last mile distribution. Lastly, Agricycle connects smallholder farmers to additional markets (regionally and globally).

Previous solutions miss the mark in two ways: they either only provide technology without a market, or they aggregate fresh products and complete manufacturing at a centralized processor. Agricycle shifts the process to smallholder farmers, cutting out middlemen and generating direct income streams.

What is Agricycle’s impact?

We create economic, social, and environmental impact.

Economically, Agricycle shifts processing to the smallholder level. We purchase products directly, generating additional income streams up to seven times the average daily wage for food that would otherwise go to waste.

Socially, Agricycle works with rural farmers, and over 70 percent are women. Through our field officers and partnerships, we provide over 1,000 hours of training such as food safety, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), environmental and financial literacy.

Environmentally, Agricycle is focused on reducing food waste. According to Project Drawdown, tackling food waste is one of the top solutions, as rotting food produces harmful methane gas. Agricycle is contributing by reducing both food loss and food waste. Food loss is when food never enters the market, and food waste is anything thrown out (e.g. peels/skins/shells, expiration dates). So far we have diverted over 50,000 kg of food loss. With Tropicoal Ignition (our alternative charcoal product), we’ve diverted 330,000 kg of coconut shells. Not only do we divert waste, but we also reduce harmful emissions through our production practices. Our passive solar dehydrators require zero electricity, utilizing the heat of the sun and natural air flow to dry fruit.

How is Agricycle thinking about policy?

Currently, we are working with local governments and strategic partnerships on certification processes. The USDA organic certification process is one of our main focuses. It is expensive to get farms certified (it costs roughly $50K, in addition to yearly fees), especially when these certifications benefit large corporations or large farms. And that really leaves smallholder farmers out — for reference, there are 1.5 billion smallholder farmers in the world, which produce the majority of our food. The result is that farmers that are naturally organic cannot get certified, which matters as consumers are demanding more organic produce. There is a need for a more accessible certification process.

For long term policy, we would love to see more governments getting involved with infrastructure building. One of the things that keeps rural farmers out of the larger system is access, from roads to communications/network. Finally, we’re also keeping an eye on trade policy and seeking import/export partnerships.

What are the current trends in the sector and what does the future look like?

Previously, manufacturing/processing was centralized, but there has been a shift toward value addition at other points for smallholders. Agricycle is currently leading this trend. In terms of consumer trends, people are looking to healthy and plant-based foods, as well as traceability. We are providing both of these to the market.

Additionally, sustainability via the circular economy of food is another trend we are seeing. For instance, the Food Lab at Google (FLAG) did a circular economy of food prize with Thought for Food that we participated in. Larger corporations such as Danone are taking notice of this trend, and are shifting some of their products to be more circular. Agricycle is at the forefront of this trend, and is excited to continue learning from other innovators in the space.

Outlook

Agricycle brings to light the challenges smallhold farmers face. By innovating on the supply chain and business model, Agricycle is helping smallhold farmers get more value from their produce. As the circular economy trend grows, new businesses will get creative with business models in order to bring new technologies to market and have environmental and social impact.

This newsletter went out first to readers of The Impact, an Op-Ed email newsletter focused on cleantech that is written by analysts, founders and executives in the industry. Check it out and subscribe here.

Impact Investment Analyst at One World | Startup Weekend Facilitator | Climate Tech Enthusiast

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