In the first article in this series, we discussed why agriculture needs to radically course correct in order to align with global sustainability and climate goals, and the role of venture in scaling solutions and impacts to farmers. The second article introduced the concept of bioregional thinking as a means to build effective ventures with local partners, using similar ecosystems as a pathway to global scale.
This article dives deeper into the origin of this bioregional thesis, and how we are now planning on implementing it in a new program in Costa Rica - the Tropical Agriculture & Bioeconomy Initiative.
GOING TRULY BIOREGIONAL
Our approach to restorative cultivation and venture building is not the result of isolated theorising at Deep Science Ventures, but has evolved in the last two years from experiences with our first regional venture builder in Scotland, and concurrent inspiration from other actors in the space.
When we launched the Deep Science Ventures Agriculture sector, our first program, the Food & Agriculture Science Transformer (FAST) partnered with the University of Edinburgh to base new companies at the Roslin Institute.
Our initial focus was on creating companies that could make a global impact on ecosystem services. We had some really exciting successes, helping to start Rhizocore (a forestry and fungal fertilizer startup) and Aquanzo (a sustainable marine feeds company). Both companies are now working on globally relevant issues in forestry and aquaculture, and expanding from Scotland - the perfect launch pad in those industries.
We also investigated a third area, looking at alternative pollinators that would produce native pollinating bee species. While reinforcing pollinator species is a significant area of need, it isn’t well suited to the Scottish Highlands and we realised that our methodology required an additional dimension of thought, taking into account the ecology, geology and dominant practices in the regions where we operate and the fit of the local environment to test a global solution. This is the genesis of our move toward bioregional thinking.
THE CASE FOR COSTA RICA
To maximise the potential of our bioregional approach, we needed to identify locations with diverse ecologies and agricultural systems; with an array of local challenges representing global opportunities; and with capacity to incubate new companies, that also had a solid knowledge-based economy. This organically led us to Costa Rica.
Ecologically, Costa Rica is a biologist’s dream, with 12 different climate zones together offering a wealth of ecological zones within the same border and representative of the larger neotropics of Latin America and other tropical zones around the world. Being located in the transition zone of two continents, these zones contain perhaps as much as 5% of the planet’s biodiversity. Agriculturally, the nation outperforms comparably sized countries, with over 4,000 agricultural products grown locally for export, and free trade agreements with two-thirds of the planet's population, including the USA, China and the EU.
These factors help position the country as a laboratory for testing new products, crops, farming techniques and agricultural technologies. What can be grown here at altitude, like highland coffee and banana, will also be possible in the mountains of a comparable country across the neotropics - and a novel technology potentiating that, should do so as well. As several people have noted to us during our time getting to know the country “if it can work in Costa Rica, it can work in Latin America”.
THE CHALLENGES WE’RE TACKLING
Over the last few months we have brought together prominent partners within Costa Rica, in a new bioregional innovation program Tropical Agriculture & Bioeconomy Initiative. Our objective is to build high-growth agriculture companies that can help deliver restorative cultivation outcomes and the vision of the National Bioeconomy Strategy.
Like many places, Costa Rica faces significant challenges inherent to the dominance of traditional agricultural systems: soil erosion, acidic soils, heavy metals, high pesticide use and mountainous terrain (which is hard to mechanise and limits the ability to create and maintain high-efficiency transport networks). Prolific vegetative growth thanks to the tropical sun and rain offers the advantage of high yields but leads to the intense buildup of agricultural waste residues that collect on farms. Despite recent reforestation successes, non-native trees and legacy deforestation mean monoculture continues to reign supreme in the farmed zones of the country and continues to grow. In a country with the highest density of biodiversity on Earth, the stakes are perhaps higher than anywhere else.
We considered these challenges (and many, many more), and the upside of solving them in Costa Rica and beyond. As such, we are now recruiting ambitious scientists to join us as Founders, to build companies in the following areas, which we believe can grow rapidly from Costa Rica to the wider region:
🥵️ Thermal adaptation technologies: Developing and deploying direct and indirect interventions against thermal stress that will cause frontier crop migration (and deforestation) into new areas, with an initial focus on coffee.
🧬 21st century plant breeding for circular traits: Developing new crop improvement or biotechnology tools to expedite crop adaptation to future climates, ideally producing “circular economy crops and varieties” that can accelerate bioeconomy transitions.
🍃 Biomass conversion for the bioeconomy: Convert biomass into substrates that can be processed into valuable products generally sourced from hydrocarbon fractions, e.g. plastics and fertilisers, and increase domestic self-sufficiency.
🪵 Composite wood materials: Meet the demand for wood materials for use in multiple sectors, notably wood pallets, furniture and construction materials, without the need to cut down trees (instead using other plants and cellular agriculture approaches).
LEADING LOCAL PARTNERS
Regenerative projects that work against this challenging backdrop will bring benefits locally and overseas, but to make the most of “Laboratory Costa Rica”, we have assembled partners who can bring a scientific understanding of the current limits and problems of regenerative agriculture, as well as local knowledge in plant and animal husbandry, and established and trusted networks in biodiversity:
EARTH University - a private, non-profit university training leaders of positive socio-economic and environmental change through techno-scientific education and research. EARTH has helped develop countless new companies, and boasts over 12,000 acres to support the development of new companies.
CATIE - an international institute for agricultural development and biological conservation in Central America and the Caribbean, combining science, education and innovation. CATIE is home to some of the largest coffee and cocoa variety collections in the world, and 2,400 acres to support R&D projects.
Fundacion CRUSA - a Costa Rican non-profit focused on achieving sustainable development by boosting the entrepreneurial ecosystem and enabling high-impact venture creation for more sustainable, prosperous and inclusive growth.
CR BioMed - a Costa Rican biotechnology cluster organisation working across biotechnology, medical devices and the general life sciences, to enhance research, collaboration, technology transfer, and the exchange of experiences. Focused on expanding Costa Rica’s reach into global biotechnology value chains.
CINDE - Costa Rica’s lnvestment Promotion Agency, a private, non-political, and non-profit organization, that has advised and guided over 300 high-tech companies to establish operations in the country. Presently developing a multi-institutional Biomaterials Hub to accelerate innovation in new materials and biomass conversion.
We are likely to add more partners to this list as the programme evolves.
We are looking to create fast-growing companies, focused on restorative cultivation, that can rapidly scale beyond the borders of the nation they start in, from day one.
If you are after a clear path to building a multinational company that can operate across multiple countries and regions, you should apply to become a Founding Analyst at DSV’s Agriculture division - this is the first step in becoming a cofounder in one of the ventures we create.
You will be joining a venture with a good deal of groundwork being completed already, particularly when it comes to understanding the market constraints around a given problem. DSV will provide you with support using its proven venture creation methodology and access to government programs, investors, philanthropists and conservation groups, to ensure the venture has the ability to scale rapidly.
To apply for a role or to view more details on the program, please visit the TABI website.