I have just come back from an Agritech Catalyst Consortium building event in London. Innovate UK with DFID are offering substantial funding for collaborative R&D projects focused on developing solutions to agriculture-related challenges in developing countries.
While in London I also met a young man from Burkina Faso who has established a business making and selling insect snacks and powder there based on an indigenous caterpillar. I highlighted the need to move to a farming model to avoid damaging the ecosystem through intensive over-harvesting. He is looking for routes to bring products to the European market through a partnership with a company that is interested in developing something that incorporates the unique flavours of his insects.
I have also been exploring collaboration interest and opportunities in the insect protein area around the world and found a great many! For instance:
– In Chile, there is the second largest aquaculture industry globally and an urgent need to find alternative sources of feed for the fish
– In two large countries, there are large challenges with biomass accumulation combined with massive pig and poultry industries that could be ideal for farming insects for these sectors
– I have heard from/met farmers in Philipines, Malaysia and Zambia who are interested in exploring moving into insect farming
– China and the UK have an extensive and growing programme of collaboration focused on agritech and I am actively uncovering a range of agritech specialists interested in insect farming there
But why should we collaborate with these? Surely they will simply compete with what the UK can produce?
I believe that international collaboration can bring real value to UK and other European organisations working on the insects for food and feed area.
For a start, I know quite a number of you are frustrated with the challenges you have found locally and in the UK generally with the legislation, lack of understanding and difficulty securing finance. This has been a reality for some time and is why three brits left the UK – Nick Piggott went to Vietnam, David Drew set up Agriprotein in South Africa, and Daniel Imrie-Situnayake went to the States to form Tiny Farms.
Very often the conditions can be more conducive overseas – as a result of the finance being available to support developing countries, a more flexible regulatory environment and lower labour and other costs. Also, most developing countries have hotter climates which are inherently more conducive to insect farming. They are in great need of innovation to reduce cost, increase consistency and quality and generally bring to the point where the insect materials are available at a price that makes them compete with alternatives.
Further, we need the insect protein industry to grow, globally, if we are to attract the serious attention of investors, Government, research community. While it remains a tiny sub-sector within agriculture and the food industry it will be harder to get it taken seriously and to secure investment or a conducive regulatory environment. While the supplies of insect materials are heavily constrained it will be a major challenge to get insect products accepted into mainstream supermarkets. While the costs of insect protein remain very tight, it will be harder to get consumers to accept it.
Finally, collaboration brings opportunities to develop new skills and ideas. To find solutions that could have broad value and applicability. For those interested in growing a business based on enabling technology and new product development, working with overseas partners can open up new avenues and markets as much as new raw ingredients and issues to work with.
I am very aware that international collaboration is complex and challenging but there is a lot of experience to draw on and a growing body of understanding of the factors that lead to successful collaborations that bring real value for all partners.
If you want to know more and to discuss the opportunities and ideas I have uncovered do get in touch.
Woven Network/Unconventional Connections (firstname.lastname@example.org)