Food Security Technology

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Food Security Technology

As food security becomes a growing threat in light of situations like Venezula's government weaponizing hunger, many technologies are rising to meet new food challenges. These four companies span everything from new financial technologies on blockchain, to defense of crops through introduction of parasitic insects, spreading agricultural knowledge to regions without Internet, and increasing crop yield with cheaper hydroponics.

eatBCH

  • In response to the Venezuelan government's selective distribution of food aid along party lines, two local citizens established eatBCH, a cryptocurrency food donation program.
  • eatBCH uses Bitcoin Cash (BCH), a peer-to-peer monetary distribution system, to allow donations to cross borders without large financial penalties or charity overhead. Major news outlets and thinktanks, such as Vox and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), have begun to endorse eatBCH.
  • As of December 14, 2019, over 286 BCH had been collected, which could be in excess of $59,000.
  • eatBCH's website also links to an external article tallying their donations to South Sudan at over $10,000, which adds weight to such estimations.

BioBee Bio® Aphidius

  • Recently, genetic modification programs such as DARPA's Insect Allies research are worrying scientists with their potential for weaponization of insect-borne viruses to target crop production.
  • As a result, insect predator technology like BioBee's Bio® Aphidius wasp, are being touted as a potential line of defense against virus-carrying pests like aphids.
  • Bio® Aphidius is only one of BioBee's modified insect technologies, but because researchers estimate this species kills 388 aphids for each female, it is one of their most promising products.
  • BioBee is the most established company on this list, having been founded in 1984.
  • In 2000, BioBee reported sales of NIS 20,000,000, and in 2001, Hazera Genetics acquired one quarter of the company for NIS 10,000,000.

Wefarm

  • Another, perhaps more simple approach to the threat of weaponized crop pests is to democratize the spread of information between poor, smallholder, or rural farmers, as Wefarm is doing with its SMS-based social media platform for farmers.
  • By further utilizing machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) technologies independent of the English language, Wefarm attempts to match each farmer's questions with the most suitable and knowledgeable farmer's answer, regardless of language ability.
  • In 2018, Wefarm announced raising $7,000,000 to expand its services to aid 100,000,000 farmers by 2022.

Phytoponics

  • While hydroponics have often been suggested as a solution for growing crops in nutrient poor regions, the cost of such technology has remained prohibitively high.
  • However, UK-based Phytoponics has harnessed deep water culture technology to create the Hydrosac, which they say will reduce the costs of hydroponic farming by half.
  • In 2018, Phytoponics raised £500,000.

Research strategy

These four global food security companies were selected after careful review of potential sources of food insecurity caused by outside actors with malicious intent. Therefore, each of these companies was selected to be a promising emerging technology addressing one method of attack.

In regard to the estimate of eatBCH's funding: our method of calculation was multi-staged. First, we tracked the total amount of BCH that had passed through their wallet's public key, which is listed on their site. Then we accessed the current valuation of BCH, a highly volatile exchange rate, to estimate the total value. It should be noted that because the price of BCH fluctuates daily and because donations have been collected over the course of a year, this number can only be an estimate.

Sources
Sources

Quotes
  • "The weaponization of the CLAP is a symptom of a desperate regime determined above all to hold onto power. An effective response will necessitate a concerted effort of international actors to apply sufficient pressure to bring about political change."
  • "For example, the use of cryptocurrency to safely transfer worldwide donations, following a model like EatBCH, is a novel approach already creating a positive impact for Venezuelans on the ground today. More peer-to-peer electronic cash transfers should be encouraged to assist with humanitarian aid from abroad."
Quotes
  • "We're helping to bring communities closer. Peer-to-peer cash is changing the way we think about giving."
Quotes
  • "Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash Enabling new economies with low fee micro-transactions, large business transactions, and permissionless spending."
Quotes
  • "Take local charities like the Bitcoin for Venezuela Initiative or EatBCH. They receive cryptocurrency donations from around the world — incurring almost no cost or fees from intermediaries along the way — to purchase food for the needy in Venezuela. Reaching people at soup kitchens and distribution centers across the country, those two operations serve thousands of meals a day."
Quotes
  • "Total Received 286.50643757 BCH Total Sent 267.92413033 BCH Final Balance 18.58230724 BCH"
Quotes
  • "Since May 2018, the eatBCH South Sudan initiative has managed to raise over $10,000 said Deng."
Quotes
  • "The U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been accused of trying to create a new class of biological weapons that would be delivered via virus-infected insects. Aphids are one of the insects being used in the DARPA program."
Quotes
  • "The Insect Allies program is pursuing scalable, readily deployable, and generalizable countermeasures against potential natural and engineered threats to the food supply with the goals of preserving the U.S. crop system. National security can be quickly jeopardized by naturally occurring threats to the crop system, including pathogens, drought, flooding, and frost, but especially by threats introduced by state or non-state actors."
Quotes
  • "The parasitic wasp Aphidius colemani is a polyphagous parasitoid which belongs to the family Braconidae, attacking over 40 species of aphid species. The wasp is native to North America and common in North Africa, Middle East, India and Mediterranean region."
Quotes
  • "Aphidius colemani is a cosmopolitan species-that is, it occurs in most parts of the world. It reproduces well on cotton aphid, green peach aphid, and other species, but not on potato or foxglove aphid. It looks similar to A. matricariae, but females lay more eggs-an average of 388-over their 4-5 day life span. A. colemani is a promising candidate for aphid biological control in greenhouses because of its high reproductive potential, short development time, and ability to parasitize several species of aphids, especially cotton aphid, melon aphid and green peach aphid."
Quotes
  • "Tel Aviv-traded agro-seed producer Hazera Genetics announced that it is buying 25% of insect-cultivation company Biotechnology-Bee for NIS 10 million."
  • "In 2000 Bio-Bee's sales amounted to NIS 20 million."
Quotes
  • "Over 1 billion smallholder farmers produce 70% of the world's food, and four of the five most traded commodities on earth, yet the vast majority lack access to the internet and even basic information to help them solve problems or share ideas. No one has built a platform for these farmers. Until Wefarm."
Quotes
  • "Since launching in 2015, the startup has raised $7 million and reached a million users. But over the next four years, it'll aim to impact 100 million people. "
  • "Underpinned by artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, it lets farmers solve daily challenges via an SMS-based platform. They can quickly find solutions to crop diseases, pests and other problems without internet access."
Quotes
  • "Our Natural Language Processing (NLP) libraries are among the first in the world to have created models that identify three regional African languages – Kiswahili, Luganda, and Runyankore – in addition to English. This means, unlike with other platforms, Wefarm users don't need proficiency in English."
Quotes
  • "Phytoponics, a UK-based hydroponics growing system company, introduced a similar technology called the Hydrosac, in which roots of the plant are held in contact with an oxygenated, nutrient-rich solution. The concentration of liquid nutrients facilitates high growth rates and resource efficiency. "
  • "Against conventionally grown produce, this produce can represent cost inflation of 8%–12% depending upon the produce and the region it is being grown in. This cost overrun is a key hindrance to commercial hydroponic growers for whom the high upfront costs represent a low return on investment in the long run."
Quotes
  • "Capable of delivering high returns on investment at an affordable price, we are the first company offering Deep Water Culture technology geared to the hectare scale, giving huge productive benefits to the commercial grower, at half the cost of current offerings,"
Quotes
  • "In 2018, the team brought in new Chairman Mark Hindmarsh and raised over £500k of investment to test their new system in a semi-commercial environment in Aberystwyth Wales."