This week I attended the F&ANext event at the Wageningen Campus. Back in person, this year’s event was focused on the transformation of global food systems, as the urgency to radically transform our food chain grows.
The event started with an interesting tour of Wageningen Campus including the World Soil Museum, the NPEC and Plus Ultra II, to trigger our imaginations before heading into the conference. I was particularly fascinated by the World Soil Museum and its amazing collection of over 1,100 soils from more than 90 countries around the world. The preserved soils show the composition, layering and structure as can be viewed in the field, telling us the story of our landscapes.
At FA Bio, we are harnessing our understanding of soil microbes through our innovative patented technology, SporSenZ, so I was fascinated by the soil collection and wish I could spend hours in it. Luckily, you can do an online virtual tour here.
The conference kicked off with an insightful panel session on how Wageningen is contributing to solving global challenges with experts from Unilever, Rival Foods and WUR. With support growing, from increasing accelerator programs to sharing research facilities, more high-tech solutions are being developed to make food production and farming more sustainable.
President & CEO of World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Peter Bakker, gave a very clear message to the industry, with the need to transform global food systems being more urgent than ever before, “it is now or never. If you feel tomorrow will be the same as today, you are missing the sense of urgency for a radical change”. This sentiment was echoed by F&A Next with a showcase of the next heroes in food and Agtech offering their solutions to make radical changes within global food systems.
The day ended with a fantastic dinner and drinks. A great networking opportunity, where the over 600 delegates were able to meet in a relaxed and sunny environment. It was fantastic to meet in person with many contacts, as well as make new great contacts.
The second day started on a similar note, with a selection of pitch presentations by early-stage start-ups supported by agrifood tech accelerator StartLife. This was followed by an eye-opening talk from Harry Smit, Senior Analyst Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research, on the Ukraine Crisis and its ripple effects on the transformation of global food systems. With over 50 countries dependent on Ukraine and Russia for food and fertiliser, the situation underlines the need for more local production of sustainable food and agricultural products.
The global impact of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine is something we have spoken about at FA Bio. Not only it is causing significant disruption to food supply chains and driving up food prices around the world, but it’s also causing a surge in fertiliser prices and putting more pressure on farmers. FA Bio discovers superior microbial-based, environmentally sustainable alternatives to conventional agrochemical products minimising soil degradation, biodiversity destruction and water pollution whilst improving crop yields to guarantee food security.
Adrian Percy, Director at FA Bio, also provided some fascinating insights at the conference, on the value of universities in the drive for more innovation in food and agriculture. Universities really encourage and support entrepreneurship by accelerating the development of startups that are focused on building sustainable food systems. Partnerships with academia can therefore drive vital research which results in new opportunities for producers and food businesses.
FA Bio itself was founded whilst Kerry O’Donnelly Weaver and I completed our PhD studies at Imperial College London, in 2015 (read more here). We, therefore, understand the importance of feeling encouraged and supported by your university on your journey to entrepreneurship, and the opportunities it can bring. During my studies at Imperial College, I attended many conferences and meetings with key agricultural industry stakeholders which gave an insight into the main challenges faced by farmers and led to the creation of FA Bio.
As well as providing a great environment in which to discover new ideas, learn about the latest industry developments and utilise the wealth of knowledge and experience present at F&A Next, it was also a valuable networking opportunity. The conference was a great opportunity to connect with investors, peers and industry experts alike and it was great to finally be back face to face.
I feel very proud to be part of an industry and community that are wholeheartedly committed to the need for innovation in Food & Agriculture.