Mariana Vasconcelos is the founder of Agrosmart, an agri-tech company based in Brazil, Sao Paulo encouraging sustainable agriculture. In recognition of her efforts and impact, she was named in Forbes 30 under 30 list. Today, big corporations including Coca Cola employs her technology and the company manages over half a million acres of land.
What is Agrosmart?
Agrosmart creates smart farming software that uses artificial intelligence to make agricultural predictions based on data from the soil, weather conditions, and genetic profiles of the crop.
The software resides on farmers’ phones and analyses raw data collected from sensors which are then transmitted via satellite or lower-broadband 3G network. It then provides recommendations on agricultural activity, including seed placement and climate modelling.
What was the road like to Agrosmart?
In an interview with CleanTech News, Ms. Vasconcelos said “Growing up around entrepreneurs, I have always been certain that I wanted to run my own business – an aspiration that my university education has fortified.”
“I did cloud computing and online workspaces in 2011 and 2012. After this, I lived in Germany to do an internship with Bosch where there was already a lot of talked about start-ups. I came back to Brazil and built an IoT company, where I connected sensors with the internet.”
“As a child of a rural producer, I know well the challenges faced by farmers. I thought, why are we not applying this technology to agriculture?”
Technology could be the answer to declining farm succession rates
Farm succession refers to the transfer of the farm business within the family. Today, two-thirds of retiring farmers do not have identified successors. This is a problem because family farms produce about 80% of the world’s food.
Without successors, the problem of food scarcity will only be aggravated.
Ms. Vasconcelos told CleanTech News that she “finds technology has a really important role in succession. Parents do not want their children to remain in agriculture because of its laborious nature. But we still need to produce food, and technology is a way to engage the younger folks to retain them in agriculture.”
The software conserves scarce resources like water and helps creates resilient supply chains
Agriculture consumes up to 70% of the world’s fresh water. With a booming world population and a fixed amount of freshwater available for consumption, it becomes more crucial that water is managed wisely.
Rural producers rely on manual research and accumulated knowledge to grow their crops. Ms. Vasconcelos said that “But as environmental conditions change, those rules don’t work anymore, and they have to rediscover it.”
“That’s why many farmers are failing, they can’t produce the same yield or quality with old methods. It’s really important that we create resilient supply chains for food security.”
Ms. Vasconcelos adds that “The software can save up to 60% of water, 30% energy and increase crop yield by 20%. Savings are higher than current methodologies and the system also alerts 15 days in advance whether a certain disease would affect the crop and informs about rain data.”
“For example, a lot of labour work is involved in checking rainwater levels manually over hundreds of acres of land. But with remote management, it eliminates the need for that.”
By using Agrosmart technology, big corporations can include smallholder farms in their supply chains
When asked about her customers, Ms Vasconcelos said that “We service family-own farms ranging from 50-2000 acres, and corporations including Coca Cola where they have incorporated this into its fruit farms in Espirito Santo.”
“With large corporations like Coca Cola and Nestle, they have social commitments to source from family farming. Through them, we gain access to the small farm holders where they can employ our technology to benefit both parties.”
“Consumers today want to know where their food comes from and how it was produced. The same data that is required to keep up optimal farm operations can be used to answer those questions.”
A recent report by Response Media found that 95% of consumers want to know where and how their foods are sourced and produced. Up to 70% stated that their buying decision is influenced by food transparency.
“We are also working with banks and insurance companies that are trying to distribute their financial products. The infiltration of those services in Brazil is very low because they do not have risk data which is very expensive to obtain. With more data, they’d be able to offer them at lower costs to consumers.”
COVID-19 has encouraged the adoption of technology
Many businesses have taken it to online means to continue their operations. In the case of Agrosmart, COVID-19 helped propel the adoption of its technology as it becomes a necessity.
“COVID-19 made it necessary for farmers to go digital. It’s good in a way that going digital is no longer an option but a mandatory change to stay afloat.”
“However, it can also be detrimental because young start-ups with complicated business models and immature technologies end up deterring farmers from being receptive to any kind of technology adoption.”
“It takes effort to educate the consumer. Currently, we host webinars, release blog posts, and videos for educational purposes.”
Ms Vasconcelos notes that the benefits of IoT are also subjected to connectivity and remains a barrier for many companies.
For more on the relationship between sustainable agriculture and cleantech, see here.