Climate Confident

Breaking New Ground: The Role of Tech in Reshaping Farming for the Planet

January 31, 2024 Tom Raftery / Davide Ceper Season 1 Episode 155
Climate Confident
Breaking New Ground: The Role of Tech in Reshaping Farming for the Planet
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In the latest episode of the Climate Confident podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Davide Ceper, CEO of Varda. We delved deep into the innovative solutions Varda is bringing to the agriculture sector. Here’s a quick overview of our enlightening discussion:

Davide shed light on Varda's pivotal projects - Field ID and SoilHive. Field ID is a groundbreaking approach to standardising agricultural field identification, making data sharing more efficient and enhancing transparency in the farming sector. On the other hand, SoilHive aims to revolutionise soil health data accessibility, focusing on aiding farmers in adopting sustainable practices.

We also explored the significant environmental impact of agriculture, contributing to a considerable portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. Davide emphasised the need for collaborative efforts in data sharing and transparency to tackle the pressing challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Furthermore, we discussed the implications of COP 28 on agriculture, where Davide highlighted the sector's newfound recognition in global environmental discussions and the need for actionable, long-term strategies.

Don’t miss out on this insightful conversation, which is not only a deep dive into agricultural tech but also a look at the broader implications for environmental sustainability. Tune in for an episode that's as informative as it is thought-provoking!

For more updates and insights, check out Varda’s innovative tools at fieldid.varda.ag and app.soilhive.ag.

Keep listening, keep learning, and let's stay climate confident! And don't forget to check out the video version of this episode at https://youtu.be/jQp66zP_bBM


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Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Davide Ceper:

There is a reason why Google Maps is such a fantastic service because if I send you my location on Google Maps, you will find me unless one, you're using one of the few other services, but everybody has Google Maps and you can find each other thanks to the ubiquity and universality of it. We need to create the equivalent for that in agricultural and field identification services.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast, the number one podcast showcasing best practices in climate emission reductions and removals, and I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi everyone, welcome to episode 155 of the Climate Confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery, and before we kick off today's show, I want to take a moment to express my sincere gratitude to all of this podcast's amazing supporters. Your support has been instrumental in keeping the podcast going, and I'm really grateful for each and every one of you. If you're not already a supporter, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable with options starting as low as just three euros or dollars. That's less than the cost of a cup of coffee, and your support will make a huge difference in keeping this show going strong. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode, or visit tinyurl. com slash climatepod. Without further ado, with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Davide. Davide, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Davide Ceper:

Sure. Hi Tom, and first of all, thank you for having me as, as your guest on the podcast. I'm really grateful to, to be here today and have a chance to, to talk with you. My name is Davide Ceper and I have a background in finance and economics. Although for the last 10 years of my career, I've been dedicating my time exclusively to the world of agriculture in various capacities. And first as a management consultant, then as an executive of a bioscience company. And then most recently, as what you might define as an intrapreneur, leading an agritech startup corporate startup, sponsored by one of the largest fertilizer multinationals in the world. And the company that I lead is called Varda.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And what do you do? What does Varda do?

Davide Ceper:

So Varda was founded with a very simple question on the surface, and the question was, how can we improve the flow and exchange of agriculture information and data. And specifically, the data that is generated and can be generated at the, at the field and farm level so that we can establish a more collaborative network through the supply chain and among companies in the agriculture and food supply chain with the ultimate goal of better measuring environmental impact, enabling traceability, and accelerating efficiency and innovation in the sector. At the end of the day, many other industries have developed mechanisms of exchanging information for efficiency because that's generally a good thing for, for an economic sector. It turns out that agriculture is probably the most difficult or one of the most difficult for, for this to happen because of the inherent fragmented nature of the business. There are millions of farms in the world. Everyone has its own specificity and every farm has a lot of potentially different methods of production, crops, soil, weather systems, and obviously every farmer has its own methods and therefore the amount of data that can be generated and standardized is staggering. Sorry. The amount of data that is generated is staggering. The standardization is missing because there is no such thing as a universal data model for agriculture, and therefore the exchange of information is, is extremely complicated. And this is a problem because agriculture, as we know and as we've learned more recently at COP 28, is one of the most important sectors to tackle and to support in the transition towards net zero. Depending on the estimates, you have about a quarter to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions that depend on agriculture directly or indirectly. 70% of freshwater resources are dedicated and used in agriculture, and a significant amount of biodiversity loss is driven by agricultural expansion, especially pasture land. And the clearing of natural habitat and forests, as many people already know. Is difficult, however, is that while these impacts are global, the individual impact of a single farm is very hard to, to measure, and especially the the tracing of the impact, the, the causal relationship between the consumption that happens at the, at our level or the industrial level. And the sourcing is very much separated because we've been very good at creating efficiency through trading and very well coordinated supply chains for the movement of grains and, and other crops and agricultural produce from one side of the world to the other. At very competitive prices. But that efficiency and that scale goes to the detriment of the possibility of creating a direct relationship between the consumptions that we make and the consumption choices that we make and the, the provenance, the impact, and the way food is being produced. And this is the biggest, one of the biggest problems affecting the, the make that making it so intractable, the issue of measuring impact and rewarding practices in farmers that are doing things in a more sustainable way, which is one of the big trends and aspirations for the industry right now.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And how do you tackle that?

Davide Ceper:

Sure. Well, there's, we, we looked into this problem for, for a number of, for a quite long time initially. The, the original idea for Varda was established at the beginning of 2020 and when we created a company only two years later, realizing that one of the core elements if we want to establish data exchange properly through the industry is neutrality. So, we're sponsored by, as I said, by Yara, which is one of the leading fertilizer companies in the world. And one of the things that we realized, realized is that it was necessary to establish a separate unit because, if you want to foster collaboration and get other corporations and private sector actors and farmers to exchange data properly, you need to establish a bit of a distance. Otherwise, there's always a suspicion that a big corporation has other motivations, commercial motivations, typically to do what it's doing. Whereas I'm really happy to say that Yara has been genuinely motivated by a desire to make this sector truly more sustainable because it's in, in its own interest. How do we do that? We decided to focus on two primary domains. The first may sound trivial, but it actually isn't, and it's amazing that it hasn't happened yet. The fact that agriculture is typically a spatial activity, right? Everything that happens on the field that you, it's easy to imagine a field when you're landing on an airport. You always see those areas around the airport that are free. Or when you look at a satellite picture, there's all of this different patches of land squares or circles, depending on, on the area. And every one of these units, it's like a mini factory. Every piece of land and every land parcel is like a factory of food or fiber or, or biofuels if you want. Every one of these patches of land may have different data generation devices, tools, platforms or none at all in small holder markets. Just to give you an example, so a farmer might be using a tractor from one brand, a spreader machine from another brand, may use a farm management software, may have a laboratory tested soil, weather stations, there's always satellites circling over our heads all the time. So all of these different sources of data may generate information typically with a spatial definition. So you have either GPS location, so all of the most modern machines are connected and provide an input and tag the activity that are performing with a GPS location. So very, very dense set of points. Others, when you have a fund management software, typically you would want to map your land to understand what am I gonna do in this field? How, what is its profitability? What is my yield, et cetera, and all of this data gets recorded into this siloed data platforms essentially. Now, typically the largest ones do tend to connect among themselves and establish back-to-back connectivity, but the permutations that you have because of the inherent local nature of agriculture are so vast that it, there isn't such a thing as a universal standard to identify the fields. So you find yourself in a situation where you may have difficult. One of the key problems is interoperability of these platforms that support farmers. And in many other cases, the data is simply recorded on piece of paper, a, an Excel file, in the mind, or in a computer of an agronomist that supports the farmers. So the, the, the formula, the, the kind of scenarios that we can find ourselves in are very, very diverse, potentially infinite combinations. The common thing is that if you want to record if you want to document environmental impact at the farm level, you need to be able to refer it to a certain location and you need to be able to combine data, whatever it's available from various sources. Unfortunately, satellite and earth observation technology remote sensing as it's called, is not sufficient because a good chunk of the impact is generated by the application of agricultural input, in particular fertilizer. But the management practices that affect the quality and long-term resilience of soil, soil health, for example, which can only test locally climatic factors, terrain, et cetera. So, what we decided to focus on to kind of break this data silos and create a universal mechanism of conversation and dialogue among these various platforms that didn't require an expensive point-to-point, integration is the concept of a global field ID. And a global field id you can think of it as a social security number or, or the equivalent of an address for a house. So everybody's used to having an address for their home, and if you give your address to anyone, people will get to your door, most of the times unless they get lost. Well, in, in agriculture, it turns out that there isn't such a thing because fields do not have an address and you cannot use simply coordinates because to define a polygon, you will need to give a long list of vertices and coordinates or send a what is called a, geospatial type of information. So GeoJason, there's various formats anyways, but a shape file or a picture of representing your field with certain specific spatial coordinates. This is completely inefficient because you cannot imagine companies and especially data platforms and machines communicating among themselves by sending long strings of coordinates. And if you just send a GPS location, you may get a point within the field, but that doesn't tell you anything about its size, spatial expansion, whether where it ends, when it begins, and how to refer and contextualize the data from these various sources that I mentioned earlier to that specific polygon. So what we did field that he essentially translates the spatial information of a polygon into a easy to share string of text, which is made of numbers and letters. And each field in the world in our vision should have one such identifier. So that you can basically say if you have data about that, you share a code and you say, I can combine data from these various platforms because all, because all of them can refer to the same simple code. The way we do this is by disseminating these identifiers through the industry with a two sources, but it typically be via an API, which is an application program interface. A mechanism for machines and data and data platforms to communicate among themselves. So we, we started mapping land ourselves with a partner company using satellite technology or public data, wherever it's available. So let's take an example. In the UK for example, there there are various million fields, agricultural land plots. Each of which we have pre mapped, loaded into our database, and each one of them has a unique identifier. That identifier can then be consumed by companies that provide agricultural services or farmers themselves if they need to, if they're requested the question, which are your fields? And we can get to that point later, why would that happen? In which context? But there is an increasing trends towards transparency and traceability precisely for the reasons of measuring environmental impact.

Tom Raftery:

Sure.

Davide Ceper:

So that's one mechanism. The other one is via a user interface. So we've created a a web-based application that allows you to go online and go to the map. Like you would go on Google Maps and see preloaded set of fields and you can click on those that represent your farm or the farm that you're interested in knowing the identifiers about. And you will get all of the identifiers. And we administer these identifiers. Here's the hunch. The difficult part of all this is that unlike buildings homes or factories, fields are not static in nature.'cause these polygons do tend to change over time. They may disappear if they build a mall over it or a highway. They may be created anew, if a farmer clears a patch of land that wasn't used for agriculture before, as it's happening, especially in the tropics, and they may change, they may be splits, they may be divided, maybe farmed in a different way, various years. The cycles of farming, you don't grow always the same stuff, the same crop on the same patch of land. So this is an enormously complex problem because you want to give stability. You don't change your name if you change your clothes. And so similarly, you don't want to change the identifier of a field if it changes slightly, its shape. But you want to preserve that stability if the area that we're talking about is always the same because things like regenerative agriculture, carbon farming, which are some, some of the topics that the industry is, is getting excited about more recently do, require ability to trace practices over the same area of land somewhat consistently over many years. And so we created the notion of a stable identifier. The field ID is a stable number, but we also recognize the fact that every field may have multiple children, various sub polygons that represent the various activities that happen. And especially if there is this notion of splitting and recomposing over time, we can always reconstruct a history of how the various subplots do get reconciled with the original identifier. And if it's necessary, we will change and assign a new id when the changes are so dramatic they're permanent. That's, the part of work that took most of our time for the first year, year and a half, really defining this model in a way that preserves this stability while allowing for the variability of, and the nature of the evasive nature of this plots of land. That is one thing. What we want to do with this essentially is to create a universal language and move away from this identification model that is peculiar to every platform. So an example that I made before, the machines companies that sell tractors, the farm management software companies, satellite companies, every one of them uses a different way of identifying that plot of land. That makes it very difficult to combine data. We're almost like in a multiverse where everybody has its own bubble of information, and yet they are combinable in theory if you only had the same key to refer to those. So that's the most that's, that's the first project and product that we developed and we released it recently. Right now we have it in most of Western Europe and in Brazil and North America. We're finishing the ingestion of the data in North America as we speak. The other one is a product dedicated to soil. We call it Soil Hive, and the reason for working on soil is because well. You can think about Field ID as the box, the container for the information, but then you need to populate that container with it with specific information to make it actionable and relevant. Now, we do not want to get into the business of generating that data because there are companies that do that and are precisely dedicated to do that. Our job is to facilitate the flow of that data and create a more liquid market that enables farmers to respond to compliance request or to capture opportunities on the market because of the trends that I was mentioning earlier. But soil is a crucial piece of information in the, in the agricultural domain because essentially 95 of the food, that 95% of the food that we consume is generated on, on soils. And soils are incredibly, incredibly important for our long-term sustenance because of this. But at the same time, they're also very fragile environment because the industrial way of farming has been depleting their their nutrient and their quality over time in various areas. And according to some estimates, up to 90% of soils could be degraded in a way or another by within the next 30 to 40 years, which is a staggering amount. And soil degradation means loss of yields, requirement of additional level of inputs to farm, and potential then catastrophic collapse of agricultural production or even desertification in, in many areas of the world where we see that the climate climate change can also have an exacerbating effect. So our goal with Soil Hive is to make soil data more easily findable and consumable through mechanisms of collaboration and donation and identification of the gaps in the map of the world where we don't have enough information, but also stimulating the surfacing of this data that is typically lost or hidden in various databases. There are a few global databases sponsored by the FAO, by universities by other initiatives, which we started ingesting and essentially meta referencing through this through our platform. But there are many other sources of data that are maybe in university research center research public research centers. Private farmers, private labs that could be used to kind of, apply the logic of a wearable to the planet. So you could measure more in, in more real time what is happening in terms of soil health over the years and understand where there is a need to focus attention and provide mechanisms of restoration but also enable more that reward mechanism.'cause essentially what we want to do is to create a mechanism of reward for, for, for practices of conservation agriculture that farmers today are not rewarded for enough. There definitely should be a lot more money and resources going into the pockets of farmers that are defending and working in defending the environment ecosystem and working for long-term preservation of their land.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, so I'm guessing Soil Hive is like an Open street Map, but for soil health, who would use it and what for?

Davide Ceper:

Yeah, I think it's, you use a, a nice analogy. I see field ID more as an Open Street Map, and so I'd have like a bit of a Wikipedia or the two projects, the two products work more or less in the same direction. So specifically for Soil Hive, I think it's we started focusing on the academic sector and research as domain because this is, these are the typical users that need to understand what are the conditions of soil to inform policy decisions to map simply the status of a country. And typically, we started to focus on small holder markets, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. So our first project and was deployed in Tanzania where we helped the the Tanzanian government to understand and map areas of the the country where various applications of certain inputs like calcium in particular could help correct the acidity of the soil. And to do that you need to have a granular map of the soil and understand which are the regions that would benefit more from this kind of application to improve soil fertility. But also overlaying it with the deposit of, of the minerals so that you can also then understand how expensive it would be to build the infrastructure, to carry the input, because these are bulky input typically. Brazil is an example that has actually gone through that process and managed to farm areas that were previously thought to be unfarmable, in the Serrada, for example. So there's various applications, but we think that at the end of the day. The logic is one where you even a private farmer eventually would see the value in contributing his own, his or her own data because you can get better advice because you can get some sort of rewards mechanisms for a link to the soil health of your farm. In general, there is a trend in the food industry to demonstrate, first of all, commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the supply chain, to promote regenerative farming practices, and conservation agriculture. But the documentation process of all that is extremely complex because of what I said earlier, because the supply chains are so long. But one simple way is to at the very least, a proxy for for good farming practices is the quality of your soil. So definitely there is a case for improving that. But one of the other applications that we have in mind is to use this map that allows to under, we created an index of data availability on soil. So we split the world into various billions of hexagons. That's why we call it Soil Hive, like, like a beehive. And these hexagons provide a tesselated map of the world, which you can zoom in or out, but at a certain level you would, you would see how much data is available in that specific region. And low availability of data means that there is more of a need for publicly funded potentially in this smallholder markets publicly funded analysis. So instead of reinventing the wheel and going into the same areas that we know already, let's fill in the gaps first because there are entire swathes of land where there is really, really low availability of information. Then you would imagine also establishing it's possible to establish private markets on, on top of this because I mentioned carbon farming. So carbon farming is one of the recent trends in the sector. Gone through somewhat of a criticism for various reasons. But typically the idea is, is is, is, is a good one in the sense that soils act as a big counter, as a big offset element to greenhouse gas emissions because CO2 can be captured or the organic matter that is stored in the soil, and then that essentially reduces. It's been estimated that 0.4% in the carbon content of the soil would offset the entire emissions of the planet. Now this is, it's easy to make this math because you assume that you can do that on billions of hectares of land, which is the complicated part of it. Not, not all farmers are aware of this. There's not clearly incentives to do this necessarily because you need to change the way you farm, and, and that's, that's always a risk. So it's soil organic carbon soil organic matter is a, is a measurement that is typically necessary to be taken at the beginning and at various times through multi-year projects for carbon credits generation. And so having this information more publicly available, more easily available would lower the cost for the various entrepreneurial ventures that have started to create this carbon trading schemes essentially, where they go to farmers, they pay them sometimes in advance, or they teach them how to change their practices to sequester carbon. And then over a few years you would measure how much carbon has been sequestered. And part of the funds are released over time because these generate an offset. But the industry, the polluting industry, need to buy. And so this, it's a typical carbon trading scheme except that it's done on the fields in this case specifically. And it generates carbon from from the soil, literally. The most expensive part of this process is to measure the starting baseline, because you need to have a mechanism of documenting that something good is actually happening. And so that's another way that you could use this platform for storing in a, in a secure and transparent way, the starting point, the baseline, and then document the progress, some ideas of, of how to use it.

Tom Raftery:

Sure, sure. One, one of the things they talk about in that space is what's called MRV, which is measure, report, and verify. And I can imagine Soil Hive would come in very handy in that kind of scenario.

Davide Ceper:

Look, I'm, I'm glad that you're raising this point because MRV is one of the, one of the topics that we were talking also during, during COP 28. And it's essentially, I'm gonna take the, a bit broader answer to your question, but definitely yes. So the answer is absolutely but typically MRV, the way it's done today it's a combination of, of, of, of mechanisms, but the most scalable way for us to measure and report and verify practices, especially for carbon farming, is via remote sensing and satellite observation. So, the carbon footprint of a farm is typically driven by a few macro sectors. There's a long list of factors that affect it and I don't know them all by heart obviously, but, soil tillage is one. So whether the, the farm is tilling the soil or not, or the, the leaving the soil covered during the off season, especially in the north, in, in the more temperate hemisphere. So planting what is called a cover crop preserves biomass on the soil and avoids erosion. And then this is where the other factors are, cannot be measured from remotely. Well, the type of rotation plan that you do, obviously that has an effect on the modeling of how you sequester carbon. But the biggest drivers on field are fertilizer application especially nitrogen fertilizer that generates nitrous oxide, which is one of the most potent GH greenhouse gases that exists. And various forms of fuel consumption, et cetera irrigation. So the measurement of these on field practices is what cannot be done via, via satellite technology. So whatever measurement you get via remote sensing is always going to be partial or approximate. And the source of the fertilizer can also have an enormous difference because there are factories that produce with the most advanced technologies for res sequestering, CO2, at the factory level using or even building new capacity based on renewable energy for, for, for fertilizer production. And so depending on the source of your fertilizer and the amount that you apply and the day that you apply and the kind of soil you have, so you have a very complex model. But knowing the amount and the provenance is fundamental for you to make a proper assessment of that component. And then obviously then there's other fuels or electricity for drying the, the, the crop at the end. So those are the main drivers. So to your question, I think one of the problems that exists in, in the domain of MRV is that right now's happening, and this is where I see an application for Field ID is, these are typically, services that are given in, in a B2B or bilateral way to, so there's a company, it could be a food company, an agricultural company, an input provider that requests a verification of these of these practices to, to one of these providers. I would advocate for the fact that we need a common layer of reporting. So whatever measurement is produced, then it should be referred to the same field identification through a universal field identification model or platform, the ones that we've created, essentially, because that increases the transparency of, of the data that is produced. And if you increase the transparency in the cross verifiability of whatever data you've produced, then the trust in the whole system improves. Instead, we're essentially, I think we're, we're, we're living in a world where we're trading shares over the counter. And shares in my analogy, is information on carbon farming practices or conservation practices, for example. Whereas we should move to a world where there is the equivalent of a stock exchange where the information that is produced is public and can be cross verified, and there are penalties for misreporting that. So the, the technology is there. The, the, the way these these platforms work actually is service providers work is actually necessary because they're very scalable. What I think is missing is a level playing field for the reporting so that you can standardize and make much, much more transparent whatever data is produced. And then you can cross reference with that remote sensing generated data whatever information you might have from the field, which can come from a variety of sources. But I would say that especially in the more advanced market, well everywhere in the world, but probably especially in the Western Europe and North America, in countries where there is a high concentration and power of agricultural retailers. Well, the, the army of agronomists that are on the ground and, and that support farmers on a daily basis, they could provide a very valuable piece of information to complement that data that cannot be collected from the sky and will never be, in my opinion, collected appropriately at the level of of precision and accuracy and reliability that is required. So that's one of the, let's say, one of the visions that I have or the, the scenarios that I would, that I would advocate for if we truly want to report. And be able to document the impact on nature that agriculture and food production are having. We need to move to a scenario where there is much more transparency the way we report it, and away from this multiverse of various geospatial bubbles where everybody's doing their own thing and nobody and the cost of verification is simply higher because there is there is lower trust in the system. That's at least my, my personal opinion.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And you've mentioned COP 28 a couple of times now, and we're a few weeks after COP 28 at this point. For people who might be unaware because a lot of the headlines from COP 28 were around the final text and the agreement which came out, which got rid well, which talks about transitioning away from fossil fuels but I didn't see a lot, talked about agriculture. So tell me what has come out about agriculture.

Davide Ceper:

Well, thanks for asking. I think first of all, this was my first COP, so I cannot make comparisons with the previous ones. But according to the, the veterans that I've spoken to it was actually a momentous a very, a very positive COP for our sector because it actually placed agriculture for the first time on the global agenda in terms of one of the sectors that need to be tackled and supported into the decarbonization sector. As I said in the beginning, agriculture is directly or indirectly responsible for about between a quarter and a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. And so that automatically faces the sector front and center behind maybe energy and transportation in the, in the battle for for long-term sustainability on the planet.

Tom Raftery:

Hmm.

Davide Ceper:

I, myself was a skeptical about COP, to be honest, before, because looking from the outside you, if you look at the, I was doing a bit of research to see if since the first COP, what, what is, how has the world evolved? And emissions have certainly gone up dramatically since 1992. But the, the figure that really caught my attention was about, according to the IPCC, about 420 million hectares of forest have been cleared in the last 30 years. And this is a heart wrenching amount, to be honest, because it's not only the, the, the tree cover, but imagine also the loss of animal life, biodiversity habitat. It's, it's, it's a, it's an unspoken tragedy, and we see the effects of that, especially, and if we continue on this trajectory, I think the effects will be felt. Not in decades, but literally in years. And we have direct experience every year we see that this is the hottest year, et cetera. So, but the biodiversity aspect is getting a lot more attention recently and, and rightly so because the habitats are shrinking at a speed that is not, not sustainable and certainly too alarming. So to me, the positive side of COP was, this COP specifically, was to place agriculture at the center of the agenda. Make it one of the sectors that require, require attention and action. Actually, 150 countries signed the declaration on on the need for, for the transformation of the food system. What, when it fell short, and it will always fall short, I think is the binding nature of whatever agreements and statements even, I cannot imagine a country that depends for its own government revenues on oil to make a declaration where they will phase out oil. I mean, it's just, unless you provide a counterbalancing element on the financial side, it will never happen, and it's wishful thinking in my opinion. However, the very fact that we have these opportunities to convene world leaders and various actors and players in corporate world and the NGO world, et cetera, is extreme to me, was extremely inspiring because you get to make those connections and to, and be inspired, connecting the dots and getting a sense of possibility and and also establish that kind of trust that you can only be on in person and multi multilateral conversations that are extremely complicated to organize during the course of a normal business year. So that gave me inspiration, particularly for the way we should evolve, for example the, the, the growth of our, of our platform and one of the sustainable development goals that UN has is about building infrastructure for, for a resilient world and more sustainable world. And that's definitely where I see a role play from for, for the kind of services that we have created within Varda. There's been a lot of debate on the fact that regulation, one of the things that I picked up a COP was regulation on nature related climate, nature and climate related risk disclosure. So the financial sector, that was one of the biggest surpri, not surprises, but certainly one of the findings for me that were relevant and there is a connection to our sector. The financial sector will have, if regulation comes in place, and I think it will eventually, I don't know how much time, so we need to wait, but eventually some countries will start moving. The EU is always one of the, one of the leaders in this domain. Regulation requiring more specific and accurate reporting of impact. Of a company's supply chain in on nature and exposure to the risk of, of, of loss, of nature and by and or, or climate risk. And this is an area where the spatial definition and the identification of the areas in the Unical way and universal way can play an enormous contribution because as long as we keep on living on our own multiverse bubbles that I said before, it's gonna be extremely difficult to provide any serious and trusted reporting. But, so that is, that is certainly one. I was also, I was also stimulated into thinking more about the, the diversity of how to reach those communities that are completely cut off from any technological advancement or have, are significantly behind in the availability of connectivity services and software, for example. And there are more than 500 million farms small holder farms and farmers in the world according to various estimates. Many of these are in remote areas, but these are the areas that typically are at the border of, of forest or rather on natural, other natural habitats. These are the areas where the, the, the, the profitability of farming is, is lowest and sometimes it's, it's amazing that we have farms farmers going hungry. And these are the areas that deserve more support and more inclusion into this mapping exercise to get direct rewards. So again, I can see definitely the, the, the way we built our product couldn't serve those individuals because they don't have access to connectivity or a, or a tablet that would allow them to identify their fields for a start. But we could build on top of existing extension service providers, NGOs, various multilateral organizational government initiative to reach those areas and start mapping them and understand the interrelated risks of various sourcing various sources of crops with the natural domains and biomes that surround those areas. And then put in place mechanisms of reward and compensation that do not, that would reduce the incentive for these communities to clear forest, for example. So this is . Cocoa farmers, for example, need to clear part of the forest to increase their output because they don't make enough money. Well, we could reward them for leaving those forest up if we only knew who they are and where they are. And when you're talking about tens or hundreds of millions, obviously you can get a sense of the, the scale of the problem, but the resources are there. I mean, I, I think, oh, there should, there should be more resources and the fact that there, I think there, there could be more resources if we had a mechanism of verifying that these resources are deployed at the higher at the, with real impact, which today, again, is not possible. Those are, I think, the main takeaways from COP. I, I guess we'll hear more about the food sector in the, in the next years. And certainly there is a lot more attention to, to it and that that's a welcome outcome.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, just I'm curious about Varda. How is Varda being compensated?

Davide Ceper:

Yeah. So, it's actually, we've gone through various swings. Since the beginning we've asked ourselves the question are, is what we're doing a public service? Or should we be selling it as a commercial service? Is it a for-profit service or is it a non-profit service? And I'm glad that in the beginning we could act with the assumption of a, of working for a commercial service because that gives us the speed and decision making required to kind of do and try and understand what was the, how we could address the problem that we were given to solve. But more and more, especially this year when we started, commercializing our service some potential conflicts emerged. And in particular the nature of providing a systemic service via a single commercial company controlling it. So imagine if zip codes were assigned by a private company. And you know, the whole postal service would, would, obviously zip codes now are known, but if you, if you relied on such a public service that were given, there's a reason why public infrastructure, even when it's managed by a private company, it follows certain reg strong regulatory regulations. So I see a strong analogy here for what analogy for here, for what we do. And in fact Yara's leadership has decided to make Varda a public infrastructure or a shared infrastructure. We would, you can use the term a public digital infrastructure essentially, which is what we aspire to become by essentially contributing the assets to a different governance model. So transferring the assets of Varda and the whole operation to a nonprofit organization or association to be formed. So what we're gonna work on in the beginning of the year and in the next months now is. Literally forming that coalition that can find mechanisms, mechanisms of financing, these basic services for data connectivity, field identification, and, and soil data, obviously, that can potentially be provided to the entire industry for the benefit of all, in particular for the in two, in two ways. Startups that are working in the regenerative farming domain that are working in carbon farming that typically wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel by creating their own geospatial reporting system, data repository verification models. MRV providers that we can probably find more easily a larger pool of users and consumers of the data. So spending less on, on marketing and customer acquisition, having a centralized mechanism of of meeting their customers, but also I would say farmers reducing the cost of compliance. Adding value sources of data to verify your practices with a single identifier makes it a lot easier to combine information and spend less time into the, the whole compliance and traceability at the end, which is one of the most difficult things, especially for grains and largely traded commodities that gets loaded up on huge ships and then in warehouses, then distributed again. So it's impossible to create a one-to-one relationship. But if we had these identifiers, I think we can get, at least get a narrowed down list of fields of provenance, and that would certainly increase transparency. To me, transparency is definitely one of the drivers that we need to advocate for. So what we're gonna work for is a creation of a mechanism of private and public funding. I think philanthropic capital here definitely has a role to play because the, the infrastructure that we control has and that we built and we want to scale, first of all has needs for long-term maintenance. You want this thing to continue to exist. That was one of the criticisms that I heard. What if. What if Yara gets bored about this whole thing? Things, you know, it's a private company, it may have other priorities and it's unfair that it's a private company sustaining a public good, right? Also, I think so. But also how do we ensure that this thing exists in perpetuity because the longevity of an infrastructure like this gives the sense of of stability and it's required for the credibility of everything that, of everything that we do. And one of the biggest things that I've noticed in, in the industry is that there is this enthusiasm for launching initiatives, various associations and coalitions to solve regenerative, to promote regenerative farming practices or conservation agriculture here and there, but all of them. Achieve only incremental impact even when they get into the millions of hectares of impact, because the scale of the problem for us is in billions of hectares. There's about 1.5 billion hectares of arable land, and twice as much I think or more in pasture land in the world. There are hundreds of millions of farmers that need to be reached, taught how to farm differently and be rewarded for doing, for conserving and not harming the planet. That is a 20 year project, in my opinion. And we need to think in terms of creating essentially the UN of data reporting and agricultural and nature related impact in food and agricultural production. So it is a combination of private and public sector philanthropic capital governments as well, and with a common principle at let's at at least start calling and mapping the land in the same way. There is a reason why Google Maps is such a fantastic service because if I send you my location on Google Maps, you will find me unless one, you're using one of the few other services, but everybody has Google Maps and you can find each other thanks to the ubiquity and universality of it. We need to create the equivalent for that in agricultural and field identification services. And that can only be done. I don't think even a Google would have the resources for that. And even if they did, I think the, the, the private control of such an infrastructure would be a, a road blocker and a would hamper the adoption because you'll get entire groups that would be feeling suspicious about it. So you need to have public control of such an infrastructure. I'm repeating myself a bit in this, but I think it's an important message.

Tom Raftery:

No, that, that makes a lot of sense. It, it will require a lot of partnerships and collaboration as well though, no?.

Davide Ceper:

Yes. In fact, the word collaboration is is one of the terms that we use the most, and everybody agrees that there needs to be a lot more collaboration, but it's very difficult to establish collaboration in a domain where, in every domain in general, but especially when there is a bit of fear of losing to the competitor. Am I going to be the first one to help here am I? We've had numerous discussions with the largest multinationals. Some of them have adopted our service like Syngenta, for example. But the conversation with the others is, is always long because first of all, you know, field identification is not the top of the priority of an executive unless you understand the ramifications and implications that it can have on all the rest that we're trying to do. And that's where we're investing in the communication part. But in general also a lot of, a lot of companies in the sector have invested a lot of resources into generating proprietary tools to better serve their customers. And there it's difficult to let go of this. First of all, you don't need to let go of this, but it's difficult to imagine a world where you're collaborating on the data front. And there's an additional complication in all this, the data that even the largest agricultural data platforms like John Deere for tractors, for example, and other Bayer farm management software that are leading the sector have this data does not belong to them. It belongs to the farmers and they're just a processor of this data. So even if you wanted, you couldn't transfer any of it, and that's fair. I think it's the way it should be. But farmers should be educated to understand that there is more to gain by making at least certain layers of information more openly available. Those that are non-sensitive, like not the yield, maybe not if you have some problem with your soil, but some data layer, how much fertilizer you have applied, especially if it can be combined and anonymized. That is a, a piece of information that would make us give us a lot of better understanding on the size of the problem and where to tackle it and where to incentivize change.

Tom Raftery:

Okay.

Davide Ceper:

I think the financial sector can have an enormous impact here because loans are becoming more expensive. Credit in farming is an extremely important lever, especially for professional farmers, let alone for smallholder farmers, smallholder farmers where there is none. Insurance, also, only a tiny fraction of farmers get insured for the crop. And if you had insurance, you would have more incentive to experiment and try other practices, obviously. But the cost and the cost of both services, loans, and insurance can be dramatically reduced if we have more transparency on the, on the, type of fields that we have, where they are, the size that they are. Sometimes that information even is not available. And it's not economical to send the salesforce for a single farm because the average farm is, is, doesn't generate enough profit for, for for a sales force to be deployed in every single door. So you need to create mechanisms of knowing your farmer better, knowing your customer better. And that happens first and foremost, in my opinion, with better mapping. And this notion of a universal Google map for agriculture, that would make a lot more frictionless the, the flow of information.

Tom Raftery:

Makes sense. Makes sense. Davide, we're coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there any question I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to be aware of?

Davide Ceper:

Well, I, I think we covered pretty much everything. I just want to reiterate the the existence of the services that we've created because we're, we're a tiny startup. Obviously we have limited reach and capacity capability, but we've made ourselves known into the few markets where we operate. So right now we have Field ID available in France, Netherlands, uk, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain in Europe, and soon we will have Poland, Denmark, and other parts of Europe. Brazil, and the US as of January will be available. And so, our plan is to continue to expand this list into other large producing countries, Argentina, Canada, and then India over the course of the beginning of the next year. And I would invite people, farmers, agronomists, anyone who is in interested in this discussion of better traceability, transparency, and more fluid flow of information through the sector to check our, our, our, our tools. One is Field ID, which you can find in fieldid.varda.ag. Certainly. And the other one is, is Soil Hive. If you're interested in the topic of soil and want to understand how our application works. And that is App.SoilHive.Ag A ppp, soil Hive Ag. I just wanted to make sure about the topics. Sorry.

Tom Raftery:

sure, sure, sure, sure. No problem.

Davide Ceper:

Um,

Tom Raftery:

And if, if people would like to know more about yourself or any of the topics we discussed in the podcast today, Davide, where would you send them?

Davide Ceper:

Sure. Well use traditional social media channels. We have one for Varda, but also for myself on LinkedIn. Typically, I, I post fairly regularly what we do with the progress on what we're, we're doing, some ideas on the world of, of agriculture and sustainability, which is my, my passion. We Also publish something on on Instagram more, less frequently. But those are the, the typical channels. And then the, the Varda website obviously is a source for our blogs not only mine, but also our talented team.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, fantastic. Davide, that's been really interesting. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.

Davide Ceper:

Thank you for having me again. Have a good day, Tom.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to tomraftery at outlook. com or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.

(Cont.) Breaking New Ground: The Role of Tech in Reshaping Farming for the Planet

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