Agriculture is not a ‘sexy’ industry, but is one of the most vital in today’s world as we struggle with sustainability and rampant consumerism. In The Philippines, this is a problem as well.
The lack of innovation in agriculture is one of the reasons we are facing issues in this industry. According to a recent study by the department of Agriculture, the average age of a Filipino farmer is 60. This does not bode well for the future when it comes to local food production.
This is where entrepreneurs VJ Africa, Reuben Ravago and Paolo Delgado understood they had a mission to reintroduce farming to a younger audience and spearhead agritech in the Philippines. Together they built the startup accelerator Eurekloud, which focuses on building the infrastructure for startups to grow and scale in The Philippines.
The agritech industry is a fascinating and essential aspect of the Southeast Asia startup ecosystem.
One of the company’s success stories is the research and development of Good Greens and Co., the vertical farming arm of Delbros. Since its inception in 2018, Good Greens has been able to generate more than 7,000 kilograms of produce grown in urban areas.
We had a chance to speak to VJ Africa about their journey so far and their plans for expansion. Find out what else we had to share.
Can you share a bit more about how startup accelerator Eurekloud works and their focus?
The Eurekloud mandate is to provide promising startups and their founders with the necessary support to grow the right way. Growing the right way means startups need to be more than just “professional fundraisers”…we want to help founders build a business that is real, sustainable, and profitable.
In our experience, it takes infrastructure (be it physical space or the back office to handle HR, finance, accounting, etc.), mentorship and coaching, and of course a bit of cash. We have a bias towards startups in fintech, social media, and of course agritech.
Why the focus on agritech in The Philippines?
An agritech focus is a no-brainer for Eurekloud given the dependency of the Philippine economy on agriculture.
If we really want technology to make the most impact in the Philippines, the best (albeit not the easiest) place to start is with agriculture. We have therefore been searching for agritech startups that fit our criteria.
Great ideas abound, but execution and scalability have always been a challenge.
What challenges do you foresee in getting this to be adopted on a wider scale?
The technology of Good Greens still needs to be perfected specifically in the automation of the harvest. In a country like the Philippines, we can manually intervene, but this limits the towers to 4 storeys high.
Once we are able to fully automate the planting and harvest process, we will be able to do much taller farms in the cities. Government support is still lacking that is needed to encourage investment. There is also still a need for clarity in securing the necessary permits for our farms as well.
How did Good Greens and Co. take form and what is your eventual goal for it?
Working closely with the logistics and agriculture industry, it became evident that both were in need of a major overhaul. The issue was that even with all of the private sector investment, without a large, multi-decade commitment from government to invest in infrastructure, cost-efficient and reliable “farm to market” in an archipelago would be hard to reach.
We looked at emerging technologies instead to see if there was a future in agritech. We eventually agreed that vertical farming and indoor farming would be the most applicable for the Philippines if we wanted to launch in the early 2020s.
Good Greens was conceptualized in 2017 and our first R&D farm was developed around 2018. It took several iterations of the technology, but we were able to prove that it is financially and technologically viable to grow vegetables, primarily sunlight drive, vertically.
Do you foresee being able to expand your reach outside of The Philippines into the rest of the region?
Absolutely, Good Greens has the distinction of being a pioneer in vertical farming that utilizes primarily sunlight to power the towers. This makes the end product significantly more affordable.
We see a lot of potential in Asia, where we are expecting a large increase in population by 2050.
What is the next step for Eurekloud?
We are always on the lookout for interesting startups and amazing startup founders who share similar values. Our professional and social network in the Philippines and across Southeast Asia helps us keep our ears close to the ground.
What keeps us busy regardless is the portfolio that we currently support, where the startups are in different stages of their respective paths to success.