LATAM women: leading the battle against food waste

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The food industry is not sustainable because of its production processes and the number of resources used. And although there are several initiatives aligned with the adoption of a sustainable approach to reduce -and ideally eliminate food waste-, in most of them, there is a common factor: innovative women.

But before getting into the subject, it is helpful to review some figures that allow us to get into context.

It is estimated that Latinos represent the fastest-growing demographic group of entrepreneurs in the United States. Their purchasing power is growing 70% faster than non-Latinos, with just over $1.9 trillion in 2021. If they were to form a country, they would have the seventh-largest GDP in the world.

Despite the above, female founders of the same background are somewhat overlooked: although they make up 9% of the U.S. population, they receive only 0.04% of venture funding. However, they are gaining more prominence every day. They are innovating to sustain the world with solutions to reduce food waste, promote food recycling, and much more.

These contributions strengthen the ecosystem of women entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector, helping overcome gaps and reduce common challenges, such as skepticism, questioning, and difficulties that they receive more than men from investors, according to the report Money Where Our Mouths Are.

However, this has not dulled the spirit and tenacity of women who, thanks to their effort and conviction, lead some of the Latin American food-tech companies with the most significant impact in the sector:

1. Agtools

Founded by Martha Montoya, the company offers innovative supply chain software whose algorithms collect and process real-time government and institutional data on more than 500 specialty crops and commodities.

Its goal is to provide farmers, buyers, and other supply chain stakeholders with predictive analytics and actionable insights to support agricultural traceability, enabling them to manage their forecasts, processes, and purchase orders with greater accuracy.

It operates as a Software as a Service (SaaS). It provides its users with a daily report of exchange rates, weather patterns, CO2 footprint, market demands, transportation costs, and much more. It is the key to managing their tasks and contributing to trends such as reducing food waste.

2. Agua Bonita

It is based in California, run by Kayla Castañeda and Erin PonTell. It is part of the upcycled food area, one of the main trends in promoting a more sustainable and responsible food industry with the planet.

It recycles fruits such as watermelon, pineapple, and cucumber to turn them into freshwater with no added sugar, contributing significantly to the fight against food waste and promoting the circular economy and sustainability.

According to data from the Food Waste Index 2021, in 2019, there were 931 million tons of food wasted, or 17% of total global production. This is an alarming figure because of food security problems and the use of natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions necessary to produce food that ultimately ends up in the garbage.

3. Novah Natural

Led by Lisiane Oliveira (Brazil), this food tech company produces vegetable cheeses from cashew nuts, a very healthy nut with great nutritional value, a rich source of Omega 6 and 9, healthy fats, and tryptophan, an essential amino acid for the body.

4. Brightseed

Sofia Elizondo is co-founder and COO of this bioscience company that uses computational biology, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), and advanced plant processing techniques to understand the connections between bioactive and human health. Unique and cutting-edge innovation that will undoubtedly help save many lives in the short, medium, and long term.

To date, it has screened over 700,000 compounds for their health properties and has developed several “molecular signatures” of all plants in the food and medical industries. In addition, it recently partnered with Danone – a leading food company – to enhance its portfolio of non-dairy products.

5. Dathic

It is a New York-based company led by Laura Rocha. It offers a platform that uses Artificial Intelligence and data to provide FMCG companies in the U.S. with valuable insights for various food and beauty companies to successfully enter, expand and market their products in the different Hispanic communities located in the USA.

6. Ecoflora Cares

food tech company co-founded by the Colombian Sandra Zapata. It has a global reach and is a pioneer in developing technological solutions and completely sustainable bio-inputs for the food and personal care sectors. Natural colorants are one of its star products.

7. Veggy 

An ag-tech company led by Mariana Falcão, from Brazil. Its mission is to reduce meat consumption by offering a complete hamburger, sausages, and other traditional products developed from jackfruit native to Indonesia.

8. I Am Grounded 

An upcycled food social enterprise. Created by Lachlan Powell and Vanessa Murillo (Colombian), it makes natural and healthy snacks from the extract of the pulpy coffee fruit, which is usually wasted.

In this regard, it is crucial to consider that, on average, a coffee drinker will create around 57 kilos of coffee fruit waste per year. Therefore, reusing these resources is an essential contribution to the fight against food waste.

9. microTerra

Mexican Marissa Cuevas Flores is the founder and CEO of this innovative and promising company that uses lemna (also known as duckweed) to create a protein-rich powder.

What makes this food tech even more interesting is that the lemna – as it grows – can clean water systems, which allows increasing the benefits derived from the use of this plant.

10. PolyNatural

Undoubtedly, one of the most innovative and high-impact companies in food waste reduction, specifically in fruit production.

Led by CEO Agustina Fabbio, this Chilean company is responsible for producing Shel-life, a 100% natural (plant-based) emulsion that forms a coating on fruit, making it last for much longer, helping to reduce waste associated with dehydration and the growth of microorganisms.

Unlike most coatings used in the food industry, which consist of synthetic waxes made from petroleum derivatives, Shel-life is based on natural extracts, lipids, and plant polymers that guarantee consumers’ well-being. Such is its potential that, during 2020, it prevented the loss of 273.6 tons of food and avoided the waste of 157,041 cubic meters of water.

The importance of women in agri-food innovation and the agtech sector is unquestionable. However, it is still necessary to open more spaces and encourage more support for the women entrepreneurs movement to continue promoting the development of solutions to various problems in the global food and agriculture industry.