Do you ever ponder the journey of food from farm to table? It's fascinating how our meals travel from the farmers before reaching our plates. However, it's disheartening to learn that 14 percent of the food produced goes to waste between harvest and retail. This means that a substantial portion of the food we rely on never fulfills its intended purpose.
These are some of the things that keep Gillian Santos up at night. Gillian learned that a complex web of challenges and obstacles contribute to this loss. She saw that there was an opportunity to do something that would improve the efficiency and sustainable practices in our agri-food system to help prevent food loss.
While a background in Physics meant that she had limited knowledge on agriculture, Gillian was undeterred. She knew she had to do something about this problem. With the support of her family and friends who had a background in technology and innovations, Gillian started Anihan Technologies (AniTech) with a vision to alleviate the challenges high value crop farmers and wholesalers are facing due to food loss.
“I just found myself frustrated and optimistic and it became an obsession. I don’t have this background story of being a farmer or my family owning a farm. I just found myself wanting to solve this huge huge problem,” Gillian shared.
By leveraging on actionable data, AniTech’s technology offers a low-cost solution by providing real-time monitoring, tracking, and an early warning system that enable value chain actors to maintain quality produce.
“I told my team, let's find solutions for these food loss problems that we're seeing. We’re all challenge seekers, that’s how I got them to the table. Eventually we found ourselves joining start-up competitions and the rest is history,” she shared.
TACKLING FOOD LOSS
Reports from the United Nations Environment Programme show that 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted worldwide every year. The Philippines contributes 1,717 metric tons of food wasted or lost according to the Department of Science and Technology–Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
Gillian saw the need for comprehensive and flexible solutions that will help value chain players make better decisions. The goal was crystal clear: curbing food loss from its very roots, starting at the farm level.
Through a series of brainstorming, their team came up with a sensor system and web-based platform that provides agribusinesses with the information they need to operate more efficiently and reduce food loss in the supply chain. They designed a three-in-one solution that would give users the hardware, software, and data monitoring and tracking system that help in crop quality management.
“So let’s say your greenhouse or storage facility is experiencing heat stress. Our technology will alert you real time through SMS so you can address it immediately. We strongly believe that reducing food loss is cheaper than just increasing production. Through the technology that we’re developing, we can lower production costs and operational costs for agri stakeholders.”
More importantly, Gillian sees the importance of transforming the minds of farmers that they are more than laborers toiling in the field, they are entrepreneurs and innovators as well. She recognizes that this is part of the role that startups play in shaping the future of the agriculture industry. But for that to happen, we need an enabling environment that supports agricultural innovations.
“You have countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam that already have the solutions AniTech is proposing. But they didn’t get there in a blink of an eye. There was this cultural change that supported emerging technologies like ours.”
As consumers, Gillian believes that we all have a part in addressing food loss. For Gillian, it’s changing our mindset towards food. Picking an imperfect or oddly shaped fruit or vegetable that usually ends up in the trash would be a great start.
“As consumers, we always want the best and the perfect looking fruits and vegetables, right? But as long as the quality of the crop is up to standard, then it is still good for processing and consumption. Just because a food looks imperfect doesn’t mean it’s not edible.”
FORGING THEIR WAY
Being new to the industry, Gillian and her team had to start from scratch. It was hard to find people willing to listen and try their solutions. Thankfully, opportunities like start-up competitions in agriculture, sustainability, and technology provided them a platform to showcase AniTech. Winning various competitions not only gave them the funding they needed to get started on their prototype, it also connected them to the right people and organizations.
Gillian sees the value of building and maintaining strong partnerships with various sectors in creating a sustainable food system. At the heart of their work at AniTech, they want to ensure that the solutions they create are needs-based and properly communicated. Raising awareness on the importance of data in agriculture is one of their main goals. Gillian and her team believe that having the right data leads to smarter farming and better yields.
“You need to be on the ground to understand how things work. For me, it’s always listening to agri stakeholders on their challenges, their needs, and their outlook on the future. It shouldn’t be obligatory for them, they have to want to input data on the platform. We need to shape a mindset that collecting data matters because they can act upon that data by farming smarter. ”
She thinks putting more hope in emerging technologies and making them part of priority investments can make a difference in the way problems are approached in the sector.
“In AniTech we’re really excited in partnering and collaborating with institutions that complement what we do. That’s exactly why we’re excited to be a part of PPSA, because we get to be a part of important discussions with your network of stakeholders.”
AN INQUISITIVE MIND
Photo credit: The Independent Investor PH
Gillian’s journey in agriculture started with a question. That question became an inspiration. Now, that inspiration is a solution. For Gillian, having an inquisitive mind definitely helps push things forward. She hopes more people, especially the youth, would be more inquisitive and curious about what we can do for the agriculture sector.
With agriculture facing complex challenges, there’s a need for more inquisitive and innovative minds who can help create the solutions. Gillian is inspired by the women changemakers and start-up founders she met along the way. It gives her a sense of comfort knowing that she is not alone in the journey of making an impact in the world of agriculture.
“With all these loud voices in your head, you have to listen to that one tiny voice that says, just keep going.”