Exclusive | Agustin Buchert, Chief Scientific Officer ClearLeaf on his vision to transform Agriculture
The agriculture sector is going through a phase of rapid transformations. To ensure food security to the increasing world population, it’s imperative to bring innovation to this sector. Costa Rica-based ClearLeaf is one such startup that uses, organic certified technology to provide a line of non-toxic fungicides and bactericides to enhance agricultural yield.
Agustin Buchert, Chief Scientific Officer ClearLeaf spoke with Agrigate Global’s Saura Panigrahi about his unique patent-pending product and future plans. ClearLeaf is also one of the finalists of The Sustainable Agtech Challenge brought to you by The Yield Lab Institute and UNEP.
Congratulations on making it to the Final-8 of The Sustainable Agtech Challenge by the Yield Lab Institute. How has the experience gone?
It has been amazing! Starting with the initial awesome UNEP Sustainable AgTech Challenge event and now the introductions to other companies to support all of our efforts. The Yield Lab Institute team has been great throughout.
How would you like to introduce your startup/innovation? Tell us more about the core area of operations and your team.
ClearLeaf uses patent-pending, organic certified technology to provide a line of non-toxic fungicides and bactericides for agricultural use. ClearLeaf currently has pre and postharvest solutions for coffee, banana, pineapple, multiple vegetables, tubers, sugar cane, melons, papaya, coconut, strawberries, flowers, and many more. GotaBlanca® is one of the only non-toxic fungi-bactericides currently on the market, anywhere in the world. It is broad-spectrum, does not cause microbial resistance, enhances plant growth (rather than impeding it like most current products), does not affect on-farm (or off-farm) biological diversity, and can be applied at any time in the growing cycle (off-season, budding, growth, fruiting, and up to the moment of harvest). GotaBlanca® can also be used for the protection of post-harvest produce, to reduce damage and deterioration between the farm and the end consumer. ClearLeaf was founded in 2017 and has since assembled a strong, multi-disciplinary team of experienced professionals to optimize success. The executive team is composed of experts in the areas of sustainability, regulatory affairs, biotechnology, nanotechnology, finance, and business development.
The Agriculture Sector is very dynamic. What are the major challenges you are facing?
ClearLeaf is changing the way we do agriculture worldwide. It is estimated that a third of existing toxic pesticides will be banned worldwide due to health concerns. After years of multidisciplinary research and development, drawing on cutting-edge biotech, surface chemistry, and medical, agricultural, and polymer sciences, ClearLeaf has developed a range of innovative solutions that meet the critical market need to eliminate toxic systemic products that contaminate the environment and harm workers, while still meeting the performance characteristics required by small, medium, and large-scale agricultural producers, as well as their increasingly demanding clients. ClearLeaf´s major challenges are related to product registrations. Agricultural chemical markets are developed by securing product registrations, validating product effectiveness to the satisfaction of key local market leaders, and generating demand from end clients and distribution partners. Major multinationals with deep pockets enter markets in that order, with registrations taken as a fixed cost. ClearLeaf’s strategy is to invert the first two points – engage the key clients first and then work with them to secure registrations and distribution partners, where possible using their knowledge and leverage in securing registrations. We are executing this strategy across several country markets. GotaBlanca® is currently registered for sale only in Costa Rica and is available for use in a variety of crops. As we have proven efficacy in coffee, banana, and other specialty crops, last year (Q4 2020) we initiated our direct sales program to better understand the “on the ground” market. In May 2021 ClearLeaf secured a distribution contract with the biggest agrochemical distributor in Costa Rica and the Central American Region. It was because of the on-the-ground work that we were able to secure a very favorable distribution term. Initial results from the largest actor in this local market lead us to believe that 2021-2022 will be the breakout year for the company in terms of commercial sales in our first market. We believe we will be able to secure the registrations of our products in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama before Q2 2022.
In recent times, agri-tech has become one of the favorites for investors. What would be your pitch to a prospective investor?
We have a very unique value proposition. ClearLeaf sells GotaBlanca, a line of agricultural fungicides and bactericides to farmers. The tools currently used by farmers to control fungi and bacteria are very toxic and are being banned worldwide due to health concerns, while also losing efficiency over time. ClearLeaf offers an alternative for the control of fungi and bacteria through the use of their GotaBlanca family of products. Unlike their competition, their products are 100% non-toxic and always efficient.
Agritech is booming with innovative ideas. What would be your advice to young entrepreneurs who would like to venture into this segment?
To keep fighting. This is a great area for innovation. Access to capital in this arena has never been more widely available. People and investors, in general, are starting to realize how important is food security and that we need to watch out for food needs for an always growing global population. I would advise also young entrepreneurs to focus their innovations and ventures to be sustainable solutions. Sustainability is leading the way nowadays, therefore there is a great opportunity to bring value and new ideas into the markets with sustainability embedded in their products and services.
Finally, tell us more about your plans.
ClearLeaf has passed the R&D phase of its core product. Currently, we focus on expanding the forms of use, new methods of application, and extension to more crops. Custom modifications are sometimes made to the formulation to serve specific markets, for example by modifying our adhesion strategy (in particular to adjust to the intensity and amount of rainfall) and the amount of active ingredient (for particularly resistant pathogens). We have developed a product line with the versatility to adapt to customer needs and provide a customized solution, without the need to return to an R&D phase.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the views of Agrigate Global.