Dagón Ribeiro (PhD)

A doctor in biotechnology and biodiversity from Brazil, Dagón Ribeiro is putting microalgae at the service of sustainable agriculture with his start-up, Biotecland. He launched commercially in late 2019 and was recently selected as one of Brazil’s five candidates for the BRICS 2020 Young Innovator Prize. 

For starters, what hashtags best define who you are and/or your ambitions in the microalgae space?

#Agriculture #Biostimulant #Biofertilizer #OrganicAgriculture #Chlorella #SoilNutrition #ChemicalFree #ONFARM #Brazil #LatinAmerica #Mozambique 

High cost biotechnology is not applicable to society. We started Biotecland with the goal to become a low cost biotechnology company. We feel that to be in contact with the people, we need the cultivation of algae to be easy, we need the application of algae to be easy, and we need the distribution of algae to be easy…

What is your pitch/mission?

Biotecland is focused on substituting chemical inputs with microbiological inputs.

I believe this is where the future of agribiotechnology lies. To understand our mission, you have to take a hard, cold look at where we are at present and then at where we are going, with climate change, water scarcity, and the increasing world population. There is a crucial need for change and microalgae can offer a real solution. This may seem exotic to many, including for agronomists.

The connection of agriculture and microalgae weren’t even mentioned once during my studies in agronomy and biotechnology. But the truth is that microalgae are typically the first colonizers of bare soil and can represent up to 10% of the soil crust, providing key ecological services that are all too ignored in present-day agricultural approaches.

Please whet our appetite: what can microalgae achieve in practical terms?

I’m going to share a few figures but you have to understand that Biotecland is only one year old and we are still validating our approach on many soils. At present, our results are mostly based on learned from our experience in this field of study.

Very strong results can be achieved very cheaply, in both labour and input cost. The quantity applied obviously depends on the crop and its vegetative cycle but we generally recommend 3 to 4 applications over 10 days, using 5 litres of our concentrated product (Primafert©)—representing 20 billion viable cells of Chlorella—, which are diluted in water and spread over 5 ha.

The reports show increases in the range of 35 to 50% in terms of carbon content through the improvement of the biome, with greater trace metal availability, increased plant resistance (with up to 24% decrease in plant disease), decreased germination time, and increased growth by 27 to 48% in many plants.

Again, these are only general figures. Many more can be found in the scientific literature but what is key for us is validating results for each and every farm based on their specific soil conditions and crops. To make the results of microalgae better known, we cannot rely on general figures as there are too many variables to take into account. This is why we have decided to focus on close partnerships with farmers by the Biotecland ONFARM system.

Our vision is to have one farmer acting as an ambassador and producer in each and every state in Brazil. By recruiting ambassadors among some of our most enthusiastic users, we will gradually build a network of farmers who truly understand the value of microalgae applications for their specific context and will be able to share their results with other farmers facing the same issues as them, with the same crops and on the same soils. They will also be able to supply local farmers with fresh microalgae and, in time, with adapted local strains.

How are you different from other microalgae biostimulant companies out there?

We do not serve the same geographies as the other microalgae biostimulant companies out there so don’t see ourselves as competitors. From an innovation standpoint however, we are mostly unique in the way we approach the market: we offer cheap growth, on-farm cultivation, and a strong connection with our users. Due to our focus on local solutions, we are also much more committed to bioprospection.

Many biostimulant companies started with high-cost biotechnologies and only subsequently looked into applications for their output. As a result, they tend to be very specialized and quite isolated from the agricultural world. As far as I’m concerned, I truly believe that only low-cost applications can change society so this has informed everything we do from the very beginning and in practical terms has led to a cascade of small adaptations and innovations.

So what’s your public? Are you reaching out only to a specific type of farmers?

We have a persona-based approach that we believe is valid not only for Brazil but more generally for South America and are targeting two profiles that are both in need of new solutions.

Our first target market are mega-farms, which often have north of 10,000 ha under cultivation here in Brazil. This may seem paradoxical as they operate on a chemical-based agricultural model but big farm owners are actually open to change as their farms are trapped in a vicious cycle whereby they are constantly increasing their use of chemical inputs but nevertheless facing an increase in diseases and pests, as well as droughts that keep worsening year after year. Furthermore, they pay their inputs in hard currency, US dollars, but earn their income in Brazilian reals, which has lost one third of its value over the past two years. There is huge room for improvement for these.

The second profile we’re targeting is young agronomists who are keen on reinventing our approach to agriculture. These a part of a new cohort of fresh graduates who are spearheading the agroforestry boom, typically on small surfaces of less than 10 hectares.

What are you currently experimenting? 

Our research and development runs along three main lines: refining applications, validating new soils, and bioprospecting new strains. Regarding applications, we are currently good at the vegetative phase but not at fruiting or flowering. This is obviously a gap we’re working on. In terms of soils, we still have many soils and soil-crop combinations to cover in our home market. Though our focus is clearly on Brazil, which is one of the largest agricultural economies in the world, for a variety of reasons, we are also working in Mozambique and therefore actively testing our solutions on the black soils that are present there. Finally, as mentioned earlier, strain bioprospecting is a big part of our hyperlocal approach and holds great promise. My ambition is to go beyond algae eventually and to cover a wider range of micro-organisms to be able to offer more thorough and effective solutions to help substitute chemical inputs.

As a final note, what kind of profiles would you be most willing to get in touch with? 

I’d love to connect with anyone sharing my vision of agribiotechnology, not just in Brazil and Mozambique, but all regions of the world. In addition, we are expanding and therefore interested in discussing the financing and investing opportunities. 

Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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