How will the world cope with 10 billion mouths to feed by 2050? How can the same amount of food be produced in the next 40 years as in the last 8,000 years, on less agricultural land? How can malnutrition, which now causes more deaths than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined, be prevented? These are the questions which are starting to trouble policy makers around the world, and technological solutions are being eagerly sought. A number of Israeli companies are tackling the problem of food production from different angles.
The US-based biotech and agrotech company Monsanto has recently invested in three Israeli companies: Evogene, Beeologics and Rosetta Green. All these companies are performing well in the market, and together with a number of others, are part of the new Israeli ‘Ag Valley’.
Evogene, which works on a number of projects of isolating hardy genes and transferring them to crops used for animal feed, has been a hot name for a while, and its US IPO raised over $86 million from interested investors. The company combines software development with sensitive sensors in fields to be able to modify the genetic makeup of plants. Ido Dor, director of business development at the company, explained: “We use big data analysis, prediction and validation techniques to isolate the natural-growing genes that can be transferred between plant species, to improve output.”
Monsanto also acquired all the assets and most of the liabilities of Rosetta Green Ltd, another agricultural genetic developer from Rehovot, Israel. All the bioinformaticians, computational biologists, plant scientists and molecular biologists working for Rosetta Green accepted jobs with Monsanto.
Kaiima, a new agrotech start-up, has been valued at $300 million without having produced a single product, and received an investment of $65 million from mogul Li Ka-Shing, the richest man in Asia, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. All this attests to the hopes placed on Kaiima’s innovative technology, which aims to double the number of chromosomes in plant cells, creating super-crops that can withstand disease and temperature change, and thus increase crop yields. At the end of the day, that’s the aim of all agrotech companies.
Genetically-modified (GM) foods have been controversial for many years, particularly attracting the ire of environmental groups such as Greenpeace. Critics say that their health implications on humans have not been sufficiently researched, and they damage biodiversity irreparably. However, they may be the key to saving the world from hunger, as the world population grows and developing countries demand access to the same quality and quantity of food enjoyed by the West.