Design and implementation of techniques for agricultural excellence, protecting natural resources - David Proenza
David Proenza

Design and implementation of techniques for agricultural excellence, protecting natural resources - David Proenza

Good afternoon, I want to thank God for being here before you to speak about “Vertical Farm in controlled environment”. I would like to thank Dr. Lara and her team for making it possible to be here.

I will speak about “Vertical farm in controlled environment” which our company is developing for four, almost five years.

We are producers of more than 30 years, we have lived all these climate changes, all these field issues, contamination of lands, all the problems that have been mentioned in the FAO reports; and we decided many years ago, that we cannot continue to produce in the traditional way, with all the countless existing problems of diseases, pests, climate change itself.

Then we begin to see another what other way of food production we can do. Everything nowadays speaks about technology, everywhere you go: technology, technology, technology, but when you are hungry you will not be able to eat this phone, you will not be able to cook it, you cannot barbecue it, you cannot make anything; but for us technology is important and so we are applying innovation technology to produce healthy foods.

I have two parts: In the first part I will speak about “Vertical Farm in controlled environment” and then I will speak about the Foundation for the Development of Controlled Environment Agriculture, which is a vision we have to let these new ways of producing food be known through all Latin America, and we are working with the Inter-American Development Bank, with the CAF, and other institutions, to make this a reality.

As I say, we are producers, processors, packers, and distributors of a major range of foods from here in Paraguay and other countries.

What is today’s problem? (It has already been spoken about and it was the previous presentation... we could not have said in a better way). We have climate problems, disease problems, high concentration of pests, lack personnel in the field, water problems, high input costs, damage to the environment and ecosystems, in itself, the lack of nutrition or high nutrition foods.

All of this then, what is happening, is that foods are being - they are expensive; nowadays if you go to the supermarket you notice food costs keep going up, up, and there is no way to lower or reduce them.

Also, the problem is, if we add to the field problems, the problem of population, there is a FAO report, from United Nations, it says that for year 2050 (and I just read it) population will rise up to 9.6/9.7 billion people.

If we are having issues with food nowadays, what will happen in 30 years?, when we will have more than 2 billion of additional people on Earth. The other interesting part of the report (or it depends on you look at it), 70/80% of population will be living in cities, a lot of people; currently it is like 49%. When I read that, I said: well I will move to the countryside; but that is a reality.

Other ways of producing foods are needed, not in a single solution, but we have to look for many solutions to be able to feed the population.

Which is our solution? Through the vertical farm in controlled environment we are producing high quality foods in controlled environment; we do not use pesticides, herbicides or harmful chemicals for health. That is important.

As I was saying, I cannot do anything about mercury, neither can I solve the hormone issue, but I can produce a pesticide free food, because today’s consumer is searching for healthy foods, which is another important thing.

In the vertical farm we are using 80% less water, we also know we are having problems with that resource and so this also helps use less water in crops. We recycle everything, so. Nothing is lost, the 100% of everything of what we are doing is being recycled. We are solving the workers’ health and well-being issue; currently in the countryside, since a high quantity of pesticides and herbicides have to be used, it is affecting our workers, that do not feel it when young but once they reach their 40 or 50 years they have chronic problems.

We reduced the carbon footprint. Everything we are doing is environmental friendly and truly a green company.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be a million, so I want to show a video of our vertical farm here in Panama, so you can see.

As we spoke, we produced a hermetically sealed space like this building (here you can see), we control everything through software, technology, and we maximize the use of the space.

We control all the technology through a computer and we also have a development and investigation center where we are developing to produce a major range of foods: tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, eggplant, strawberry, watermelon; everything that can be produced in the field, itself, with a plant base, we can produce it in the vertical farm to feed a growing population.

Our product, which we are selling in supermarkets today, we have ready-to-eat products, we also have product line with chicken and with another mix that we are selling; everything for the city.

The business model of Urban Farmers is under one roof; we can produce, process, pack, and distribute everything we need to feed a population.

The actual business model of agriculture is inefficient, expensive, and pollutant. We have to produce today in the field, transport it to a distributor, they manipulate it, then send it to a supermarket; and if it is for exportation then we have to add more trucks and a ship to reach from point A to point B; then the process will begin again at the destination point; and that is pollutant for the environment, inefficient, and expensive, and as you can see, a lot of pesticide is applied which is contaminating the environment.

The model of Urban Farms is that we process everything under a same roof and from there straight to the supermarket or directly to the consumer, and that way we are eliminating transportation after transportation; and then we are lowering costs, and everything is saving in the productive system we are having under the Vertical Farm.

That was about the company. Now I want to speak about something that is exciting for us: how can we take this to make it known throughout Latin America, and this is a passion we have as a company with all the executives.

Agriculture is so big that, not only us have to - even though we have developed this and at the moment we are the only ones throughout Latin America with this concept, we do not want to keep this for ourselves, this must be shared. And as a result we are developing programs, congresses, workshops throughout Latin America, to let know this new way of producing food.

And like it says here: Make known this new way of producing foods in a controlled environment, for greenhouses, the vertical farm and rural agriculture for Latin America and the Caribbean. The methods that we are applying are congresses, published information, presentations and videos by investigators, networking with universities and companies, and investigation and development of new products through universities and investigation centers.

I spoke, as you saw in the video, the congresses that we have given, the last two congresses here in Panama (2015 and 2017). Dr. Gary Stutte is associated, a NASA scientist, who has been with us the past two years; he is part of the NASA in what the space project is, of how to feed the astronauts. Dr. Toyoki Kazai, from Japan, was the creator of the Vertical Farm (a great friend of ours) and he is going to take charge, he is helping us in how we can go to all Latin America for investigation, training, education and knowledge transfer of this new way producing foods.

The alliance that we have in the University of Chiba; here in Panama we have the Technological University, also the University of Panama; we have in the United States the University of Arizona; National Taiwan University and other renowned and prestigious universities that are with us in this mission.

When we went around the world, because go and were traveling to know about other entities, other universities, we noticed one thing that caught our attention. We went to Holland and Holland is making an investigation about lettuce in LED lights, but is putting emphasis on LED lights, what gives photosynthesis to plants; then we go to another country and see the same investigation being made, but without communication between them; and we go another country, Taiwan, and they are doing the same thing, some variations but it is the same thing; so we go to Japan and saw the same thing.

Consequently, we returned to Panama with our team, we started to think and said: well, how can we advance this, make it faster?, where we are using collective synergy and effort from everyone in order to not have to be repeating. So, we structured through..., with other entities, of forming and organizing the investigation, development, and knowledge transfer part; and the system is simple, but it is very powerful in the achievements that will be made.

For example, Panama can begin to investigate everything about lettuce, Colombia can make everything that has to do with potato -everything under controlled environment-, and Peru the onion and Chile strawberries; then all that information will get put in the servers that will be available for everyone.

It does not matter if you are a producer, entrepreneur, everyone who wants to venture into this new way of producing food will then be available to all countries, to all beneficiaries, so that they can venture in this new way; because as they said, one of the problems that... -well, there are a lot of problems- but one of the problems is that cities will have 70/75% of the population, and this is a way of producing food in cities; and here is all the information. Do you want to grow potatoes? You just have to go here, obtain it, and begin your business. Do you want to grow strawberries? Same thing.

The obtained benefits are how I spoke: Effort will not be duplicated, it will move faster in controlled environment agriculture, new equipment and materials will get developed, a great advance in patent registration by country and region, it benefits an entire region and not a few.

The problem is -as you know-, despite being a private company, this is the social part that we want to contribute. As I said, agriculture is so big that only a single company cannot handle it, even if I wanted to and it is not our desire. As Dr. Soto said in the video we saw, he said one thing: one must have love and compassion; and I believe our organization has that love and compassion of being able to give and contribute this new technology that we are very fortunate to develop and understand how it is applied.

So, there is a technological advance, a new business will come out from this to a private company, a great range of high quality products free of pesticides and harmful chemicals to health, the result is to restore the environment and the ecosystem, itself.

One of the things we are doing... Remember we have been producing for 30 years, we have seen a great development of the agriculture during the last 30 years, and we have lived and are living the existing problems in the agriculture today to feed the people, and we also know of the climate change caused by CO2 and all those problems; then one of the systems we are developing...

If you are a producer or agronomist you know plants need CO2 to grow, to have photosynthesis and grow, then the plant emits oxygen; we are the other way around, we need oxygen and then emit CO2.

We are developing a system where we are capturing the CO2 in the environment, we are passing it through a cleaning process, we are pumping it within the production of the plants so that the plant use that CO2 it needs for its growth; and in the roots, automatically, in its process, is producing oxygen. We are doing that now in Panama in a very small thing; but imagine one thousand Vertical Farms throughout Latin America, one million worldwide under a system, capturing CO2 which is harmful for the environment, using it to grow food, and the food emits oxygen; this is a reality that is taking place on a small scale, what we want now is for it to go on a big scale; and that is how we are developing many other things.

There you saw in the video, that 1000 square meters in the Vertical Farms is equivalent to 16 hectares. Analyze this: if 1000 meters is equivalent to 16 hectares, and you return them to their natural state, where forests grow, animals come back, the whole ecosystem returns to its natural state, it is going to get composed and that land that is damaged due today’s production and contaminants will heal; that is contributing. Now imagine a million square meters, how many thousands of hectares you are saving, that can really happen.

We are associated with many universities and investigation centers, such as Arizona State, Purdue, Michigan, University of Chiba. All these investigators that have come here to the workshops and congresses we have had, they are committed to help Latin America through the Foundation, to make all this a reality; at the moment we have more than 15 companies that provide all these systems and equipments.

A summary of the plan is: investigation and development by universities and investigations centers, about all this; education, knowledge transfer, going to congresses, websites, Apps, everything we are doing now, videos, presentations, training...

Here in Panama (let us say a bit about Panama), we are working with two universities: Technological University and University of Panama, and we are training the future agricultural engineers under this new system; we made and alliance through the University of Chiba and the two universities in Panama, for the transfer and internship of the agricultural engineer or future agricultural engineer of Panama, that they may stay a while, approximately (it depends on the course) two, three months, learning this technology.

Last year they were six, in the beginning of this year they were six more, in addition to the professors; and we are trying to, this knowledge, develop it in Panama; there are many companies that are interested in venturing in this, and already many are making experiments.

We want to do the same for the rest of Latin America, for us not to be the only ones with this. In Panama we are working with CAF, SENACYT, IICA, MIDA, BID, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Agriculture, and other entities.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain what we are doing and explain want we want to accomplish as a Foundation for the rest of Latin America. It is a nonprofit Foundation apart from the company which does profit (because someone must pay the electricity, right?) Again, thank you very much for everything.