A conversation with Sara Balawajder, Vice President of Builders Vision, who leads the impact first food and agriculture portfolio, about the opportunities of regenerative agriculture and food, and specifically nutrient density, and insurance, not health insurance, but farmers’ insurance.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
Lukas Walton, a grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, established Builders Vision as an umbrella for his philanthropic, investment and advocacy work in 2021. What does one of leading impact investing and philanthropic platforms in the US, Lukas Walton of the Walmart founders’ family, think about the opportunities of regenerative agriculture and food and specifically nutrient density? What would she love to invest in or grant to? What does she feel like is missing out there and what have they already been backing over the last years?
This episode is part of the Nutrient Density in Food series!
This series is supported by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of The Environment, which is a private foundation with a mission to protect and conserve the natural environment. The Grantham Foundation raises awareness of urgent environmental issues and supports organizations working to find solutions. Over the last few years, the Grantham Foundation has funded an extensive portfolio of projects focused on reducing emissions and removing carbon directly from the atmosphere.
Sara and her team intend to spend a lot of time on the insurance subject over the next 12 months, on how they either fund pilots or creative opportunities. TheFederal Crop Insurance Corporation in the US needs to alter the way they think about insurance provision.
”In the US, the federal crop insurance policy, which basically props up or provides all crop insurance to conventional farmers today, is not really applicable to farmers who are implementing regenerative organic products practices. Because if you start to deviate slightly from whatever their ground rules are, you are seen as increasing your risk in your practices on farms, and you are no longer viable coverage for the federal crop insurance practice.” – Sara Balawajder
”You’re asking farmers who are looking to transition to expose themselves to huge, huge amounts of risk. And we see that as a huge system friction for convincing farmers that they should be transitioning their practices. We ask a lot of our farmers already. And then to ask them to take on a huge financial risk on top of just all everyday risk is a huge, huge barrier to entry.” – Sara Balawajder
WHAT WE NEED TO MAKE NUTRIENT DENSE FOOD ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
Sara sets out the accessibility issue, arguing that there are affordability questions on the consumption side: how do you increase access to affordable and nutrient-dense food, which is a massive problem in the US? Historically, it has been subsidized either by federal programs or philanthropy. But Sara thinks the challenge is finding investable opportunities in the space.
The impact first portfolio of Builders Vision actually has two theses. Most relevant for the interview is the access to nutrition and the focus on how to democratize access to nutrition.
”Unfortunately, we haven’t spent as much time in this pilot on the access to nutrition piece. And we’re really focused on how you democratize access to nutrition, particularly for underserved communities in the US. And for us, we think there’s a strong flywheel effect that really is founded in this concept of nutrient density, and so we haven’t cracked the nut at all right now, but definitely think there’s a strong interconnectedness between on farm production with end consumption by consumers.” – Sara Balawajder
WHY AND HOW WE NEED MORE DATA
Data are crucial to convince the federal crop insurance policy and private insurance providers. According to Sara that there’s an openness to the farming community to achieve private insurance, but it is excessively expensive, and that is because the data to prove that this practice has actually lower the risk profile on farms doesn’t exist.
”Today there’s just a total lack of data around on farm production and nutrient density. I think there’s a couple of really exciting companies, like Adacius, who are trying to prove that connection, and then, of course, there’s a lot of data needed and the food is medicine space to prove that you can fix metabolic diseases with nutrition, which we fundamentally believe to be true, but we are trying to find opportunities in support of that evidence” – Sara Balawajder
”What we’re hearing is a lack of data again. And so, I think either trying to get private providers or Medicaid and Medicare in the US the necessary data they need. I think with metabolic disease in the US, we’ve seen a lot of trials around diabetes and heart conditions. Also, mothers in postnatal care. I think the best trials that we’ve seen have actually had continuous glucose monitoring attached to them, or what is the actual physical data and how you get these patients to provide the data is a huge challenge. Because at the end of the day, it’s behaviour change. But then there’s also very clear medical data that’s attached to that behaviour change. And not all these pilots provide that. And you have to be able to directly link cost savings to providers to that data.” – Sara Balawajder
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Sara also talked about:
- What we need to make nutrient dense food accessible to all
- Access to capital
- Sustainable agriculture, insurance, and nutrition
- Regenerative agriculture as a climate solution
- Impact investing in regenerative agriculture
- Builders Vision
- Quick Organics
- Clear Frontier
- Tenacious Ventures Fund II
- Forbes article about Builder Vision and Lukas Walton
- Victor Friedberg, 30m available for food moonshots
- Brandon Welch and Phil Taylor – Updates with Mad Capital on how to enable billions to flow to regen organic farmers
- Phil Taylor and Brandon Welch, the first investments of MadAg’s $10 million fund
- Emma Fuller – Making soulless capital who doesn’t care about regenerative agriculture invest in it
- Dan Miller on the crucial role of locally owned processing in regenerative agriculture
- Dan Miller on crowdfunding and its key role in regenerative agriculture
- Kevin Morse – Flour, flavour and nutrients, how a back to the future mill changes everything for wheat farmers
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.