Tamar Zur – Eco-Fly Ventures – Ep 11
Tamar Zur, Founder & CEO at Eco-Fly Ventures
In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, we’re joined by Tamar Zur from Eco-Fly Ventures, who we will be talking to about innovations in AgTech aiming to recycle organic waste, reduce food production waste, and protein alternative microalgae farms.
[00:00:00] Mitchell Denton: Hello listeners. And welcome to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain. Today on our show, I’m joined by Tamar Zur, the founder of Eco-Fly Ventures, who I’ll be talking to about how the innovative insect farm is converting food waste into livestock feed.
So with no further delays, let’s get started.
Hello, Tamar. Thanks for joining me on the podcast. How are you?
[00:00:24] Tamar Zur: I’m good. I’m good. Everything is relative. You know where in a long COVID lockdown here in Sydney. Thank you for having me today. I’m happy to be your guest.
[00:00:34] Mitchell Denton: Oh, thank you. Well, before we get into it, I just wanted to give you the opportunity to tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
[00:00:42] Tamar Zur: I’m the founder of Eco-Fly ventures, an Australian AgTech and a FoodTech consultancy company. I did my bachelor and master degree in agriscience and plant protection. And I’ve been working in the agribusiness more than 15 years, both in Australia and in Israel. I’m passionate about innovation in agriculture and the impact that it can generate.
Recently, I’m building a database and mapping the AgTech and FoodTech environment to understand the latest trends in agriculture, what problems companies are trying to solve, which technologies they are using, naturally, I’m focusing in the Australian and Israeli innovation ecosystem. But the interesting things that I’ve noticed is that there is a something in common to many of those companies. Many of them are addressing what I call the triple challenge.
And what is the triple challenge? The global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. And it’s a great deal of pressure on the food production system. We need to think how we are going to feed more people. The second thing is that the climate change effect like global warming and increasing droughts, frequency, and severity have a negative effect on the way we cultivate food and feed.
Many search for alternative resilient way of cultivation to adapt and fight against climate changes. And if it’s not enough challenging, to produce more under climate change effect, let’s add to the decline of natural resources like our grazing land or fish stocks decline. Even if we wanted to feed the future generation in the same way.
With beef, fish, chicken eggs, milk, soybean, grain, et cetera. We don’t have enough natural resources to enable production on the scale or in the same manner. So every time we waste food. We are also wasting the land, the water, the energy, and all the other inputs, used to create the food we are not consuming.
It’s a massive waste of resources from farm to fork or from production level to consumers level. And my goal is to help AgTech and FoodTech companies in their journey to the venture of developing innovation is very challenging. You need to commercialise to implement, the implementation is long, and I’m honoured to be part of this fascinating ecosystem.
[00:03:30] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Great. All right. Well, on that note, let’s talk farm to fork. So continuing on for me telling us about your background, would you mind telling us about how the idea to Eco-Fly first came about?
[00:03:41] Tamar Zur: Ah yes, happily. I did my master degree in plant protection back there in Israel. About fruit fly pest, fruit flies can cause an economic damage because the females lay their eggs in fruits and vegetables and destroy some of the production. And the shift to black soldier fly, which is a beneficial insect that provide recycling service was easy. So Eco-Fly is a consultancy company that provides services to companies that are searching to recycle their organic waste with flies, or to innovative insect farm.
Let’s take the black soldier fly or it’s a scientific name, it’s a Hermetia illucens as an example, the black soldier fly is a method to address simultaneously two global environmental issues. The first one is organic waste management and the second is production of a high quality insect based protein and oil.
Insects feed on organic waste and help to substantially reduce the landfill use. When reaching a certain stage the insect turned into a nutritional source for animal feed, and we know that fish, chicken, pigs consume insects as part of their natural diets. And generally in insects have a short lifecycle, high-productivity.
If you measure how much protein, oil and fibres they can produce. Therefore, insect farms have a low carbon footprint and low requirements of water, land, and energy. And instead of harvesting the fruit and vegetables or growing beef for meat, we can harvest insects, insects are small but mighty and they can provide very useful services to mankind and to the environment as biological control agent, they pollinate crops we rely on us food and clean up waste so that the world is not become overrun with dung. It’s the little creature that makes the world go round.
[00:05:57] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Great. Great. So that leads me to ask, how do black soldier fly farms provide a more efficient form of composting? What are the advantages of BSF farms?
[00:06:09] Tamar Zur: Yes there are many environmental, recycling limitations, they use of landfill is widespread, globally, and, uh, many alternatives to the method have been developed. The vast majority of those methods. Use form of biological system for decomposition, fermentation, biodegradation, or composting, but in most of the cases, the process is not yielding any high value derivate but just reduce the volume of their organic waste and create a lot of water to be treated.
The mechanism behind BSL facility demonstrate classic circular economy. It is regenerative system in which waste and energy leakage are minimised by reusing and upcycling low value material into high value. The unique aspect of upcycling with the use of BSF is that all the bioconverted nutrients can be reused as high-value protein and lipides.
BSF are not the only insect species that are utilised to this aim. But up to date, it’s the most efficient, since it can then utilise a very wide range of organic input. Particularly difficult to biodigest product like meat scraps.
[00:07:41] Mitchell Denton: Hmm.
[00:07:41] Tamar Zur: Decomposition depends with temperature. The temperature affect the process of composting, any land space, and around six months, it depends with the temperature. To reach a compost as a soil fertiliser, then the BSF is much faster, much more efficient with nutritional value as well, so it’s a totally different things.
[00:08:02] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Yeah, thank you for the clarification. That was great. So all this talk about upcycling food waste. What do you think is the biggest challenge within upcycling food waste right now? And what can we do about it?
[00:08:14] Tamar Zur: Food waste has a low value, financially. And also it has high percentage of water. When you have organic waste recycling facility, it requires to transport the waste into the treatment facility, which sometimes doesn’t make sense the transport costs exceed the value of the waste and the water it contains.
So what can we do about it? I mean, this is a great challenge. We can think of a different model where recycling happening in the site, where the waste is produced by sending, let’s say BSF larva in a tiny box to the site where they want to dispose and recycle the waste. They can see the larva, the BSF larva into the pile and the BSF larva will do the rest of the work.
It can be done in the backyard of a private house or on a farm in remote, rural area or in a industrial site. Generally, we need to learn how to separate to better the organic waste and to avoid as much as we can sending it to landfill. And this requires rearranging of the system.
Organic waste streams are scattered, and transportation from site of production to the treatment facility costs money. We can solve it by developing a portable unit, a container to place it where the source of waste is generated and send every three weeks based on the annual subscription model, new larva to recycle more organic waste.
[00:09:58] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Wow. That’s quite innovative. So from a farm production point of view, can you give me an example of organic waste at the food production level? The BSF farm is a method to treat organic waste post-harvest, but what about pre-harvest organic waste on the farms?
[00:10:15] Tamar Zur: Yes. There is a very good example of in the poultry industry of a huge waste that I would like to tell you about. I’m working with an Israeli biotech company that develop a deep technology for sex determination in poultry embryos.
Now it takes us to the poultry industry, a different subject, and the subject is a chick culling, what is chick culling in the layers and the hens that lay eggs?
Males are not productive. Males cannot lay eggs. And when hatching from the eggs, based on the sex of the chicks, females and males are separated.
Unwanted males are killed, and today around seven and a half billion chicks are killed globally. Day one cheeks, shredded or fumigated with poisonous gas.
It’s a welfare issue. And I believe that Australia with soon ban chick culling like in Europe and France and Germany beside the welfare issue, it’s a massive waste of resources, money and energy. If you define organic waste as a waste derived from a material that was once living. This is definitely falling into the category of organic waste.
So we mentioned the triple challenge of feeding more people with less resources and the urge to improve our food production system and reduce waste,
Chick culling is an example of a waste energy in the food production system. What can we do in order to reduce it? There are many companies around 200 R & D groups developing sex detection of the poultry embryos in early stage of the development and that’s how they can save, waste and avoid culling of day one chicks.
However, sex determination of embryos before touch, it’s not an easy thing and many approaches like spectral imaging, hormonal detection, genetic methods that can help identify the males in the embryonic phase, they’re either expensive or they might reduce such ability, or they’re facing regulation limitation because it’s a genetic modified.
One technology captured my attention and it is, fascinating and pretty blow my mind. Eh, sex reversal in poultry embryos, they not only determined they transfer genetic males into functional laying egg females.
Yes. Males that lay eggs, and it happens naturally, how can it be?
It’s a, in a certain circumstances with sound vibration, temperature and humidity male’s embryos can transform and function as females. It’s a transgender dream sex, reversal, sex reversal in poultry embryo.
They design an egg incubator with sound vibration and control environment, and they produce more layers, more females than males with the same resources, saving male chicks life, increasing productivity, and profitability, and reducing waste substantially.
[00:13:41] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Wow. This is well above my pay grade, that’s fascinating. So what’s the biggest surprise you’ve found with working closely with innovative solutions like black soldier flies?
[00:13:51] Tamar Zur: Hm, there are many surprises with innovation, but the first I think one of the surprising fact about BSF is that we might find the next generation for antibiotics from this fly. It grows and prosper in an environment that it’s full of bacteria and pathogens, like, Salmonella and E. coli.
How do they survive in this harsh environment? They have antiseptic, anti-microbial agent in their body that allow them to grow in organic waste. This is a surprising fact about BSF, but another surprise from working closely with innovation in general is the time that it takes to adapt innovation. Even if the solution offered to solve a problem is it is good and it’s applicable, the way to apply new technologies is through many obstacles, barriers, and challenges.
And despite the advantages of BSF farm, it takes a major effort to implement this new technology in developed countries. And some of the leading insect farms globally are struggling with regulation and many other barriers.
Similarly, and I was surprised to see that to reduce or avoid chick culling in the poultry industry is not compulsory yet.
And although it can save money, time, precious resources to hatchery owners, and spare the life of billions of chicks, it takes a long time to adopt new technology.
Traditional industries are not really reacting fast to innovation, and if it’s not obligatory, we’re expected to do exactly the same, and not to change very fast.
[00:15:43] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, So recycling with BSF farms and reducing organic waste in the poultry industry, are two methods to recycle and reduce waste. But, do you think that reducing and recycling is enough with some of the full cost global numbers that are before us?
[00:15:58] Tamar Zur: I think that the global challenges like climate change, expected protein shortfall by 2050, or decline in natural resources are complicated, very complicated. Therefore, the solution required are complicated as well.
It’s not enough to reuse, reduce and recycle, we need to find alternative to the existing cultivation and to see how we can increase productivity. The fascinating part of my work is to go through many innovative solution in the AgTech and FoodTech, to categorise them to the different level from production to consumption, to identify the technology offered, what kind of problem they are designed to solve. And there are plenty of new technologies in the Ag and FoodTech, most of them try to address the triple challenge in that way or another.
Now there is an interesting news in the Marine bioproduct industry in Australia captured my attention and I think it has a multiple advantage yet under-exploited. The eh, algae farm, it’s an example of Marine bioproduct, producing substantially more nutrients with significant, less resources, microalgae, which is the seaweed Marine plant and microalgae, which is the single cell are the ancestors of plants on land and they’re using the sunlight energy to produce energy, carbs, protein, and oils.
So production-wise microalgae farm is superior when compared to conventional farms like poultry farms, cotton, soybeans, and from one hectare of microalgae farm, you can produce 1000 times more protein compared to one hectare of beef and eh microalgae is 30 times more protein productive when compared to soybean cultivation.
It does not require fresh water because Marine algae are cultivated in a salty water, therefore, they’re resilient to droughts, the biggest threat to Australia is droughts.
Climate change increase the frequency and severity of droughts and cultivation that does not require Sweetwater, increase the food production, resilient to climate change. So yes, reduce organic waste, reuse and recycle is very important, but I think it’s not enough.
I think we should embrace new foods, like algae, macro and micro that have the potential to feed the growing population with complete, high-quality protein profile.
And with many other benefits, like anti-inflammatory oils, like omega three and so much more, algae, most commonly eaten in Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea, and China. And we have a phrase in Hebrew, that is something like this, “Billion Chinese cannot be wrong”.
[00:19:14] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, I mean, purely from a statistical standpoint, it makes sense, right?
[00:19:20] Tamar Zur: Yes.
[00:19:21] Mitchell Denton: No, that was great. I love that answer. Would you mind explaining Eco-Fly’s goal of supporting sustainable solutions for AgTech and food industries?
[00:19:30] Tamar Zur: Yes. My goal is to help and support innovative solution for Ag and FoodTech. I enjoy comparing the two ecosystems, the Australian, and the Israeli of AgTech technology. And I’m trying to connect the dots between innovation industry and capital.
I’m honoured to be part of this community to tackle this kind of challenges.
And the building blocks, the people that I’m trying to address that are building the ecosystem are companies that develop new technologies or adopt new technologies.
And I’m trying to speak also to the impact investors that want to invest in opportunities. That will give high return on investment and simultaneously contribute to a better future.
Recently, two months ago, the Australian federal government agreed to support and fund the Marine bioproduct industry. The MB corporation research centre with a 270 million Australian dollar enterprise to develop the microalgae and seaweed emerging industry.
It’s amazing. It’s a fantastic enterprise and it’s an opportunity for everyone for own stake stakeholders for investors and partners that would like to join a growing healthy industry. This is the time Australia has advanced marine estate its unique biodiverse ecosystem can provide the foundation for a massive expansion of Marine biomass production and the Australian, uh, research capability in many of the required field is world-leading.
And we have the government that is actively supporting the development and the expansion of a smart industry. So, my interest is to help companies with sustainable development goals in the AgTech.
Companies that are addressing the triple challenge from BSF farm as a recycling method or biotechnology to reduce chicken culling, or a Marine microalgae farm that is resilient to climate change and super productive and superfood and voting there for collaboration and always open to meet new people.
[00:21:51] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Great. Okay. Continuing that thought, when it comes to food waste and sustainability, what’s the biggest area related to your role that you’re curious about and why? Or to put it in another way, what are some of the things you’re researching the most right now?
[00:22:05] Tamar Zur: I’m exploring the option of building an Agri-Hub portal, serving a active companies with the great solutions. It’s an online platform, and impact investors who search for investment opportunities. I come across through premium content, inspiring stories, and I would like to help them reach the right ears and tend their stories and find the right partners.
The subject related to food and waste sustainability that intrigued me the most is technology of sending BSF larva to remote areas. It sounds simple, but half of the insects die on the way if it’s not done properly, there is a lot of R and D to do regarding insect farm. In general, I’m attracted to emerging industries like insects, microalgae, unique technology.
An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
I think that the emerging new industry offers great opportunities and this is where I’m focusing.
[00:23:16] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Okay. So is there a particular group or innovation within the industry that you’re excitedly keeping a watchful eye on?
[00:23:23] Tamar Zur: Ah yes, I follow the innovative food trends in Australia and New Zealand. The plant-based protein companies are booming. Despite the COVID and giving a local healthy version of alternative vegan food.
Before we had to import vegan products from abroad, and now it’s Aussie. Another subject is the cell culture meat, or lab grown meat.
And it’s another alternative that has the potential to save some of the precious natural resources invested in beef. Or a biotech company that developed proper methodology to identify pathogens like E. coli and salmonella. It’s cheap and accurate rate and it can save a lot of time and a lot of money.
[00:24:12] Mitchell Denton: That’s great. We’ve actually interviewed a handful of plant-based protein companies on this podcast because they really do seem to be booming right now, as you said.
So I agree. I think they really are worth keeping an eye on at the moment. So what’s one thing you wish you had known when you first began your career in scientifically investigating insect nutrition and behaviour?
[00:24:32] Tamar Zur: I wrote my master thesis on the social interaction effects upon the nutritional intake of flies. Or in another words, does a pair of females consume different amounts of nutrients compared to a pair of two males? The social interaction affect the nutritional in-take.
But not only that, little did I know when I conducted my research on flies, social interactions have a major influence, not only on the diet, also on the way we invest in finding new solutions, we tend to invest in a familiar opportunities.
It affects the way we form your regulations or new technologies, it affects the way we adopt and implement innovation. Several times I’ve received the, let’s say from an Israeli venture capital fund, they reply, “We invest in Israeli company only” and vice versa. I’ve heard from Australian funds, they reply, “Sorry, but we’re focused on investment in Australia”. I believe that we should break the barriers of different geographic areas of cultures or social interactions and eh, unite when it comes to embrace new technology, so I wish I knew it earlier.
[00:26:02] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely. No, I love that. So as we come to a close, I just want to ask, what is the number one takeaway you really want the listeners to absorb from this episode?
[00:26:12] Tamar Zur: We can tackle complicated challenge, like the one the food production system are facing, but we have to do it together. Government needs to form regulations, supporting and harnessing Australia’s innovative culture. R and D is an investment, not a cost. Farmers should adopt new technologies and implement them to improve production and reduce waste.
Investors could learn more about sustainable, attractive opportunities. AgTech and FoodTech are growing sectors, nothing can stop it. It’s a hot place to invest last, but not least is the end consumers we can choose with our legs or with our mouth, we can influence on the awareness to specific issues.
We can reduce the food waste, and separate different ways to make it easier to recycle. can do it together.
[00:27:10] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, that’s great. I love that. Well, that’s all for today’s episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”. Thanks for listening, and thank you, Tamar for joining me.
[00:27:17] Tamar Zur: Thank you very much, for having me.
[00:27:20] Mitchell Denton: If you’d like to know more about Eco-Fly, check out the link in the description of this episode, make sure to subscribe to this podcast so that you never miss an episode.
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Until next time you’ve been listening to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, a PostHarvest podcast.