Tech startups are driving the green revolution in Latin America with innovations such as low-carbon milk and AI irrigation.
Leo Prieto’s passion for nature started during his childhood by the sea. “I was obsessed with what was under the surface. I’d anchor myself to a rock with my snorkel, and I was fascinated by all the little animals doing things that go unnoticed.”
During his adolescence, the internet was introduced in Chile, and he took the opportunity to become a leader in the online world by creating and selling multiple startups. As a result of his passion for the environment and the internet, he saw the potential for these two interests to intersect with business, driven by the belief that advancements in technology should not go to waste.
The entrepreneur expresses disbelief at the current state of society where advancements in science and technology have made almost anything possible, yet people are primarily using these resources to add cat ears to photos.
“How about utilizing these technological advancements to address tangible problems? We have genuine challenges and practical tools at our disposal – let’s merge the two.”
Prieto is part of a rising group of business owners in Latin America and the Caribbean who are embracing the green movement by creating companies and non-profit organizations centered on conservation, promoting the green economy, and advocating for climate justice. A significant number of these individuals believe that the global community and leaders are not providing enough funding for climate projects.
The need for change is growing more pressing due to the fact that the 33 countries in the region are among the most susceptible to the consequences of the climate emergency, both in terms of their economies and physical well-being.
Experts state that environmental innovation holds great potential for growth in Latin America and the Caribbean. A recent report from the Inter-American Development Bank reveals that the green economy, including renewable energy, environmental technologies, and bioeconomy, is experiencing growth in terms of value added. However, a major obstacle is securing funding. To address this challenge, a significant number of projects are focused on connecting investors with environmentally and socially responsible initiatives to kickstart the sector.
In Chile, Prieto’s company, Lemu, utilizes AI and machine learning to develop a marketplace that connects potential investors with projects focused on climate, biodiversity, water, and human development that require funding.
The term “Lemu” originates from the Mapuche language and translates to “forest.” Before adding a project to the list, Lemu verifies its results. Users have the ability to learn about the projects, filter by country or protected species, view maps and 3D models, and track progress through photos and posts.
Some of the projects include efforts to safeguard cotton-top tamarins, a tiny but highly endangered monkey species in Colombia that is at risk due to deforestation and the illegal wildlife market. Additionally, there are efforts to protect rhinos from poachers in the Sibuya Game Reserve of South Africa.
The application allows users to choose between monthly or one-time donations and also offers updates and impact reports. 80% of the donated amount goes to the featured projects, while Lemu takes 19% for its expenses and growth. The remaining 1% is donated to 1% for the Planet, an organization that requires member companies to donate 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes.
Brazil is seeing a rise in potential startups focused on agriculture and livestock. One such company, Krilltech, was founded in the labs of the University of Brasília. They have created a natural nanostructure called Arbolina that improves the absorption of vital nutrients and promotes plant growth. This offers a safe and eco-friendly alternative to traditional fertilizers.
According to Diego Stone, the CEO of the company, the product testing showed a 20% rise in soybean production, a 12% increase in wheat yield, and a potential 40% growth in tomatoes. The company claims that their technology decreases expenses and harmful chemicals, while also enhancing resilience against drought and other extreme environmental conditions.
Brazil faces the challenge of decreasing its greenhouse gas emissions. As the sixth highest emitter globally, about 30% of its emissions come from agriculture. In order to address this issue, NoCarbon Milk is working towards implementing environmentally-friendly practices in dairy farming.
Methane is produced when cattle ferment food in their intestines. This process releases both hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which are then combined by an enzyme to create methane. To address this issue, the company utilizes a feed supplement that inhibits the enzyme, resulting in up to a 40% decrease in emissions.
Kilimo, a business established in 2014 in Argentina, is addressing the issue of water scarcity by offering farmers data-driven solutions to enhance their irrigation practices and effectively manage their water resources. Through the use of artificial intelligence, the company’s software combines weather and satellite data to improve irrigation methods, potentially reducing water consumption for farmers by 20%.
Jairo Trad, one of the creators, reports that the software is utilized by farmers in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay. In the last two years, it has conserved 72 million cubic meters (19 billion US gallons) of water. Trad has personal experience with water shortages as the grandson of a small landowner in Argentina’s Córdoba province, which has been affected by multiple droughts.
According to the speaker, agriculture accounts for 75% to 85% of water consumption in Latin America. Therefore, any efforts towards improving water security must involve working with the agricultural industry.
In 2022, Nativas, a company based in Argentina, was established with the goal of providing financial support for projects that focus on restoring ecosystems. This startup encourages farmers to incorporate indigenous trees into their crops and establish corridors to support wildlife.
The use of blockchain technology is utilized to confirm the advantages of restoration plans and links them with interested companies for investment. Gaspar Mac, the co-founder, states, “We are showcasing that efforts towards implementing ecosystem restoration can be financially rewarded.”
The startup is in its early stages and currently has pilot projects in various regions of Argentina, including the Gran Chaco, a biome facing significant challenges that extends across northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Two of the projects center on regenerative farming, one on preserving biodiversity, and another on educating companies about the socio-environmental advantages of restoring wetlands. According to Mac, their ultimate aim is to restore the health of the land.
A youth organization in Honduras called Sustenta Honduras is making strides in promoting “climate empowerment” through their nonprofit circular economy project.
Ricardo Pineda, the president and co-founder of Sustenta, recalls the year 2019 when he learned that Honduras had become the most susceptible nation to the impacts of climate change globally. This realization sparked the birth of the initiative.
The organization is currently focusing on two primary initiatives. The initial project involves converting excess animal fats into environmentally-friendly soap for pets. In the second project, youth volunteers gather used cooking oil from homes and repurpose it into soap. Due to the high usage of cooking oils in households in Honduras, there is a significant amount of waste that is either disposed of in rivers or forests. The organization is seeking innovative methods to create a sustainable cycle for these products.
A recent award-winning project from the Youth4Climate Challenge is utilizing data to supply renewable energy to 45% of schools in Honduras that are currently without power. According to Pineda, the project uses big data to identify the most affordable ways to provide electricity to remote communities through schools that lack access to it. This allows communities and organizations to decide whether it is more suitable to install a separate microgrid or expand the main grid distribution, taking into consideration the renewable energy potential of over 7,000 schools that are currently without electricity.
According to Prieto, the next crucial step for improving environmental research projects in Latin America and the Caribbean is implementing more dependable methods for verifying outcomes. He expresses concern over the lack of knowledge regarding the effectiveness of various actions taken in these projects, stating that this is a serious issue. To make a lasting impact, he stresses the importance of having measurable, traceable, and auditable metrics in place.