Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

ReNature

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What is the name of your solution?

Regenerating soil with cultivated kelp

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Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

Use of cultivated kelp in regenerative agriculture to showcase application of biostimulants so as to decrease dependence on chemical fertilizers

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What specific problem are you solving?

Soil degradation: loss of fertility and biodiversity

Every minute, we are losing 30 soccer fields of soil mostly due to intensive farming. Otherwise put: about a third of the world’s soils are already degraded and, at this rate, all topsoils of the world would be degraded in only 60 years. 

In conventional agriculture, minerals like nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium are often added to the soil in the form of synthetic (chemical) fertilizers to give crops a direct artificial boost. Naturally, plants cannot access these minerals on their own and are unable to digest them. 

While chemical fertilizers have been widely used to achieve maximum productivity in conventional agriculture, the continuous and excessive utilization thereof plays a major role, directly and/or indirectly, in changing environmental conditions. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers have degraded the crucial foundation of agriculture, the soil, resulting in decarbonization, erosion, desertification and chemical pollution. In the last 50 years, this has caused significant damage to public health and rendered arable topsoil insufficient to feed ourselves.

In our current ways of farming, the growing global population and increasing food demand means more use of chemical fertilizers, which is simply an inefficient long-term solution to meeting the food demand. For one, where chemical fertilizer is used, only 50 percent of nitrogen is actually absorbed by the plant and the excess fertilizer runoff into streams and lakes, causing toxic algal blooms that are harmful to aquatic life as well as people and other animals. Such runoff from agricultural applications also contributes to aquatic “dead zones” in coastal areas. Furthermore, the manufacturing and transporting needs for chemical fertilizers are extremely energy-demanding and, with skyrocketing costs of energy, this impacts final food prices. 

Without protecting and regenerating the soil, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or halt the loss of biodiversity.

Sources:

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What is your solution?

Use of cultivated kelp in regenerative agriculture to showcase application of biostimulants so as to decrease dependence on chemical fertilizers

In order to restore agricultural productivity and achieve food security for the growing population, a new sustainable approach is needed for agriculture. Moving to decrease dependence on chemical fertilizers, reNature, in partnership with Kelp Blue and the Kelp Forest Foundation, seeks to design and implement a system applying cultivated kelp (macrocystis) biostimulants in regenerative agriculture, specifically agroforestry. This solution is underpinned by growing momentum in use of seaweed-based bioproducts in crop production systems, owing to their unique bioactive components and effects. Kelp not only has a negative footprint but is also regenerative and increases biodiversity as it grows.

Why regenerative agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil and is capable of producing high quality, nutrient-dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, ultimately resulting in more productive farms, healthier communities and stronger economies. Among other benefits, regenerative agriculture contributes to: 

  • topsoil regeneration,

  • increasing biodiversity,

  • improving water cycle,

  • enhancing ecosystem services,

  • supporting bio-sequestration,

  • increasing resilience to climate change, and

  • strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.

As soil health improves, input requirements decrease and crop yields increase, considering that the soil is then more resilient against extreme weather and harbors fewer pests and pathogens. The improved richness and diversity of soil can impact ecosystem function. Hence, a regenerative agriculture system increases not only biodiversity in the soil but ultimately food production, farmers’ income, and especially topsoil fertility.

Why macrocystis biostimulants?

Macrocystis pyrifera, commonly known as giant kelp or bladder kelp, is one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet and is well suited for use in a range of products, from high quality pharma/nutraceuticals to fertilizer, animal feed, biopackaging, dietary supplements and textiles. Growing kelp requires no fertilizers, no pesticides, no land and no fresh water. Growing the marketplace for existing kelp products as well as using giant kelp derivatives to displace environmentally damaging alternatives will help restore the planet's equilibrium. More importantly, kelp has the ability to draw down more CO2 than terrestrial forests while boosting marine biodiversity and improving fish stocks, as well as soil biodiversity when applied as a biostimulant in agriculture. 

Application of macrocystis biostimulant in regenerative agriculture

The proposed solution engages the Kelp Forest Foundation’s initiative to develop the science around Kelp Blue’s harvesting of macrocystis biostimulants and its effect on biodiversity. Specifically applying Kelp Blue’s STIMPLUS+ technology to a selected Model Farm designed by reNature, the solution will address: 1) crop health, focusing on solving abiotic stress by enhancing plant resilience; and 2) farm health, contributing to a negative carbon agriculture that supports farmers.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Smallholder farmers and their communities

The solution will provide targeted farmers and their communities with a more sustainable alternative to chemical fertilizer while enabling their transition to regenerative agriculture. Soil being essential for our wellbeing and survival, the substitution of chemical fertilizer with biostimulants will help the local ecosystem produce better goods and services for its beneficiaries, thereby increasing the farmers and their communties’ environmental and economic resilience.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

A partnership between a regenerative agriculture consulting firm and restorative, large-scale offshore kelp cultivation enterprises

reNature and the Kelp Forest Foundation share a passion about scaling a profitable nature-based solution that will help reverse climate change. The organizations’ models are set to grow across different markets, helping to change the course of multiple industries from being environmentally damaging to being environmentally positive.

As an established regenerative agriculture consulting firm with a pipeline of 80,000+ farmers, reNature has significant experience enabling farmers to adopt regenerative practices by offering them tools for implementation and capacity building and access to finance. Over the past 4 years, reNature has accumulated a rich project portfolio and network of experts and interested off-takers in the regenerative agriculture space, this owing to a diverse team with more than 10 years of combined experience in agribusiness and related fields. 

Despite being a young entity, the Kelp Forest Foundation–a non-profit charity founded in 2021 with the vision to harness the power of kelp to help restore the health of the planet–has a globally growing presence in the Blue Carbon solution space. The organization is raising awareness of the economic and ecological importance of kelp forests while driving research, building knowledge and strengthening the science around wild forest restoration and cultivated kelp afforestation. It also supports research around the avoided emissions and biodiversity impact of kelp-based products such as biostimulants and biopackaging.

Kelp Blue, the commercial associate of the Kelp Forest Foundation and biotech partner in this solution, brings more than 20 years of experience in a wide range of related fields, including offshore, hydraulic and civil engineering; marine biology; and agronomy. The company has guaranteed access to a large-scale, steady supply of sustainably cultivated macrocystis–120,000 tonnes of it per year. Cultivation is carried out by its sister company in Lüderitz, Namibia where macrocystis is grown in the clean, clear, nutrient-rich waters of the Benguela current.

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Provide scalable, high-quality monitoring of carbon stocks in soil, peat, and marine environments, including at depth.

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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Amsterdam, Netherlands
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Our solution's stage of development:

Pilot
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How many people does your solution currently serve?

To date, reNature has supported more than 12,500 farmers' transition to regenerative agriculture worldwide. Kelp Blue is currently setting up its farms and processing operations but is already supplying biostimulants to a small number of clients.

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Why are you applying to Solve?

To showcase the use of biostimulants in regenerative agriculture so as to decrease dependence on chemical fertilizers

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Marco de Boer

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More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

Cultivation of kelp at large-scale is significantly underdeveloped, let alone for application in regenerative agriculture

Kelp Blue plans to cultivate Great Barrier Reef-sized underwater rainforests in half a dozen locations around the world. These kelp forests will capture CO2 and improve biodiversity at a global scale. Cultivating kelp at this scale has never been done before. 

Moving cultivation out of sheltered waters and into the open ocean ensures that CO2 sequestration takes place in the deep ocean sediments, making its scale, and permanence, unparalleled. It also allows the creation of a new ecosystem that boosts biodiversity. Giant kelps are a foundation species, supporting around 800 species, from micro- to macro-, from residential to globetrotters like the humpback whale. The kelp rainforests are 20m high and only the top 1-2m of the canopy is harvested, leaving the ecosystem intact year-round.

The harvested kelp is processed using techniques designed to have minimal impact on the environment. The kelp-based products provide affordable, sustainable replacements for more environmentally damaging alternatives (chemical fertilizers). Kelp Blue's operations also provide sustainable employment and economic independence to fragile coastal communities. The profit derived from the kelp-based products makes the cultivation commercially viable, attracting the sizable capital investments required for scaling up to global impact.

In this way, the cultivation of kelp at scale has a triple impact on the health of the planet and people: 1) growing kelp in itself improves the environment; 2) kelp products displace environmentally damaging agricultural and industrial practices; and 3) kelp cultivation at scale provides sustainable, alternative employment to coastal communities, thereby reducing stress on oceans.

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What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

Mainstreaming regenerative agriculture alongside cultivation of kelp for biostimulants

The goal for the next year is to successfully pilot the application of cultivated kelp in one of reNature’s Model Farm projects in Kenya. This will be achieved by establishing a partnership with the targeted farmers and their community, whereby the use of cultivated kelp is welcomed and the required monitoring and evaluation process supported. The objective will be to prove the engineering, construction and installation quality of both the hard infrastructure and biology of this solution alongside reaching at least 12,000 community members, 73% more local biodiversity, 13% more soil humidity and 12 tons more CO2 sequestration per hectare within the year. 

Meanwhile, Kelp Blue intends to meet the KPIs set for the first ever giant kelp offshore pilot farm, including: the array structure design withstanding offshore environments, the kelp seeded on the ropes growing high enough to allow harvesting of the canopy, and there being no unintended negative consequences to the surrounding ecosystem. The company also plans to complete the design of the mechanical harvesting vessel and begin its construction. This will ensure sustainable supply of the harvested kelp for application in more Model farm projects. 

In the next five years, the goal is to scale the application of the cultivated kelp to a wider range of reNature’s Model Farm projects, integrating this system to contribute to the organization’s goal to transition 2% (10M) of all farmers and 2% (100M ha) of all farmland to regenerative agriculture by 2030. 

During this time, Kelp Blue will have established a 800-hectare giant kelp farm in Namibia, creating over 200 mid- and high-skilled employment opportunities and over 500 indirect jobs for the coastal community of Lüderitz. The kelp forest underway will be fully grown and teeming with life, and have helped to permanently sequester vast quantities of CO2 and de-acidify surrounding marine waters. The Kelp Forest Foundation will, by then, include giant kelp cultivation within Blue Carbon, considering the Foundation’s research being able to independently and transparently quantify the amount of carbon permanently sequestered by kelp forests and scientifically underpinning them as a powerful nature-based solution.

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

A monitoring and evaluation approach underpinned by outcome-based measurements rather than practice-based estimation

reNature’s interventions are underpinned by a monitoring and evaluation approach that engages various partners with whom protocols are co-develop for data collection, analysis, interpretation, and reporting. reNature measures the impact of regenerative agriculture through outcome-based measurements rather than practice-based estimation, working with a set of KPIs across different dimensions (socio-economic, biodiversity, soil, carbon, and water).

Among the ecological KPIs and methods measured and deployed by reNature are allometric equations to track the amount of carbon sequestered in trees; eDNA to sample breath of life present in water or soil samples; bioacoustics to gain insight into the diversity and abundance of key groups of vocalizing animal species, and remote sensing to measure plant and land health. Furthermore, reNature tracks costs and benefits and estimates yields by performing cost-benefit analyses a priori and a posteriori, accounting for a range of dynamics of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

With data generated through reNature’s projects, the firm is developing a digital platform to display and also predict the impact of its interventions. The aim of the Impact Dashboard is to capture the holistic (environmental, social and economic) picture of the transition to regenerative agriculture, in this case also accounting for the impact of using macrocystis biostimulant fertilizer.

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What is your theory of change?

Regeneration with negative footprint

The underlying theory of change between the partners propsosing this solution (reNature, Kelp Blue and the Kelp Forest Foundation) is delivering products and services with:

  1. negative footprints–regenerative agriculture sequesters CO2 within the soil while giant kelp sequesters CO2 as it grows; and 

  2. regenerative properties, boosting biodiversity and improving water quality to replace any product that not only has a heavy carbon footprint in its production but also damages soil and biodiversity in its application.

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

STIMPLUS+

Kelp Blue’s STIMPLUS+ combines the potential of macrocystis seaweed and high shear technology. The macrocystis seaweed is cultivated in nutrient-rich water and harvested and processed directly to preserve the integrity of the molecules. High shear technology allows bursts of the cells to release the active molecules and increase availability of bioactive compounds. This process does not use any chemicals and allows the creation of a high concentrated water soluble and stable biostimulant, which will be applied in the Model Farm in lieu of synthetic fertilizer.

Kelp Blue removes barriers to scaling seaweed farming by: creating an offshore structure that can withstand ocean forces and placing it 4km offshore and at 15 meters depth; cultivating offshore in order not to compete with coastal ecosystems; choosing species that do not require annual re-planting; and only harvesting the canopy of the macroalgae, allowing for harvesting multiple times per year while leaving the bulk of the organism to support a healthy and thriving marine bio-system. The company processes harvested kelp into products that provide a direct advantage over more environmentally damaging alternatives and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics and fossil based plastics.

In practical terms, Kelp Blue is setting up a hatchery, together with breeding-specialist Hortimare, to produce the necessary genetic material for seeding giant kelp. The seeds are attached to twines and then to a grid-like structure made of steel arrays to be towed to sea (10km offshore) and secured to the floor with weights, initially. The set of arrays cover 1.5 hectares at pilot level and will be enlarged to 800 hectares once the pilot proves all the KPIs within a year. Lastly, the arrays are placed 15m below the sea surface to avoid the strongest wave forces.

At the Model Farm implementation level, reNature promotes agroforestry alongside practices such as cover cropping, mulching, crop diversification, reduced and zero tillage, crop-livestock integration and holistic grazing management, working with resilient varieties of crops and animals. Through tailored technical assistance, reNature utilizes a fit-for-purpose approach to supporting farmers adopt regenerative farming practices that ensure priming substances that lead to a reduction of pesticides, fertilizers, water application while improving crop health, maintaining farming productivity, reducing CO2 emissions and actively fostering biodiversity. The firm primarily works with in-field sensors (e.g. bioacoustics), satellites, soil samples (e.g eDNAmetabarcoding) and other innovative technologies for data collection.

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Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • GIS and Geospatial Technology
  • Imaging and Sensor Technology
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 2. Zero Hunger
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 14. Life Below Water
  • 15. Life on Land
  • 17. Partnerships for the Goals
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Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Other, including part of a larger organization (please explain below)

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If you selected Other, please explain here.

A consortium of commercial and nonprofit entities

reNature comprises a commercial (reNature BV) and nonprofit arm (reNature Foundation). The Foundation is heading this initiative and will commission the BV as the lead implementation partner in realizing the solution. 

Kelp Blue is a commercial entity in association with the Kelp Forest Foundation, a nonprofit charity.

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How many people work on your solution team?

reNature: 7-10 | Kelp Blue: 20-30 | Kelp Forest Foundation: 4

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How long have you been working on your solution?

1-4 years–While the partnership around this solution has just formed in pursuit of this (MIT Solve Challenge) opportunity, reNature has been supporting farmers and corporate companies transition to regenerative agriculture since 2019 and Kelp Blue has been processing kelp for biostimulants since 2020. The Kelp Forest Foundation was established in 2021.

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What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

Empowering women as community members, entrepreneurs and leaders

The proposed solution aims to be gender-transformative, with the intention to play an active role in enabling an environment where the rights of women are recognized, gender relations and positions of women are improved, and women’s entrepreneurship is boosted, ultimately contributing to SDG 5. During the execution of the solution, the role of women as members, entrepreneurs and leaders will be discussed and, together with male and female farmers and other community members, an action plan will be developed to account for participation of women at the farm and community level.

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Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

Cultivate, harvest and apply macrocystis biostimulants in agroforestry system 

As separate entities with a broader focus beyond this solution, for the purpose of this initiative, the business model is summarized as follows:

Kelp Blue cultivates and harvests kelp to be used as a biostimulant in regenerative farming systems designed and implemented by reNature.

reNature offers its project pipeline and serves as the technical advisory partner implementing kelp cultivated and supplied by Kelp Blue to select projects.

The criteria for selecting reNature’s projects for this solution include:

  • Aridity of project location

  • Capacity for obtaining and applying the cultivated kelp

  • Willingness of targeted farmers and communities to trade current fertilizers for kelp

reNature and the Kelp Forest Foundation will co-develop a monitoring and evaluation program specifically for the application of the kelp within the given context.

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Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Organizations (B2B)
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What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

Scaling use of cultivated kelp in regenerative agriculture

reNature’s current key revenue generation mechanisms include:

  1. production–service provision in terms of strategic advice for companies on sustainable sourcing of agribusiness raw materials and sustainable production related to regenerative agroforestry, sustainable food systems and climate resilient agriculture; and

  2. commission–charging a fee for each transaction or contract mediated and connecting clients with an internal team of experts to deploy agroforestry systems into production units.

Kelp Blue aims to be financially sustainable by harvesting only the kelp canopy (the top 20% of the forest) multiple times per year. From this, the company produces and sells bio-stimulants (crop superchargers) and agri-food supplements which displace environmentally damaging alternatives (chemical fertilizers and non-organic supplements). The rest of the pulp is further processed to produce bio-packaging, feed supplements and pharmaceuticals.

A benefit of participating in the MIT Solve program would be support developing a long-term, mutually beneficial and sustainable financial scheme around the integration of each of the three partners’ contributions to this solution.

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Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

Scaling a profitable nature-based solution helping to reverse climate change

As startups, the three partners have significantly progressed in the short time since their respective inceptions:

  1. reNature currently has nearly 7 projects between the stages of implementation and maintenance/scale-up, from which it has secured recurring revenue. These projects cover more than 88,000 hectares for regeneration, benefitting more than 33,000 farmers and their communities and involving off-takers like Nespresso, Danone and Unilever.

  1. Kelp Blue, being in a pilot phase, has already distributed biostimulants to potential buyers and is involved in several field trials. Together with the Kelp Forest Foundation, the two partners have secured a $60 million deal to develop the giant kelp farm on the Namibian coast.

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Solution Team

 
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