UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: Bioverse Labs
The UNICEF Innovation Fund is proud to see portfolio member, Bioverse Labs, graduate. They’ve come a long way – from numerous product iterations to deep diving into understanding their ecosystem better, strengthening their business model, and gearing up to take their solution to market. They’re now ready to collaborate at a larger scale – as they find new pathways to work with partners, investors, and the open source community.
Bioverse, with the support of UNICEF’s Innovation Fund have built and field-tested technologies that help vulnerable communities protect their natural ecosystems and contribute towards improving their livelihoods. We worked alongside the Kayapo and Quilombola people, who are indigenous to the Amazon rainforest. The territory of these people is under threat from logging, mining and ranching. The Forest Abundance Maps project helped them draw more economic value from their forests in a sustainable way. This built greater economic resilience in the participating communities and also created new economic incentives for keeping the rainforest standing.
The engine of value at the center of the project is the Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa), a native tree species that can yield $1500 USD of value per year (based on market price in the USA) from the nutritious nuts that it produces. Bioverse started with a hypothesis that artificial intelligence (and specifically machine vision) could locate Brazil nut trees that the local harvesting community was not previously accessing. Locating these trees directly increases the per hectare real economic value of the standing forest to the community, making it easier for them to resist pressures from logging, mining or ranching.
The target area for the pilot was 400 Sq kilometers and the community identified 680 trees during our baseline GPS-powered survey. Through Bioverse’s work with UNICEF Innovation Fund, we successfully identified 9,240 additional trees—an increase of 1800%
The project relied upon three different layers of technology. First, Bioverse was multispectral high resolution satellite imagery for a detailed picture of the forest canopy (figure 2). Second, was higher resolution canopy images taken from drones (figure 3). This drone layer was necessary to validate training inputs for the classification algorithm and will not be required for further detection of Brazil nut trees. Third, was handheld mobile technologies, initially to provide GPS information about known tree locations and subsequently to provide harvesters with in-hand Forest Abundance Maps to help them locate trees that they had not previously harvested.
For the community, these app-based Abundance Maps can be a true game changer. We work alongside the formal cooperatives of the participating communities to ensure that sensitive information (like tree locations) is only shared when,how and with whom the community decides. As the harvesting community grows accustomed to using these mobile tools, we at Bioverse can add to the power and the capacity of the app.
One-by-one, machine vision trained alongside beneficiary communities can help locate resources that will bring prosperity to the community.
The mission of Bioverse is to protect biodiversity around the world.
A core value of the company is to use our technology to identify only those resources that are valuable when they are left standing in a healthy web of life and to only locate those resources for and with the benefit of the communities who take responsibility for protecting the rainforest.
While these tools and services can help to improve the livelihoods of the harvesters in question, it is not yet viable for Bioverse to support its operating costs (or its R&D) from user fees. Therefore Bioverse is seeking to partner with established companies that are already part of the non-timber related forest products supply chain.
Our team also recognises the sensitivity of data obtained via the operation of the Abundance map projects which preclude building business models around sale of data. So for the next couple of years, Bioverse hopes that conservation-focused philanthropists, impact investors and the emerging natural products industry will fund product development and scale-up. When the Abundance Maps support multiple species and languages and once the communities of the Amazon are in a less economically precarious state, the possibility of opening the solution for paid users in private property may become a possibility.
Bioverse is able to support this work and technology through funding gaps because of the profitable work that it undertakes in the ag-tech space, specifically on biodiversity monitoring for pest and diseases control. In the near term, Bioverse will seek funding to develop algorithms that identify additional productive tree species like Cumaru (Dipteryx odorata), Andiroba (Carapa guianensis), and Copaiba (Copaifera langsdorffii), which are growing in the same areas. Bioverse also seeks funding to scale up the creation of their maps for other indigenous communities who draw their livelihoods from the forest. This approach is not limited to the Amazon Rainforest, as we are in conversations with INGOs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who are committed to addressing deforestation in Central Africa while bringing greater prosperity to forest-dwelling or forest-adjacent communities.
In line with the digital development principles, Bioverse builds these products in close collaboration with the communities who use them, while helping them to protect their data and privacy. Bioverse is also helping to build the commons by making the machine learning aspects of the technology open source, which can benefit researchers, governments and other civil society organizations working with forests.
During the open source mentoring program offered by the UNICEF Innovation Fund, Bioverse had the opportunity to build an open source pipeline geared towards deep learning, remote sensing and forest mapping. The objectives were to create scalable engagement with developers and the scientific community, and hopefully accelerate the pace of innovation while reducing the cost of RnD.
Bioverse welcomes partnership inquiries and inquiries from investors who want to learn about an upcoming seed round for fundraising. www.bioverse.io