Some of the greatest advancements in human kind have been the result of an accident. This is exactly what happened to Sara Landa, a young Mexican fresh out of College, who graduated as a chemical engineer. A friend found by chance, a scientific article about a fungus that helped plants absorb phosphate, a nutrient essential to vegetables. Her friend saw a business opportunity in this phenomenon and decided to come to Lamda and create Simbiótica Labs, a start-up focused on biotechnology used to optimize the absorption of nutrients, decreasing fertilizer consumption and increasing the crop's productivity. Thanks to this initiative, Landa has been chosen as a winner in the Latin American Innovators under 35 from the MIT Technology Review LATAM edition.
The motivation to create Simbiótica Labs is to fight against hunger at the international level and meet the growing demand for food without having to exhaust all available land. The young engineer details, “Current agricultural practices are a complete disaster and are not sustainable in the long run. Nearly 30% of the land in México is already losing its fertility due to the wrongful use of chemicals, but, at the same time, the demand for food is getting bigger. This makes the use of chemical fertilizers, which have an immediate effect but in the long term, toxic to the land making it unusable in the end.” In her opinion, the unsustainability of the agricultural system is pushing us to change the way we plant our food. For this, Simbiótica is a high quality organic fertilizer that “can really compete with the reaction and performance of chemical fertilizers," she maintains.
The product is a cocktail of fungi and bacteria, conformed by mycorrhizae, vegan hormones, and micro-nutrients. Landa details that this mixture "allows farmers to diminish the use of chemical fertilizers, which reduces the costs of fertilizers and in the long run, increase the natural fertility of the land.” This way we can get the fine roots of the plants to grow stronger, the moisture in the soil to be better preserved, and the quantity of nutrients available increased for plants. This translates to using chemical manure less. The young girl sums up, ”We want common practices in the land to become more sustainable.”
For the time being, Simbiótica only commercializes products for the harvesting of avocados and cranberries. In both cases, the use of these products reduced up to 20% of nitrogen fertilizers used and up to 40% of phosphorus used without affecting the productivity of the crops. Nevertheless, the startup is working on creating similar compounds for other crops such as coffee, cacao, lime, oranges, and vegetables. "The fertility of the land is going to diminish in an important way and the population keeps on growing. There has to be change, and it has to be fast, a change favoring the environment," Landa concludes.
The director of master studies of the Biotechnology and Food department of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Further Education (ITESM), Mexico, Jorge Welti, also a member of the
jury for the 2019 Latin American Innovators Under 35, thinks that “the proposal is very well structured and supported by scientific and solid technical arguments." Welti also values that Landa “has a profile extremely focused on entrepreneurship with a clear understanding of the market.”