Planet-Positive Business Intelligence for Smallholder Farmers — Investing in Digital Gaia

Planet-Positive Business Intelligence for Smallholder Farmers — Investing in Digital Gaia

Aug 7, 2023 9:45 AM
Posted by

Jahed Momand & Matthew Stotts

The monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) sector is rapidly growing, as new supply has to reach the voluntary eco-asset markets, and there is immense pressure building around verification and trust for these assets. Today’s MRV solutions largely rely on proprietary data with little to no transparency which prevents fluid markets from forming to fully value eco-assets. What’s more, many of the manual and bureaucratic processes that helped form the early opportunities to value, preserve and restore ecological assets are now creating blockages in our ability to act against climate change with more scalable distributed market technologies.

Top-down control of these markets is too slow, and our only answer so far is to wait for governments and NGOs to bring their regulations at their pace. Furthermore, traditional institutions have little to no incentive to price ecosystem services accurately, and are thus always playing catch up to nature’s feedback loop. If we for example overgraze, we don’t find out for years, and those cycles are becoming tighter, creating a race to the bottom.

What is Digital Gaia?

Digital Gaia aims to address these market failings with an innovative approach to gathering and analyzing ecological data. Building on decades of applied research in machine learning and new breakthroughs in Causal AI (active inference), Digital Gaia integrates real world data with natural models to continuously evaluate regenerative project’s real global impact.

We see the technology the team is developing as seeding the potential to help millions of land stewards optimize, demonstrate, and monetize their projects' impact, creating clarity, trust and accountability for investors.

Digital Gaia was incubated out of the Open Earth Foundation by a crack team of scientists leveraging active inference purpose built to address the problem of reliably proving impact of ecological interventions in a decentralized way. They intend to do this by building what they call a Natural Intelligence Network (NIN), with the ultimate goal of creating credible-decision making agents for ecologies. The NIN will help us develop a more active and intelligent perception of nature, understanding ecological state, forecasting course, and providing economic resources to maintain course for healthy ecosystems.

It will do this by developing a natural intelligence compute engine (NICE) and a protocol that acquires data (GIS, sensors), integrates it with data from human agents (via wallets and bounties), and produces models of collective behavior that enable the NIN to learn, plan, and allocate resources on behalf of nature.

Why did we invest?

For us, one of the major areas of concern in this decade is integrating the long tail of small family farms, roughly 608 million of them according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), into the global natural asset and credit economy.

This means extending credit to those who can’t obtain it, enabling access to natural markets such as carbon, biodiversity, and more, and creating sustainable revenue streams so that we can value nature for more than just commodity production and the externalities that entails. This means we have to show smallholder farms the money—we can’t rely on them to develop the Global North’s needs for carbon mitigation out of their better nature. We have to make the system of climate mitigation and energy transition make economic sense to them, and to us.

Part of this entails a better approach to MRV. The MRV market needs a scalable, composable, and purpose-built tool to help the long tail of millions of people working in regenerative farming and land restoration to access eco-credits. This will help unlock a new source of supply of eco-credits across all platforms, covering the bottom-up side of the market, in much the same way that YouTube opened the doors of content production from Hollywood to a new class of long tail creators.

Along the way, regulators are getting ready to shape the market. The SEC has proposed rules to enhance and stardize climate-related disclosures for investors, and the EU is rapidly approving and implementing climate-focused legislation that will require suppliers and wholesalers to prove that their supply chain is carbon zero and deforestation-free. Digital Gaia’s Proof of Impact approach will be key in helping these new market approaches gain traction.

We think that this is the team to do it. Ned Harvey is Founder and CEO, and brings 15 years experience leading the Rocky Mountain Institute, a leading energy transition NGO. Previous to this he led the Carbon War Room, an NGO focused on driving capital to low carbon solutions to create a net zero economy. He also led renewable energy projects as a CEO, and chairs the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association.

Rafael Kaufmann (founder and CTO) worked in product operations and product management for 6 years at Google, and has worked with the Open Earth Foundation for the last couple of years on ActInf approaches. He previously worked as founder and CTO at Brazil’s first ride-hailing service, then co-founded an environmental services startup in Brazil.

With that in mind, in the future we envision a near trillion dollar latent opportunity waiting to be unlocked with the right zero-marginal cost open source software approach. To make things concrete with an example, with the prototype of Digital Gaia a community practicing regenerative agriculture in a protected area such as the Brazilian Amazon can use the NIN agent (called an Ent) to integrate data about soil, forestry, and biodiversity, output data by taking soil measurements to a local environmental agency, create a project proposal to improve soil parameters with a bounty estimation, that an investor and entrepreneur can fund and collect. This addresses the key problem in ecosystem services measurement, as well as payment, with an elegant data trail to appease investor needs and enable new revenue for farmers.

Nothing contained herein constitutes investment, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied upon in making an investment or other decision. This article contains the opinions of the author, and such opinions are subject to change without notice. Furthermore, it may also include data and opinions derived from third party sources. Cerulean Ventures does not accept liability for the accuracy or completeness of any such information or opinions which can be subject to change without notice.