The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Enko collaborate on novel crop protection.
Enko and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation share the goal of providing farmers with transformative, environmentally sound, and sustainable crop protection solutions, and are actively collaborating to find solutions to improve outcomes for farmers globally.
We recently sat down with Vipula (Vi) Shukla, Ph.D., Senior Program Officer, Agriculture at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jacqueline Heard, Ph.D., MBA, CEO and Founder of Enko Chem, Inc. to discuss the collaboration between the foundation and the crop-health focused research company.
Why is improved crop protection so vital to small scale farmers in developing nations?
VS - Our foundation’s work is driven by the belief that everyone deserves the chance to live a healthy and productive life. For farmers around the world and particularly in low and middle income-countries that means having access to safe, effective, affordable solutions to protect their crops from a wide range pests and disease pathosystems. Climate change has amplified this need as farmers face new and increased pressure on yields. In addition, legacy products have encountered issues with pest resistance in many parts of the world and are often not designed with small scale farmers in mind or are ineffective against the specific pests they encounter.
Improving the productivity and profitability of farmers in these markets is critical to our primary goal of achieving poverty alleviation through agricultural development. Agriculture in the developing world, as practiced by small-scale producers, is a key lever to drive economic growth in those regions. By supporting these farmers to become more productive and profitable, we can contribute to the overall improvement of their economies.
Why does the Gates Foundation work with private companies like Enko to achieve these goals?
VS - The challenges that we are working to tackle are significant, so the solutions must involve every sector. The GatesFoundation works with a variety diversity of academic, NGO and for-profit partners to achieve our impact goals. We source innovation from all over the world, funding partners to support innovation that can benefit small scale producers in the low- and middle-income countries we focus on.
We are working with a range of private sector partners, including Enko, to bring unique technology and innovations to addressing challenges that face small farmers in our focus geographies as well as significant experience in bringing those products to market.
Can you share more specifics on how your work with Enko will support these goals?
VS - We believe Enko is uniquely positioned to utilize its DNA-encoded libraries platform to discover and develop new products to control pests and diseases that impact farmers globally. In particular, we are supporting Enko’s efforts to address several fungal and insect pests that target tropical crops and are not addressed by current solutions. These are tough problems to solve, and we are encouraged by the progress they have made to find potential solutions for the small farmers affected by these challenges.
JH - Our staff at Enko are working to discover products with broad global applications in both emerging and developed markets. The Gates Foundation support allows us to focus specifically on applications in specific regions of the world, truly leveraging Enko’s platform to address a wide range of crop health issues.
VS - Yes, ultimately we share the goal of seeing affordable products developed by Enko made available to farmers across the globe, in use in the field, and generating improved outcomes, particularly for small scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
What is different about Enko’s approach that helps create better solutions for growers to manage their land more sustainably?
JH - Our targeted approach, using AI and machine learning in molecule discovery, is what differentiates us from other companies in the agricultural industry. We use DNA-encoded libraries and other proven drug discovery tools and methods combined with Al and machine learning to accelerate finding the right selective treatments for the right pest targets, far faster than traditional R&D methodologies. Enko’s novel approach develops products candidates that are effective, and determined to be safe for people and the surrounding environments in which they will be used. We will displace current solutions that are old and ineffective with products that better for people and the planet.
We are leaders of the next era of crop health solutions that can work on traditional farms, in a regenerative context and alongside new technologies such as those being developed for precision agriculture. With access to our ENKOMPASS platform, Enko and our partners can generate hundreds of crop protection molecules across all categories of pest control. We can screen lead molecules in 75% less time with 90% lower cost, bringing new, better crop health tools to farmers faster. Longer term, we see the company being able to keep pace with farmer needs such as those that will arise faster due to global climate change, supporting farmers with better solutions for a more sustainable future.
How does this collaborative project fit with Enko’s commercial interests?
JH – Our work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is an important part of our vision and impact, which is to demonstrate Enko’s ability to tackle endemic farm threats that are unique and destructive to any region worldwide. All farmers need access to innovative technology that can improve the production of healthy foods in a sustainable manner.
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