Provivi sets sights on ‘at cost’ pheromone pest-control product sales

The agtech start-up received a $10m investment from the Gates Foundation to deliver a biodegradable version of its alternative input to smallholder farmers.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s $10 million investment in pheromone pest-control start-up Provivi is intended to put the agtech company in a position to offer its product at an “at-cost” price point to smallholder farmers in Kenya, India and Bangladesh.

Discussions about the impact investment started roughly one year ago, Provivi co-founder and CEO Pedro Coelho told Agri Investor. The Gates Foundation, he said, was keen to find a way for subsistence farmers to gain access to an affordable and sustainable pest-control product.

“Since 2017 we’ve been interested in asking the question: how can we take our innovations to every farmer that really needs sustainable insect control, not just the farmers that can afford it? The way we have been thinking about it is to do it in a way that for every acre that we have in sales, we develop one acre at cost for subsistence farmers. And that is exactly what the foundation also wants to do, because they don’t want to subsidise programmes for ever. They want to see good initiatives that are then self-sustaining.

“The smallholder farmers pay something for the product but instead of us charging a profit on top, we let the farmers get the return on investment that the product realises – in terms of increasing yields, reducing the use of insecticides and so on – back to their families and their farming operations.”

Provivi’s product works by disrupting the mating process of pests such as the rice stem borer and maize fall armyworm.

The start-ups products have been approved for use in the EU, Mexico, Brazil and Kenya. Coelho said it could take roughly five years before it receives approval in Bangladesh and India. Part of the investment from the Gates Foundation will go towards testing the product in both countries’ climates, proving efficacy and undertaking pilot trials.

The company has signed an agreement with a European pest-control manufacturer to which Provivi will supply its product, which will then be rebranded. Coelho declined to name the manufacturer or its national headquarters.

Provivi completed a $45.5 Series C2 in December 2020. Along with the latest investment from the Gates Foundation, it has raised $200 million since it was founded in 2013, including roughly $140 million in the last 24 months.

Notable investors in the company have included Temasek, Pontifax Agtech, Kairos Ventures and Spruce Capital Partners.