Providing good food for all with plant-based packaging
Claudia Isabel Barona is a Colombian entrepreneur and the co-founder of Lifepack, an enterprise producing 100% biodegradable ecological products made from natural fibres and seeds. This sustainable, woman-led enterprise was recently recognised by the United Nations (UN) as one of the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world, following a competition which WRENmedia was thrilled to support. Claudia was interviewed by Africa Business Communities to highlight her business and convey what this award means to her and her team.
Could you introduce your company to us?
Lifepack was founded by myself and a co-founder in 2010, and we operate in Cali – Colombia. We work with a circular economy model, producing plantable packaging from agro-industrial waste including from maize, pineapple, rice and seeds with a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable business model. As the plates we produce contain seeds, they can be planted after use to generate new plant growth within just eight days – it is a product that transforms into life.
As well as encouraging environmental sustainability through the products themselves, our enterprise is providing employment to individuals in vulnerable circumstances. Over 60% of Lifepack’s jobs go to low-income mothers, allowing them to earn a livelihood and support themselves and their families as they work from home while taking care of their children. Farmers also benefit from selling their agricultural residue, which would have been discarded.
Were there particular circumstances in your community that led you to start your agri-food business, and what support, if any, did you receive from local government or your community?
Latin America and the Caribbean are the main food producers on the planet, and for this reason it is also the region that has the most abundant agricultural waste and residue. Only a small percentage of this waste is currently put to sensible use; the rest of it goes to landfills or is burned, resulting in significant pollution. We had a vision to provide a solution to this problem, as well as the issues of deforestation and the indiscriminate use of single-use plastic. So far, we have received support in the form of money, training and services, from various non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government entities, and universities, among others.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic directly or indirectly impacted your business operations?
Sales have fallen in the past year. However, the quarantine did allow us time to improve our production process and explore new agricultural waste to utilise in our products. As a result, we have succeeded in expanding our product portfolio to 50 different products, including bags, boxes, cartons and cutlery, and strengthening our online sales.
What other challenges have you faced in your journey, and how have you worked to overcome these?
When we started, consumers were relatively unaware of the importance of caring for the environment, which was the inspiration behind our development of a new, innovative product made from agricultural waste – but, at that time, this agricultural waste was perceived as garbage. So, our challenge was to encourage the consumer to engage in more responsible consumption.
Describe what it means for your agri-food enterprise to be selected by the UN as one of the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world?
Being selected among the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world providing "Good Food for All" is a source of pride, and motivates us to continue working with love to show that we can help preserve our environment and be more responsible consumers, in our region and beyond.
What is your vision for 2022 and beyond in delivering a more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient food system?
Our goals are also our challenges, and we are working really hard to get to where we want to go. One goal is to replicate Lifepack's business model in other countries, teaching other communities how to use their own agricultural waste as well as providing job opportunities to people in a state of vulnerability. We also aim to be specialists in the research and development and use of various agricultural residues for the production of vegetable cellulose, and by-products derived from these.
What further support does your business, and others like it, need to create good and sustainable food for all?
Strategic alliances with entities, NGOs and companies that can help us distribute our technology to other countries and who can also invest economic resources to achieve these objectives will be of great help in achieving our purpose. Financing for growth and distribution would also come in handy for international market development.
A video, and more information on the regional winners, can also be found here.