The first of its kind in Europe, two young French agricultural engineers have launched Agriloops, a saltwater aquaponics startup that aims to produce 20 tonnes of prawns and 40 tonnes of vegetables “made in France” annually. EURACTIV France reports.
Agriloops has all the makings of a trendy startup: an American-sounding name, a stylish website, and at its helm, two 20-year-olds, Romain Vandame and Jérémie Gognard, two recent graduates from Rennes’ Agrocampus Ouest, who can be found sporting lightly tousled hair and nascent beards on their company website.
While this sounds a bit clichéd, Agriloops’ business model is anything but.
The startup is developing saltwater aquaponics: a circular system in which fish (prawns, in this case) and vegetables grow together.
Crustacean waste is transformed into fertiliser for growing plants, including mesclun, cherry tomatoes and, aromatic herbs, which are cultivated in an above-ground and less water-intensive way.
“We went into different specialisations. Romain opted for aquaculture and seafood products, and I chose plant production and protection,” Jérémie Cognard, the co-founder and CEO of Agriloops, told EURACTIV France in an interview.
“Aquaponics has been developed for years, but not for production purposes. To be profitable, we needed to find a species with high added value, preferably marine. And therefore develop a saltwater system,” he added.
Fresh and local
Prawns quickly became the popular choice. According to a 2017 study by FranceAgriMer, the French consume nearly 120,000 tons of shrimp per year. This is enough to ensure the profitability of their business, but also its sustainability.
However, most of the shrimp consumed in France is imported. Back in 2015, 36% came from Ecuador, followed by India and Madagascar.
Intensive shrimp farming in tropical regions is responsible for the destruction of mangrove areas, ecosystems essential to marine life in which fish come to spawn.
“Agriloops offers the consumer a more environmentally friendly alternative,” as well as “French prawns farmed without antibiotics that are never frozen,” the startup company notes.
20 tons of shellfish per year
To carry out their project, the agricultural engineers launched a pilot farm within their school, “to experiment with our model and learn how to master the process.”
After three years of analysis, they now aim to launch their own operation, with a name worthy of a Silicon Valley firm, “Mangrove 1”.
By 2021, this farm should be up and running with an ambitious production target: “20 tons of prawns and 40 tons of vegetables per year, for full productivity in 2022,” announced the enthusiastic engineer.
While prawns remain their flagship product, Cognard does not rule out diversifying production to include other marine species.
The COVID-19 health crisis has regrettably put the brakes on their project, as it did to many other companies.
“We were supposed to set up the farm in 2020, but in the end, it will be by 2021,” Cognard explained.
Regardless of the current circumstances, the success story has been launched and, at a time when organic farming is on the rise, the two engineers are now thinking about obtaining either a High Environmental Value (HVE) certification or an ASC sustainable aquaculture label.
[Edited by Natasha Foote/Zoran Radosavljevic]