Established by investment and consulting firm ID Capital China, China Agri-Food Biomanufacturing Alliance (AFBA) is an industry association that aims to bring together emerging biotech and established leaders in the food and agriculture space in China.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-Asia, ID Capital China’s managing director, Steven Zhang, identified the “China advantage” that led to setting up the industry-led alliance within the country: 1) Its manufacturing expertise, especially in fermentation capacity, which translates into cost savings; 2) largest consumer economy, particularly with the younger generation having different consumption habits from their older counterparts; and 3) burgeoning talent pool of scientists and researchers.
ID Capital’s work with early-stage biotech start-ups elicited that they wanted more opportunities to connect and capitalize on the capabilities of other stakeholders in the ecosystem.
Rather than serving as any other industry associations, AFBA said its focus is on the implementation and commercial stage: “[The alliance] is not just a blanket credit we’re giving to biomanufacturing, but being discerning of the pathway towards commercial success. Without commercial success, it’s a nice intellectual game, but it doesn’t change the needle.
“There are moments in history of a new or evolving sector that it’s more important to join forces and collaborate, than to compete. Potentially sensitive areas can be overlapping as well. At this moment of the history of biomanufacturing in China, we think there are bigger stakes in joining forces to accelerate the sector’s growth,” it added.
Currently, AFBA is at the stage of building up the governance and looking to convene about five to six members comprising of leading biotechs and multi-national corporations (MNCs) in its work group to decide on next steps.
Its scope of work centres building the biotech’s capacities, particularly in talent management, international exposure, navigating intellectual property and trade issues, and partnerships with bigger MNCs.
Presently, it will focus on seminars, workshops, and roundtable discussions to kickstart discussions on priority areas for the sector.
Convergence of agriculture and food in biomanufacturing
Zhang said that there is a synergy between the agriculture and food sectors in the biomanufacturing space, with applications spanning soil and crop protection, animal health and nutrition, biomass upcycling, functional food ingredients, alternative protein, and sustainable packaging.
“The current [biomanufacturing] applications developed so far is just the tip of the iceberg. We wanted to combine the food and the agriculture approach, even if there are different players and capabilities.
“For some very large companies dealing with food and agriculture, it is obvious for them. For many others, they are either this or that, and the alliance has a catalytic role to play on both and we wanted to materialize this notion,” ID Capital explained.
While it still early stage to talk about collaboration with global industry associations, AFBA acknowledged today’s global production and the prevalence of Chinese-led start-ups in international markets means that global synergy would be a given with time.
“Asia has a very specific dynamic, and I can definitely spot a few countries that will be very interesting for deeper collaborations, depending on what they bring. It can be either technical capabilities in biology and engineering, or in terms of resource like Thailand being rich in biomass and access in feedstock. There will be synergy, but again it’s a little too early to say.”
Global synergy appeared to be more inclined with Asia-Pacific than the Americas and Europe, as Zhang said:
“We are quite different from the West. As I know, they’re more [inclined to] combining those early-stage innovators, like precision fermentation start-ups. But we’re doing it differently as we do not only just combine these early-stage innovators, but invite small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and even large-scale MNCs. But one thing we want to do is to help our members to international exposure, including working with MNCs.”