“Essentially we want to help ensure the world remains healthy for years to come,” says Mark Hodgson, Chief Business Officer at Cervest. Mark will be speaking at the Pollinator ‘Keeping a Sunny Outlook – De-risking Agriculture Through Weather-Tech’.
“There are subtle and not so subtle signs in our climate that we may be putting our own livelihoods at risk unless we accurately and objectively understand how climate uncertainty effects the assets we own or rely on, and have a better way to manage them.”
We asked Mark more about his vision for Cervest, progress so far and plans for the future.
There must be a better way to predict adverse weather events?
We believe there is. After working in global tech and finance sector organisations, in 2009 our founder Iggy Bassi launched a farm-to-market agribusiness in West Africa. There he saw first-hand the impacts of extreme climate events and natural resource volatility. This experience, combined with what he had learned in data analytics, resulted in the origins of Cervest: to work on ways to help growers and their value chains make sustainable and cost effective decisions in the face of growing climate variability. We think climate volatility affects all of us: every organisation, every government, every community and every person. Traditional models are not effective for forecasting extreme events and there is a significant information gap between climate awareness and the decisions that need to be made.
We are pioneering ways to provide organisations and individuals with an early warning of extreme events such as floods and fires. We plan to do this by analysing climate data and making predictions on an extreme event’s specific impact to any natural and built asset (crops, forest, flood plains, utility infrastructure, buildings) on any parcel of land, globally. The result is that more people and business sectors, including agriculture, are more ready for increased climate uncertainty.
So you are mapping the world one land-parcel at a time?
We are mapping the world but much faster than one land parcel at a time. To provide more resilience against climate uncertainty everywhere as quickly as possible, we have started building a global inventory –with UK/Europe first – of land assets such as those just described and then mapping them at speed. At the same time we are aggregating data from lots of sources, so that we can connect extreme weather patterns with likely outcomes which we share with users.
Can historical data determine what is an anomaly?
The reason we collect historical data is that customers need to understand whether the situation they see now is a trend: it’s raining a lot now but is that normal for this time of the year or is it an anomaly? Is there a new weather trend that is going to last a generations? Are we in another cycle lasting 2-5 years? That’s important to know as it has bearings on longer term planning and investment.
Is it possible to predict flood events in areas that have not flooded before?
We can’t do flood predictions right now. I believe that further down the line we will be able to gauge the risk to assets from potential flooding across all the areas we monitor.
In time we are incorporating data on wind and hydrological patterns. We want to ensure our risk analysis has taken into account how an entire water basin operates and in what situations, diagnosed against other factors at play such as current land uses nearby, and the residual impact of historical usage, for example soil depletion, upstream flood defences and deforestation.
So Cervest utilises a systems approach, looking at the whole thing in its entirety, rather than just trying to do point changes?
Yes. This is an interconnected issue. A system level analysis of complex global climate change makes personalised decisions everywhere a possibility.
A fundamental problem is that climate impact on a parcel of land can be the result of behaviours and circumstances far away, where the knock-on effects are seen but not understood. A decision by a farmer in Somerset to mitigate against flooding on their farm might be better served by a system-wide understanding of the new weather patterns across UK and an approach to flooding based on a system-wide understanding of all the relevant factors at play, where decisions on land-use across the entire watershed within which the farm is located are connected to make the watershed more resilient. Same at the national level: as a country we need to take national measures to improve land management as a longer term solution to which our Somerset farmer is intrinsically connected.
To help with better decisions, we want our data to be accessible to anyone who has an interest or ownership in the land itself or the asset that sits on top of it. We are working with the insurance industry to evaluate the challenges they face in developing better tools to assess climate risk and how our data can independently inform them and their clients, and in turn help make better decisions on preparing for an extreme event or steps to improve the long term resilience of the land itself or what’s grown or located on it.
How will you make your money if you want people to share it and have open access?
We believe that by giving businesses, government and individuals access to an independent risk assessment then they will be prepared to pay for the value that comes from it – better risk knowledge which in turn aids better decisions on all assets.
It sounds as though there’s quite a strong altruistic core running through your organisation, would that be fair to say?
We are a commercial enterprise that understands the advantages of sustainable economics. Put bluntly, a healthy world means a healthier economy and a healthier society. The technology we’re using is cutting edge and its potency is still being understood. Thinking through the consequences of powerful technology is implicit to everything we do. We’ve built up a very strong set of principles around the ethics of the work we’re doing and we want to make sure appropriate use is made of this information. It’s more than important, it’s essential.
Secondly, we wish to improve the long term resilience of the planet through enabling informed decisions. We want everyone to have access to the data to empower them to respond and react in a more sustainable manner to climatic uncertainty, ensuring we’re doing the right things instead of the wrong things. That’s why we have this purposeful attitude to what we’re doing: there is no Planet B – we’ve got nowhere else to go.
Find out more about the Pollinator ‘Keeping a Sunny Outlook – De-risking Agriculture Through Weather-Tech’, on our events page.
See more about Cervest at cervest.earth.