[Interview] Claudia Isabel Barona, Co-Founder, Lifepack, Colombia
Claudia Isabel Barona is a Colombian entrepreneur that co-founded Lifepack, an enterprise producing 100% biodegradable ecological products made from natural fibers and seeds. Lifepack was recognized by the United Nations as one of the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world in 2021.
Could you introduce your company to us?
Lifepack was founded by and myself and a co-founder in 2010 and we operate in Cali – Colombia. We work with a circular economy producing plantable packaging from agro-industrial waste and seeds, with a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable business model.
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?
We launched with the vision to provide a solution to problems such as deforestation, the indiscriminate use of single-use plastic and the non-use of agricultural waste that we have in abundance. So far we have received support in money, training, services, etc., from some NGOs, government entities, universities, among others.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic directly or indirectly impacted your business operations?
Sales have fallen in the past one year. The quarantine, however, did help us to improve our production process and explore new agricultural waste to make. We have succeeded in expanding our product portfolio 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, the consumer was not very aware of the importance of caring for the environment and we developed a new, innovative product made from agricultural waste that at that time was considered as garbage. Furthermore, it is a product that transforms into life. Our challenge was to encourage the consumer to become a more responsible consumer.
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?
Latin America and the Caribbean are the main food producers on the planet and for this same reason it is the region that has the most abundant agricultural residues, a small percentage of which is currently put to sensible use; the rest of it goes to landfills or is burned, causing high pollution. Having been 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 the world that we can help preserve our environment and be more responsible consumers.
What is your vision for 2022 and beyond in delivering a more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient food system?
Our goals are at the same time our challenges and we are working really hard to get to where we want to go. One goal of ours is to replicate Lifepack's business model in other countries, using its own agricultural waste and providing job opportunities to people in a state of vulnerability. We also aim to be specialists in the development and research of the use of various agricultural residues for the production of vegetable cellulose and by-products derived from these.
We are also looking to strengthen the export process of our products.
What further support does your business and others like you need to create good and sustainable food for all?
Strategic alliances with entities, NGOs and companies that help us transmit our technology to other countries and 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.
What key advice would you give to others that would like to follow your example to become passionate, values-driven, innovative food entrepreneurs?
I would invite you to join us and take advantage of agricultural waste from different countries to make by-products and encourage the circular economy, and in turn help vulnerable people who need a job opportunity.
Is there anything you’d like to add that you feel strongly about in providing Good Food For All?
Good nutrition is very important in the life of everyone. We have to consume healthy products that protect the well-being of our body and mind. Let's take advantage of all these resources that we have at our disposal and reuse agricultural waste to transform it into new products and help conserve the environment.
This interview is part of a series covering the winners of the United Nations Global Best Small Business Contest of Good Food for All.