Intuitive Launches $100 Million Venture Capital Fund

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 27, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Intuitive (Nasdaq: ISRG), a global technology leader in minimally invasive care and the pioneer of robotic–assisted surgery, today announced the launch of Intuitive Ventures. The inaugural $100 million fund will invest in the future leaders of minimally invasive care.

Intuitive Ventures is focused on investment opportunities in digital tools, precision diagnostics, focal therapeutics and platform technologies that share Intuitive's commitment to advancing positive outcomes in healthcare. The fund will support independent initiatives in the direct and adjacent fields of minimally invasive care and marks the entrance into the venture capital space for parent company Intuitive.

"The future of minimally invasive care spans the patient journey from early diagnosis to treatment and beyond," said Julian Nikolchev, President of Intuitive Ventures. "Intuitive Ventures is investing in cutting–edge innovation across the continuum of care to bring the future forward."

Nikolchev brings a deep entrepreneurial and operational background with more than 30 years of experience in the development and commercialization of therapeutic medical devices, including leading early stage teams and technologies through growth and market transformation. He joined Intuitive Surgical in 2019 and will continue to serve as its Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Strategy.

Nikolchev is joined by Intuitive Ventures Director Dr. Oliver Keown MD, who joined Intuitive in 2019 to co–found the fund. Keown was previously an investor at GE Ventures where he drove international deal–flow and supported digital and MedTech portfolio companies operationally and at the board level. He also advised U.K., U.S. and global healthcare innovation projects across commercial, government, and academic fields.

"We are value–add investors who leverage access to Intuitive's unique industry expertise and customer connections," Keown said. "Our nimble structure and alignment with the startups we will back empower us to invest early and support our portfolio companies as they pioneer markets.''

About Intuitive Ventures

Leveraging Intuitive's entrepreneurial spirit and expansive technological and clinical reach, Intuitive Ventures invests in transformative opportunities advancing positive outcomes in healthcare. The fund is focused on U.S. and international early stage start–ups and takes a long–term outlook to support portfolio companies reach their major milestones. Through its inaugural $100 million fund and with leadership combining decades of investing and operational experience, the team cultivates strategic resources to drive financial returns and accelerate the future of minimally invasive care. Intuitive Ventures has already started deploying capital and is actively building its portfolio. More information and future updates can be found at: ventures.intuitive.com

About Intuitive

Intuitive (Nasdaq: ISRG), headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., is a global technology leader in minimally invasive care and the pioneer of robotic–assisted surgery. As part of our mission, we believe that minimally invasive care is life–enhancing care. Through ingenuity and intelligent technology, we expand the potential of physicians to heal without constraints.

Intuitive brings more than two decades of leadership in robotic–assisted surgical technology and solutions to its offerings, and develops, manufactures and markets the da Vinci surgical system and the Ion endoluminal system.

For more information, please visit the company's website at www.intuitive.com.

Forward–Looking Statements

This press release contains forward–looking statements about Intuitive Ventures and its plans to invest in early–stage companies, including their potential benefits, that involves substantial risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such statements. Risks and uncertainties include, among other things, the uncertainties inherent in research and development; uncertainties regarding the ability of Intuitive Ventures to identify investment candidates; uncertainties regarding the success of Intuitive Ventures' investments; uncertainties and variables inherent in the operating and financial performance in investments made, including, among other things, competitive developments and general economic, political, business, industry, regulatory and market conditions; future exchange and interest rates; and changes in tax and other laws, regulations, rates and policies. The Company undertakes no obligation to publicly update or release any revisions to these forward–looking statements, except as required by law.

Contact
Global Public Affairs
Intuitive Surgical
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Source: Intuitive Surgical, Inc.

Using Traditional and Indigenous Food Resources to Combat Years of Successive Drought

Zimbabwean farmer Sinikiwe Sibanda is one of an increasing number of farmers from semi-arid areas with little rain who are shifting from growing white maize to hardy sorghum and millet for food and nutrition security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Zimbabwean farmer Sinikiwe Sibanda is one of an increasing number of farmers from semi-arid areas with little rain who are shifting from growing white maize to hardy sorghum and millet for food and nutrition security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Oct 27 2020 (IPS)

For Zimbabwean farmer Sinikiwe Sibanda, planting more sorghum and millet than maize has paid off.

As the coronavirus pandemic has led to decreased incomes and increased food prices across the southern African nation — it is estimated that more than 8 million Zimbabweans will need food aid until the next harvest season in March — Sibanda’s utilisation of traditional and indigenous food resources could provide a solution to food security here.

Sibanda, a farmer in Nyamandlovu, 42 km north-west of Bulawayo, harvested two tonnes of millet this year, compared to less than 700 kg of maize. Some farmers did not harvest maize at all but those who planted sorghum and millet have enough food to last the next harvest season. And Sibanda is pleased to have the harvest despite the poor rainfall in the 2018/9 farming season.

She is one of an increasing number of farmers from semi-arid areas with little rain who are shifting from growing white maize to hardy, traditional sorghum and millet for food and nutrition security.

“I love maize but the frequent drought is making it difficult to grow it regularly,” Sibanda, told IPS during a visit to her 42-hectare farm in the semi-arid Matabeleland North Province of Zimbabwe. Sibanda says she now plants just 5 hectares of her farm. She used to plant 10 hectares but the high costs of seed, labour and uncertain rainfall each year has forced her to scale down.

“I learnt my lesson last season and planted one hectare under pearl millet, another under sorghum and a bigger portion under maize but millet produced the best yield,” Sibanda, who has grown pearl millet and sorghum since 2015, said.

“Drought every year has reduced maize yields and many times I harvest nothing if I do not replant mid-way through the season,” she says. “Maize needs more rain and easily wilts when we have poor rains as we did this year but I am able to harvest something with small grains.”

Even livestock farmers are turning to sorghum. Livestock breeder Obert Chinhamo is intercropping sorghum and maize under rain-fed production at his Biano Farm, 30km south of Bulawayo. He processes the sorghum and maize into silage for feeding his 300 pedigree Simmental cattle during the dry season when pastures become scarce and poor in nutrients. Chinhamo is teaching farmers to make their own feed using rain-fed sorghum.

The shift it eating millet foods has not been an easy one for Sibanda’s family. Zimbabwe is a maize-loving nation where maize flour is eaten at least thrice a day when it is available.

Though Sibanda said she enjoys millet flour, with which she makes tasty porridge and isitshwala (a carbohydrate staple food made from millet meal) even though her urbanised children do not enjoy.

“It thickens quicker than maize flour, it tastes good and is healthy too,” chuckled Sibanda.

Small grains, big on nutrition

According to Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS), “the deteriorating economy and consecutive droughts were already driving high food assistance needs; the COVID-19 pandemic and measures implemented to prevent the virus’ spread are further exacerbating an already deteriorating food security situation. Humanitarian assistance needs during the January to March 2021 peak of the lean season are expected to be above normal, with widespread areas in crisis.”

Food insecure households here require assistance to facilitate adequate dietary intake and prevent deterioration of the nutrition status of children, women and other vulnerable groups like the disabled, says United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Zimbabwe.

According to the February 2020 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee rapid assessment, global acute malnutrition prevalence increased from the 3.6 percent to 3.7 percent at national level. The drought-prone provinces of Masvingo and Matabeleland North and South were most affected.

Figures by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) showed that “nearly 1 in 3 children under five are suffering from malnutrition, while 93 percent of children between 6 months and 2 years of age are not consuming the minimum acceptable diet”.  

Zimbabwe remains one of only 11 countries that have not implemented healthy eating guidelines at a national level, according to the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), created by Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) and the Economist Intelligence Unit. 

Food for the future

The increased production of sorghum and millets could aid food security and nutrition.

Small grains are the food for the future, says Hapson Mushoriwa, Lead Breeder for Eastern and Southern Africa at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

They are sustainable, nutritious and have a low carbon footprint, relative to maize, arising from carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emitted to the atmosphere during production, according to Mushoriwa.

ICRISAT is developing adapted varieties of six key cereals and legumes, including sorghum, pearl millet, groundnuts, and pigeon pea, among others.

Mushoriwa said these crops are bred to combine high productivity, resilience, acceptable quality attributes and market preferences.

“When you look at these six mandate crops, we label them as ‘Smart Food’ because they are good for you and highly nutritious, good for the planet (they have a low water footprint and lower the carbon footprint), good for the soils and use few chemicals,” Mushoriwa told IPS.

“These crops are good for the small-holder farmer because they survive in the hardest climates, have multiple uses, potential to significantly increase yield and untapped demand.”

A cornerstone of  agriculture biodiversity

Small grains are an integral part of agriculture biodiversity which the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the U.N. says supports the capacity of farmers, to produce food and a range of other goods and services under different environments by increasing resilience to shocks and stresses.

The erosion of agro-biodiversity, combined with an emphasis on input-intensive cropping systems has, arguably, lowered the resilience of food systems in the global South, says Katarzyna Dembska, a researcher at the BCFN Foundation, an independent and multi-disciplinary think tank that analyses the economic, scientific, social and environmental factors about food.

Dembska said the utilisation of traditional and indigenous food resources in Africa namely; barley, millet, sorghum, millet cowpea and leafy vegetables should be emphasised for achieving food security and nutrition.

“The under-utilised food resources have a much higher nutrient, and in times of high climate uncertainty, the diversification of staple crops can guarantee food system resilience,” Dembska told IPS.

  • On Dec. 1 BCFN, in collaboration with Food Tank, a leading United States think tank for food, will host an online international forum on food systems titled “Resetting The Food System From Farm To Fork“. Among other things, the online summit will focus on the critical role farmers play in feeding the world.

Despite their proven nutritional value exceeding that of maize, their popularity as a cash crop cannot rival maize production even during a drought.

With annual rainfall of between 200 and 600 mm in Matabeleland region, rain-fed agriculture continuously fails. FEWS states that maize production has been poor, “estimated at nearly 40 percent below average in 2019 and 30 percent below average in 2020”.

The 2020 national maize production is estimated at over 900,000 metric tonnes. However, government statistics show that Zimbabwe’s sorghum and millet production remains well behind that of maize at 103,700 tonnes and 49,000 tonnes respectively in the 2018/2019 season.

Resolving policy disparities in terms of producer prices for small grains as well as incentives to support availability of inputs, viable output markets and value addition could boost production and adoption of small grains, said Martin Moyo, ICRISAT Zimbabwe country representative.

 


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The Path to Global Food Security

By Esther Ngumbi
URBANA, Illinois, Oct 27 2020 – This year, the Nobel Peace Prize recognised the inextricable link between hunger and conflict. With climate change as a further complicating factor, research, investment, and coordination with local farmers are critical for ensuring food security for all.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for “its efforts to combat hunger” and “bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas.” In a world with over 850 million people who are hungry, a number that has increased because of COVID-19, recognising and awarding a Nobel Prize to an organisation that toils at the frontline of the fight to end hunger is timely.

There are many reasons to celebrate this recognition. First, it brings visibility to the hunger and food insecurity issue. Secondly, it reminds us all that without food security, there is no peace.

For me, a food security activist, a scientist, and a founder of an agricultural start up that is working to ensure small holder farmers on the Kenyan coast achieve food security, the awarding of 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to WFP reignited my drive to continue doing my part to help solve hunger and food insecurity once and for all.

This year alone, I have helped organise over three small holder farmer trainings to share information about climate-smart agricultural technologies that are well adapted to the Kenyan coast. Our farm also serves as a demonstration garden, showcasing different farming techniques.

As a researcher, I continue to work on understanding how plants respond to multiple threats including flooding, drought, and insect attack, and whether beneficial soil microbes can help plants thrive under these climate-linked stress factors.

But as we celebrate, I still wonder if we can achieve food security for all, which means that all people, at all times, have access to enough food). If so, I wonder what we must do to make it happen.

To begin with, we would need to continue to ensure that we have accurate data of the problem. The WFP must be commended for its effort to keep the entire world updated on the status of food insecurity through reports like the annual State of Food report and World Hunger Maps. This must continue.

Complementing that knowledge is the need to know the root causes of hunger and food insecurity. According to UN, climate change, human-made conflict, economic downturns, and more recently, coronavirus are some of the root causes of food insecurity.

Climate-linked causes, particularly, are worth paying attention to. The farmers of many African countries continue to rely on rain-fed agriculture. Because of the changing climate, rainfall has decreased, become erratic, and undependable.

Consequently, farmers are unable to make adequate decisions about the right time to plant, which crops to plant, and how to time, inputs. And even when crops do grow, rains end up failing, leading to low crop yields or no harvests at all. As a result, many farmers are unable meet food security needs.

In addition, many of farmers are farming on nutrient-depleted soils. Degraded soils and dependence on rain-fed agriculture, coupled with planting the wrong crop varieties, are some of the fundamental problems that lead to poor harvests and then to hunger.

Knowing what causes hunger paves the way for governments, NGO’s, universities, research institutions, and private partners to continue implementing initiatives to meet food security targets. Because hunger and food insecurity are a complex issue, multiple solutions must continue to be rolled out. Both short- and long-term solutions are critical now and in the long run.

Short-term solutions must begin with investments to ensure that farmers have access to water and other climate-smart tools and technologies such as drought- and flood-tolerant crop varieties and drip irrigation technologies.

Complementing short-term solutions is a need for demonstration centers where farmers can learn how to use new climate-smart technologies by seeing them at work. These demonstration farms can also serve as research venues to test new methods alongside traditional ones.

This goes a long way in taking risks away from farmers that cannot afford the risk of trying new crop varieties, methods, or technologies.

Importantly, hunger and food insecurity can only be solved if countries where hunger is prevalent take action and prepare concrete plans and strategic documents outlining how they will achieve food security for all, both in the short and long term.

As such, they should come up with detailed, well-thought-out preparedness measures and national contingency plans of action.

At the same time as they invest in food security programs, they must invest in vulnerable groups, including women and children. Women are particularly important, as they produce over 90 percent of food in African countries.

Yet, despite their essential roles in achieving food security, women continue to face many barriers, including having less access to land, agricultural markets, recent innovations in farming technologies, agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, credit, and training. It is important that they are equipped with the resources they need to continue being on the frontline as food producers.

Long-term solutions must entail improving infrastructure such as electricity, refrigerated transportation, and roads that connect rural areas to urban markets. When rural communities are connected with urban cities, farmers are able to access markets, sell their products, and generate income.

At the same time, there is need to improve agricultural research. In the end, all the challenges presented by climate change, challenges that continue to make achieving food security for all a difficult task, can be solved through research.

For example, efforts to address soil degradation can benefit from research on African soils, including researching the soil microbes that are prevalent in African soils. Armed with research-based evidence, scientists can begin to develop biologically based products that can be used to improve soil and plant health, and ultimately improve yields.

Achieving food security for all is the most pressing and urgent issue of our time. The 2020 Nobel Prize win by the UN WFP should be a wakeup call to all humanity, and should reignite the spark for all stakeholders that care about eradicating hunger. Time is of the essence.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.
Source: Australian Institute of International Affairs

 


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Finance Covid-19 Relief and Recovery, Not Debt Buybacks

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 2020 – In July, the UN Secretary-General warned that a “series of countries in insolvency might trigger a global depression”. Earlier, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had called for a US$2.5 trillion coronavirus crisis package for developing countries.

Anis Chowdhury

Debt distraction
In the face of the world’s worst economic contraction since the Great Depression, a sense of urgency has now spread to most national capitals and the Washington-based Bretton Woods institutions. Unless urgently addressed, the massive economic contractions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and policy responses to contain contagion threaten to become depressions.

Nevertheless, many long preoccupied with developing countries’ debt burdens and excessive debt insist on using scarce fiscal resources, including donor assistance, to reduce government debt, instead of strengthening fiscal measures for adequate and appropriate relief and recovery measures.

Most debt restructuring measures do not address countries’ currently more urgent need to finance adequate and appropriate relief and recovery packages. In the new circumstances, the debt preoccupation, perhaps appropriate previously, has become a problematic distraction, diminishing the ‘fiscal space’ for addressing contagion and its consequences.

Buybacks no solution
One problematic debt distraction is the renewed call for debt buybacks from private creditors, through an IMF-managed Brady Plan-like multilateral bond buyback facility funded by a global consortium of countries. The historical evidence is clear that bond buybacks are no panacea and neither an equitable nor efficient way to reduce sovereign debt.

The contemporary situation is quite different from the one three decades ago when US Treasury Secretary Brady’s plan successfully cut losses for the US commercial banks responsible for most debt to Latin American and other developing country governments. Hence, prospects for a comprehensive arrangement involving all creditors are far more remote now. Unsurprisingly, debt buybacks have been rare since the mid-1990s.

Furthermore, private bond markets have changed significantly from what they were during the Brady era when there was last a comparable effort involving many debtor countries. Importantly, the new creditors largely consist of pension and mutual funds, insurance companies, investment firms and sophisticated individual investors. Also, today’s creditors have less incentive to participate in sovereign debt restructurings.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Many of today’s creditors are now represented by powerful lobbies, most significantly, the International Institute of Finance (IIF). Unlike before, when their efforts focused on OECD developed economies, the IIF now actively works directly with developing country finance ministers and central bank governors.

Voluntary scheme problematic
But the debt buyback proposal, to be underwritten by a multilateral donor consortium, can inadvertently encourage hard bargaining by powerful creditors who know that money is available, while retaining the option of threatening litigation. Hence, resulting buybacks are likely to cost more. The evidence shows that a country’s secondary market debt price is higher when it has a buyback programme than otherwise.

Such an approach can also encourage trading in risky sovereign bonds promising higher returns, inadvertently sowing the seeds for another debt crisis. Private investment funds are more likely to buy such bonds if there is a higher likelihood of selling them off, while still making money from the high interest rates, even when the bonds are sold at large discounts.

The proposal’s voluntary feature also creates incentives for creditors to ‘free-ride’ by ‘holding-out’, thus undermining the likelihood of success. If the scheme is expected to effectively restore creditworthiness, then each existing creditor would hold on to the original claims, expecting market value to rise as new creditors provide relief.

Maintaining a good credit rating undoubtedly enables access to international funds at relatively lower interest rates. But low-income countries typically have poor access to international capital markets, and only get access by paying high risk premia, due to poor credit ratings.

Compared to near zero interest rates in major OECD economies, African governments pay 5~16% on 10-year bonds, while Kenya, Zambia and others pay more. Borrowing costs for developing countries issuing Eurobonds more than doubled due to high interest rates.

Also, many, if not most contemporary creditors are not primarily involved in lending money. They are therefore unlikely to respond to government requests for new loans needed to grow out of a debt crisis.

New obstacles include the greater variety of powerful creditors, the unintended incentives for free-riding inherent in voluntary debt reduction, problematic precedents as well as perverse incentives for both governments and bondholders. Perhaps most importantly, debt reduction by purely ‘voluntary’ means — like buybacks, exit bonds, and debt-equity swaps – is unlikely to be adequate to the enormity of the problem.

Successful buybacks?
Only banks definitely gained from the Brady deals. Benefits were unclear for most debtors other than Mexico and Argentina, and particularly ineffective for Uruguay and the Philippines, where gains were paltry, if not negative.

Positive effects for economic growth were very small, as most buybacks failed to improve either market confidence in or the creditworthiness of debtor countries. Hence, even if private creditors participate, there is no guarantee that debtor countries will benefit significantly at the end of the long and complicated processes envisaged.

The 2012 Greek bond buybacks, backed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF ‘troika’, effectively bailed out the mostly French and German banks owed money by Greece. Celebrated as a success, it neither restored Greece’s growth nor reduced its debt burden.

While bond buybacks can always be a debt restructuring option for consideration, Ecuador’s in 2008-2009 are probably the only one regarded as favourable to the debtor country. Wall Street observers suggest that Argentina’s recent initiative may also have a positive outcome.

Also, after successfully restructuring its commercial debt, the country is now better able to negotiate with its official creditors, particularly the IMF. These ‘successes’ have been exceptional, led by the countries themselves and ultimately settled on their terms, taking advantage of opportunities presented by global crises for comprehensive national debt restructuring.

Importantly, neither creditor consortia nor multilateral financial institutions were involved in coordinating or underwriting both restructurings, and hence could not impose onerous policy conditionalities. Thus, when able to take advantage of favourable conditions for negotiating strategic buybacks, debtor countries may be better able to benefit from them.

Urgent financing needed
Despite her earlier reputation as a ‘debt hawk’, new World Bank Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart recognizes the gravity of the situation and recently advised countries to borrow more: “First fight the war, then figure out how to pay for it.” Hence, in these COVID-19 times, donor money would be better utilized to finance relief and recovery, rather than debt buybacks.

Multilateral development finance institutions should resume their traditional role of mobilizing funds at minimal cost to finance development, or currently, relief and recovery, by efficiently intermediating on behalf of developing countries. They can borrow at the best available market rates to lend to developing countries which, otherwise, would have to borrow on their own at more onerous rates.

 


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