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TED2017

Matilda Ho: The future of good food in China

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Fresh food free of chemicals and pesticides is hard to come by in China: in 2016, the Chinese government revealed half a million food safety violations in just nine months. In the absence of safe, sustainable food sources, TED Fellow Matilda Ho launched China's first online farmers market, instituting a zero-tolerance test towards pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in food. She shares how she's growing her platform from the ground up and bringing local, organically grown food to the families that need it.

- Serial entrepreneur, investor
TED Fellow Matilda Ho is shaping the startup landscape to create more sustainable food systems in China. Full bio

I was six when I had the first chance
to learn what patience means.
00:12
My grandmother gave me a magic box
as a birthday present,
00:18
which neither of us knew
would become a gift for life.
00:21
I became obsessed with magic,
00:25
and at 20, I became
an amateur dove magician.
00:28
This act of magic
requires that I train my doves
00:33
to sit and wait inside my clothing.
00:36
As a young magician, I was always
in a rush to make them appear,
00:39
but my teacher told me
00:44
the secret to the success
of this magical act
00:46
is to make my doves appear
only after they've waited patiently
00:49
in my tuxedo.
00:53
It has to be a mindful kind of patience,
00:55
the kind that took me
some years to master.
00:58
When life took me to Shanghai
seven years ago,
01:03
the mindful patience I learned
became almost impossible to practice.
01:06
In China, where everyone
and everything is in a hurry,
01:12
you need to outperform
over 1.3 billion other people
01:16
to build a better life.
01:19
You hack the system, bend the rules,
01:22
circumvent the boundaries.
01:25
It is the same when it comes to food ...
01:27
except that when it comes to food,
01:30
impatience can have dire consequences.
01:33
In the haste to grow more, sell more,
01:37
4,000 years of agriculture
in a country of rich natural resources
01:40
is spoiled by the overuse
of chemicals and pesticides.
01:45
In 2016, the Chinese government revealed
01:49
half a million food safety violations
in just nine months.
01:52
Alarmingly, one in every four
diabetics in the world
01:58
now comes from China.
02:01
The stories around food
02:04
are scary and somewhat overwhelming,
02:06
and I told myself it's time to bring
a mindful patience into the impatience.
02:09
When I say mindful patience,
02:16
I don't mean the ability to wait.
02:18
I mean knowing how to act while waiting.
02:20
And so, while I wait for the day
02:25
when a sustainable food system
becomes a reality in China,
02:28
I launched one of China's first
online farmers market
02:32
to bring local, organically grown
produce to families.
02:35
When we went live, 18 months ago,
02:40
the food we could sell then
was somewhat dismal.
02:42
We had no fruit
and hardly any meat to sell,
02:46
as none that was sent to the lab
passed our zero tolerance test
02:49
towards pesticides, chemicals,
antibiotics and hormones.
02:53
I told our very anxious employees
02:57
that we would not give up until we've met
every local farmer in China.
02:59
Today, we supply 240 types of produce
03:05
from 57 local farmers.
03:09
After almost one year of searching,
03:12
we finally found chemical-free bananas
03:15
grown in the backyards
of villagers on Hainan Island.
03:18
And only two hours away from Shanghai,
03:22
on an island that even Google Maps
does not have coordinates for,
03:25
we found a place where cows eat grass
03:29
and roam free under the blue sky.
03:32
We also work hard on logistics.
03:35
We deliver our customers' orders
in as fast as three hours
03:38
on electric vehicles,
03:42
and we use biodegradable, reusable boxes
03:44
to minimize our environmental footprint.
03:46
I have no doubt that our offerings
will continue to grow,
03:50
but it will take time,
03:54
and I know a lot more people are needed
to shape the future of good food.
03:56
So last year, I founded China's first
food tech accelerator and VC platform
04:02
to help start-ups to shape
the future of good food
04:07
the way they want,
04:10
be that through using edible insects
as a more sustainable source of protein
04:12
or using essential oils
to keep food fresh for longer.
04:17
So, you may still ask:
04:22
Why are you trying to build
a sustainable food system
04:24
by driving a patient movement
04:27
in a country where it's almost
a crime to take it slow?
04:29
Because, for me,
04:34
the real secret to success is patience --
04:35
a mindful kind of patience
04:39
that requires knowing
how to act while waiting,
04:41
the kind of patience I learned
with my grandmother's magic box.
04:44
After all, we do not inherit
the earth from our ancestors.
04:49
We borrow it from our children.
04:55
Thank you.
04:57
(Applause)
04:58

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About the speaker:

Matilda Ho - Serial entrepreneur, investor
TED Fellow Matilda Ho is shaping the startup landscape to create more sustainable food systems in China.

Why you should listen

Matilda Ho is the founder and managing director of Bits x Bites, China's first food tech accelerator and VC fund that invests in entrepreneurs tackling global food system challenges.

With a mission to shape the future of food, Bits x Bites is a big step forward to inspire China’s entrepreneurial community to bring new ideas to solve global issues. It also serves as a critical catalyst to give startups the confidence and connections to prosper and make a meaningful and scalable impact. Bits x Bites has invested in companies that include a silkworm-based snack food startup, a drinkable salad CPG startup and a young company building weatherproof, cloud-connected farms to enable local food production by anyone anywhere.

In addition to Bits x Bites, Ho has founded Yimishiji, one of China's first online farmers markets to bring organic and local produce to families. Yimishiji stands alone as a farm-to-table e-commerce platform that has engineered food education and transparency into the entire supply chain and customer experience, effectively reshaping the relationship between Chinese consumers and farmers.
Prior to entrepreneurship, she filled leadership roles at IDEO and BCG (The Boston Consulting Group) in both Shanghai and Washington DC. She holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She currently serves as an advisor on the board of Shinho, China’s first and largest organic condiment company.

Ho is an emerging voice on food sustainability and entrepreneurship. She has been featured in articles by Fast Company, South China Morning Post and Inc. In 2017, she was named a TED Fellow and a GLG Social Impact Fellow.

More profile about the speaker
Matilda Ho | Speaker | TED.com