13. January 2020
Sustainable investments and regenerative agriculture
Interview with Louisa Burwood-Taylor
Agriculture is being held accountable for the climate crisis like almost no other industry. At the same time, farmers should produce healthy food sustainably. AgFunderNews’ editor-in-chief Burwood-Taylor is convinced that investors are increasingly interested in sustainable investments. Regenerative agriculture, for example. Is this the right way to meet current and future demands on agriculture?
By Sarah Liebigt
Farm & Food: What do you think: why is Regen Ag such an interesting field today?
Burwood-Taylor: More than ever before, the food and agriculture industries are being blamed for many of the world’s biggest issues from carbon emissions to water shortages, obesity and malnutrition. While some criticisms are far fetched, it’s certainly true that agriculture as a whole is an extractive industry, whether that’s depleting the soil of its nutrients or using natural resources for inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, or emitting vast quantities or unwanted greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
But it doesn’t have to be that way; there’s growing research on the potential for agriculture to not only extract less but actually benefit the environment by replenishing the soil’s nutrient base, reversing desertification, sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and returning land to its natural biodiversity. There’s also indications that nutritionally enhanced food can be a result, too. The last decade was an awakening to many about the need to change the paradigm in food and agriculture — and other industries — to become more sustainable and equitable globally, and you only need to look at the increasing presence of sustainablity policies at the large, publicly-listed companies to realize that shareholders and consumers are demanding action. This next decade will be about taking action and hopefully regeneative agriculture will fit squarely into that action piece, although we do need more concrete research and results to scale its appeal; currently the research is a bit piecemeal and results can vary widely depending on geography, soil type, climate and more.
Why are investors interested in supporting this development in agriculture?
Investors are increasingly looking to make more sustainable investments that have a triple bottom line return: social, environmental (or ecological) and financial. They might have a particular thesis to invest in environmentally beneficial businesses or those with clearer social returns but ultimately they realize that looking for just financial return will likely limit their upside and the sustainability of their investments overall. Having said that, investments in regenerative agriculture have so far been limited; there are a few farmland funds that have raised decent sized funds to invest in converting farmland to regenerative principles, and there are a coupple of tech companies that support this transition, but otherwise it’s still a relatively nascent investment space.
Who you want to meet at the next Farm & Food in Berlin this January?
Everyone! I’m particularly keen to learn about new business models that will accelerate the adoption of farm tech tools, startups that are focused on producing nutritionally-enhanced food (e.g. in the alternative protein space – we dont just want alternatives, we need better), and investors that are new to the space – we need more and more capital to support the innovation taking place if it’s going to have a demonstrable impact on the food and agriculture industries globally within the next decade, so I’m always keen to connect with them and help them get up to speed with the industry as best I can!