investment viewpoints

    Reducing emissions from farm to fork

    Reduzierung von Emissionen: vom Erzeuger zum Verbraucher

    Land applications, including agriculture and forestry, account for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Amid rising awareness of the connections between certain food-production and land-use practices and climate change, how can these parts of the economy be changed in the effort to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050?

    In this Q&A, Thomas Höhne-Sparborth, Head of Sustainability Research, discusses the need for solutions and technologies that can restore essential ecosystems, promote regenerative agriculture, and improve farming efficiency and yields while reducing food waste.

     

    Q: When talking about the world’s land use, what do we mean? What needs to change?

    A: We are talking about all of the different ways our economy relies on our land: a precious, finite resource. If we use land for agriculture, it means it is not available for forests or other potentially equally or alternatively productive economic or environmental uses.

    And when we talk about land use, we are often talking about choices we have to make as an economy and society.  As a society, we choose to consume a vast amount of red meat in our diet. That has a tremendous footprint in terms of the land required to host the livestock and for growing the food to feed these animals.

    Vegetarianism and veganism are increasing in popularity, but it is unrealistic to expect that everyone will change their diets to those consumption patterns in the near future. So we recognise that our use of land needs to change. We need to stop deforestation and move towards reforestation1, but to do that, wider changes in how we think about and use land will be required.

     

    Q: Food-production systems also use the sea. What changes do you envision us needing to make towards ocean use?

    A: As humans, we need protein in our diet. Protein comes largely from meat-based sources, but it can also come from fish. Sustainable fishing and agriculture can potentially deliver an increased supply of some of these proteins with less of a footprint than meat products. However, in order for this to take place, we need to stop overfishing in key areas and allow time for fish stocks to recover where overfishing has occurred. The agriculture industry is still quite problematic as there are still quite a few sustainability challenges to overcome.

     

    Q: Food waste amounts to 1.3bn tonnes a year. What are some of the methods that can bring this number down?

    A: It will probably have to be a combination of solutions. Regulators should increase transparency and reporting on the food waste that occurs so we can identify where in the supply chain these losses are taking place. Investors and businesses involved in supply-chain management can look into improved storage technologies, like smart packaging that can help us better track spoilage. Frozen food can also be part of the solution as it helps reduce the footprint, and its nutritional aspects are underrated as well.

    Other approaches may involve rethinking where we get our food, how far it has to travel to get to us and how we deal with leftover food. Many different changes will be required, some of them technological, some of them regulatory and some of them behavioural.

     

    Q: What are some of the specific land-use developments that investors should be paying attention to?

    A: I think it is about understanding how all of these issues interconnect. We need to be aware of the changes we are seeing in the market. These changes are being forced upon us by our own environmental impacts. For example, some of our soils are degrading, so we need to change the way we farm and increase our use of regenerative forms of agriculture if we are going to maintain agricultural productivity and yields.

    It is also about understanding how regulation is likely to change, along with the fact that consumer opinion and dietary choices are changing, and how these forces may affect the positioning of different companies in some of these supply chains. Some companies will need to transition and re-think some of the food options they are making and offering to consumers.

    However, there are also exciting investment opportunities emerging. When it comes to a plant-based burger, it aligns a large number of subsidiary and supplementary technologies, such as nature and natural ingredients and flavouring. And There are opportunities with smart packaging. There are also new farming techniques that are being created as well, such as precision and vertical farming2. All of these have a role to play in this transition.

    This transition to a more sustainable form of land use is not going to come from one intervention alone. It is going to have to rely on a combination of some of these investments, solutions and technologies. Our role as investors is understand the potential for some of these solutions, and the scale they can reach.

    This is an extract from CLIC™ Conversations, our podcast on sustainability and investment. The full episode can be heard here.

    Sources

    1. Reforestation is the natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands that have been depleted.

    2. Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers. It often incorporates controlled-environment agriculture, which aims to optimise plant growth and soilless farming techniques.

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