Widespread Investment in Controlled-Environment Agriculture is an Important Piece of the Food Security Puzzle

Sky Kurtz, CEO and Co-Founder, Pure Harvest Smart Farms

There is a commonly quoted statistic estimating that by 2050, we will have nearly 10 billion people on the planet and, in turn, 10 billion hungry mouths to feed. Aside from population factors, the world’s climate is changing in ways human beings have never seen before. Across the globe, our water sources are being diminished and arable land masses are shrinking. Food security and sustainability is becoming an ever-more pressing issue. There are a number of pioneering companies worldwide working hard to address these critical issues.

The Problem with Traditional Agriculture
It has become increasingly clear that traditional agriculture is simply not meeting the food demands of the future. Food production is heavily driven by significant freshwater consumption and can be both labour intensive and inefficient. Alongside this, changes in climate are negatively impacting yields. This is being witnessed across the board by the food production industry, investors and governments alike.

The Power of the Consumer
Increased awareness of these issues has led to changes in consumer demands. Consumers have become more discerning about the quality of the products they buy, specifically when it comes to pesticide use, sustainability, freshness, food safety, variety, and brands. They are ever more interested in having knowledge of and creating a relationship with the foods they consume. This is evidenced by the huge organic growth rates of organics over the past 10 years. People care about quality and are voting strongly with their wallets.

Cultural and socio-economic demographics heavily influence what can and should be grown. Some crops such as premium quality leafy greens tend to target more affluent demographics and palates, whereas tomatoes, cucumbers, and a number of other greenhouse vegetables are staples of many diets and can be produced affordably in most places in the world.

The Promise of Controlled-Environment Agriculture
Controlled-Environment Agriculture (CEA) facilitates the growth of sustainable, high-quality produce but not at the expense of the consumer. CEA allows for consistent, high quality production by eliminating the environmental impacts on food production, allowing for more localized production, and reducing, or even eliminating, the use of pesticides.

Reducing Risk
Since early 2020, COVID-19 has woken the world to the risks and fragility of global fresh fruit and vegetables supply chains. Given perishability, the fruit & vegetable market is uniquely vulnerable vs. other crops e.g. the likes of corn, wheat, rice which can be stored & siloed. Controlled-environment agriculture is a solution that addresses these issues facilitating more localized production and supply, offering high output, resource-efficient production capabilities, while meeting the consumer’s changing demands.

In March, the world’s gaze turned to the Suez Canal where a container ship, the Ever Given, became lodged, blocking the canal. On a daily basis, the Suez Canal carries 12% of global trade, around one million barrels of oil and roughly 8% of liquefied natural gas. The cost of the blockage was reportedly $14m-$15m every day!

The Local Promise
The local unique selling point (USP) is now possible pretty much anywhere. Solutions like ours at Pure Harvest Smart Farms have made it possible to affordably produce year-round, even in the harshest climates in the world for example, the UAE, Kuwait, and Malaysia serving Singapore.

Large-scale solutions are necessary for the food to be economic, due to economies of scale in what is ultimately a manufacturing process. Large-scale greenhouses are particularly suitable for dense urban populations, as just 1 or 2 large production sites within 100 – 500 kilometers of the city or town can serve a large group of people affordably.

Unfortunately for more distributed, rural populations, this becomes more challenging. If you scale-down the solutions to hyper-localize, you often lose efficiency (in terms of both capital expenditure/ m2 and operational expenditure/ m2 for production. With more of the world’s population urbanizing, this is another trend that supports widespread investment in CEA as an important piece of the puzzle to serve future food demands.

The Future
The challenge of feeding nearly 10 billion people by 2050 MUST be solved on both the supply side and demand side. From the supply side, adopting technologies that augment output and resource-efficient growing methods. From the demand side, via changing what we consume, reducing waste, and environmental consciousness. Addressing these issues means we can produce more food with less and less resources.

High-tech agriculture presents a multi-decade investment opportunity to contribute to food security, water conservation, economic diversification, and a more sustainable future for all.

Join Sky at the virtual Indoor AgTech Innovation Summit on June 24 and tune into his live panel discussion on ‘Scaling at Speed: Delivering the Promises of a Mission-Led Industry’ at 16.50 EST.

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