As our population grows, we will also need to make more food at a faster rate. We will need to produce 56% more crops than in 2010 to build a sustainable food future for a global population expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050.
In recent years, the world has seen erratic weather changes such as heavy floods and extreme drought due to global warming, and the agriculture sector has been severely impacted. For instance, the flash floods that hit Malaysia at the start of 2022 wreaked havoc on the country’s food supply.
Land and water ecosystems are “stressed to a critical point.“ If the world continues on its current path, producing the extra 50% of food required would require a 35% increase in agricultural water withdrawals.
Animal disease outbreaks are also becoming more common in recent years, posing a threat to the planet and the fundamental safety of our food supply.
Is it possible to produce enough food sustainably in the face of global warming and unpredictable climate change, bearing all of this in mind?
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Providing a Sustainable Solution
We have seen problems in the agriculture sector due to climate change. Producing enough food to feed the population while ensuring that this does not cause damage to the environment is a difficult task to balance.
As a result, traditional methods of food production no longer work. We have to consider factors such as increasing population, dwindling farmland amid urbanisation, and extreme weather patterns that are incompatible with traditional food production methods. The world must implement new technologies immediately to address these pressing issues. And that’s where foodtech kicks in.
Beyond lab-grown meats or vertical urban farms, foodtech covers a broad ecosystem of enterprises using technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data to disrupt different parts of the food supply chain, from production to distribution.
New technology will do more than improve irrigation. Drones, big data, AI, and machine learning can all work together to transform farming from seed to plate. For example, the startup Gro Intelligence uses satellite data and AI analytics to help farmers and ranchers forecast demand and pricing long before planting a crop or gathering a herd.
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TinDLE the Right Way
In Southeast Asia, a number of startups like Singapore-based Next Gen Foods are developing technology that is improving food production and the delivery and quality of food from a farmer’s field to a family’s fridge. Alternative protein startups have attracted a lot of investor attention over the last few years, and this trend appears to be going strong.
TiNDLE, the plant-based chicken alternative created by Next Gen Foods with a proprietary blend of ingredients like sunflower oil, has already made its debut in Asian cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, and Kuala Lumpur.
Following the industry’s development of alternative food products such as oat milk and plant-based beef patties, co-founder and CEO Andre Menezes of Next Gen Foods, said that chicken is the most universal lean protein, “having high presence, popularity, and versatility.”
Chicken is also the biggest and fastest-growing protein source of land animals, with 72 billion chickens being killed for food every year.
When it comes to selecting alternative proteins, Menezes said that consumers are looking for taste, texture, experience, nutrition, and benefits. “Technology is a more efficient way of solving the problem…We also have the ability, knowledge, and understanding of chicken, to believe that we could be the dominant player globally.”
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Growing Vertically and High Up
Vertical farms are also beginning to spring up on parking lot rooftops and inside vacant buildings, as densely-populated urban areas like Singapore seek innovative alternatives to traditional farming.
New York-based vertical farming startup Bowery Farming has experienced impressive real-world growth during the Covid-19 pandemic, raising $300m in its Series C and touting a 750% increase in availability since January of last year.
Bowery’s CEO Irving Fain said that the driving force behind the startup is the need to provide more food in the cities in a sustainable way as the population expands. “The urbanisation movement is very real. 70% to 80% of people are going to be living in and around cities in the next 30 years. So I increasingly spent more time on the question of how do you get fresh food to cities? How do you do it in a more efficient and more sustainable way?”
Fain has made significant investments in modern farming technologies in order to make fresh, locally grown food more accessible to everyone.
The first indoor vertical farm of Bowery Farming is located in Kearny, New Jersey. Greens are grown in special trays that are stacked from floor to ceiling. The sun is replaced by LED lighting, and the process uses 95% less water than traditional farming.
With this, Bowery’s indoor farms can grow all kinds of produce all year, regardless of seasonality. The produce, ranging from strawberries to baby kale and basil, is available in 850 grocery stores across the US.
With the help of its R&D team and agricultural science team, Bowery is also increasing the variety of produce. Aside from leafy greens and herbs, Bowery also grows tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, with root vegetables and tubers coming soon.
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Feeding the World Through Sustainable Food Technology
While “the future of food” could refer to various things, the common denominator is the challenge posed by several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals– feeding the world in more equitable, healthy, and long-term ways. And sustainable food technology could help us get closer to that future.
With the strong consumer demand for plant-based proteins and sustainably grown vegetables, foodtech startups are receiving a lot of funding from venture capitalists, with $51.7 billion invested globally in 2021, nearly double what was raised the year before.
Singapore is investing heavily in technology in order to produce 30% of the country’s required calories by 2030. Locally grown meat will be a crucial component in achieving food independence.
“Singapore has a unique approach to food security because, as a small island nation, it has specific needs. After a slow start, Southeast Asia is beginning to make progress here as well,” said GGV’s Hans Tung.
Farmers and producers need to leverage sustainable food technology at critical points in the food cycle to help create a world with less hunger, more job opportunities, and more environmentally-friendly production and consumption cycles.