Sustainable investment: Vertical farming, bringing food to all

According to the UN, over the past 20 years huge steps to cut hunger have been achieved. The likelihood of a child dying before the age of five has been reduced by almost 50 percent, saving the lives of around 17,000 children per day.


However, 800 million people worldwide go hungry every day. Many are forced to leave home in search of food where scarcity is highest — forcing them to become migrants in their own countries or abroad.

The UN's Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2) intends to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030 and is supported by World Food Day. This year's annual World Food Day on October 16 will draw attention to the issue of food insecurity. Director-General of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, says we need a "paradigm shift" in how we produce our food. He has called for more investment in food systems that feed a greater number of people using less land, water and energy.

Could innovative start-ups such as Boston-based Freight Farms be a part of the solution?

The company, which launched in 2010, transforms old shipping containers into self-contained farms that grow leafy green vegetables from seed. The Leafy Green Machines are fitted with LEDs and use mineral nutrients in water rather than soil.

According to James Gifford, Senior Impact Investing Strategist at UBS Wealth Management, agritech investment strategies include funds and direct investments focused on improving farming practices, irrigation and efficient water use, sustainable fertilizers, distribution channels, financing of seeds and other inputs, trade finance and agricultural technologies.

Unlike traditional farming which is reliant on weather conditions and seasons, these containers can produce a crop in any location, without pesticides, as long as there is electricity. They can grow the equivalent of two acres of produce over a year.

The Leafy Green Machine costs around $85,000 and budding entrepreneurs who want to set up a self-contained farm are given advice on how to market their produce and reach more customers.

NASA has offered the start-up a grant to work with Clemson University and develop off-the-grid farming systems using renewable energy that could eventually provide life support on Mars.

The immediate implication is that the Leafy Green Machine could be used in areas without electricity, benefitting rural communities in developing countries who would otherwise be forced to migrate.

James Gifford is enthusiastic about developments in this field. "Investing in businesses whose products and services reduce food waste, improve distribution, or enhance agricultural yields in emerging and developing countries holds enormous potential to drive improvements in human development and economic growth," he said.

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