How to Feed the Monster without Being Bitten

Horticoop Controlled Environment Agriculture

What is the function of food for us humans? The function of food can be defined as transferring energy and materials into organic components, which provides us with the energy and nutrients we need to function. But food is so much more. It is a carrier of our cultural values, traditions and even personal ideologies, says Wilco Schoonderbeek, Director Investments at Horticoop.

Horticoop is Innovation Partner of F&A Next 2024.

The dilemma of the food system

Our north star, guiding our actions, has always been feeding a growing population. Throughout history, the production of food has been increasingly connected to negative environmental and social impact. The dilemma of the food system is a deeply existential one. On the one hand, we have a moral imperative to provide food for a growing population. On the other hand- based on the historic pathway – in doing so, many of the environmental and social challenges involved have come into sharper focus rather than becoming resolved.

Technology will play a crucial role

The common consensus is that technology will play a crucial role in addressing these challenges. Technology that supports us to feed a growing population without the claim on the earth and future generations. The speed at which technology is evolving is unprecedented in human history. Only very few understand the full impact of today’s technology on the world of tomorrow in general and on the food & agri (F&A) sector in particular.

People need food

There are many unknowns. But we know that people need food. Food that is affordable, nutritious and produced in a sustainable way. We know that the climate is going to change dramatically in the next ten years. We need investments in innovation, both public and private, to address the urgent challenges at hand. However, challenges in the food system are granular and complicated.

As an investor, you need to invest time to really understand where in the value chain your type of capital can be successfully deployed. Venture capital requires solving urgent problems that persist in large markets, enabling rapid growth that will realize outsized returns. Many businesses in this sector operate according to seasons or lifecycles and this gives only one or two selling opportunities per year. Things move slowly and you (and your capital) need to have patience.

Bringing resources together

Agriculture, food, and health cannot be considered as distinct value chains. They are pieces of a single, interconnected system of technologies, markets, and demands. So if we truly want to move the needle and gain a greater understanding of possible drivers and disruptive technologies, we need to bring together resources across different industries, technologies and disciplines. For example, different technologies are combined in Controlled Environment Agriculture. Thanks to recent research, ubiquitous mobile technology, cheap sensors and new food production methods, it is possible to grow healthy, nutritious, sustainable and tasty food anytime, anywhere.

We can do more

When taking today’s technological advancements into account, it could not be clearer that we can do more, both in terms of raising awareness and driving innovation. We know what needs to be done, we know what could be done. The question is: are we able to get on and do it fast and at scale because in a huge industry as F&A even small steps matter. We have to learn to feed the monster without getting bitten. Our life and quality of life depends on it.

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