Agritech gets $8 billion boost as US Agriculture Secretary Vilsack addresses Dubai climate summit

A global initiative led by the United States and the United Arab Emirates to make agriculture cleaner has announced plans to invest $8 billion in agricultural technology (agritech).

Chairing the first ministerial meeting of the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) in Dubai on Monday (February 21st), US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said much of the funding will go to areas cutting-edge “agritech” such as “nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics and AI.

“Some of that can go into emerging technologies. The notion of precision farming, ranging from sensors and drones to understanding specific to each acre or hectare of land and what it needs and what it doesn’t, can, in turn, reduce the inputs and the carbon footprint of those inputs,” Vilsack told Forbes. .

In addition to doubling the funding commitment from $4 billion to $8 billion, AIM announced that six more countries (Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, Guyana, Mozambique and Turkey) have joined the initiative which counts already 140 governmental and non-governmental partners, making it the leading global effort to clean up agriculture.

Agriculture contributes 8.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 40% of global methane emissions each year. AIM wants to reduce these emissions by tackling the most harmful areas of agriculture.

Besides methane emissions, AIM wants to clean up three main areas of agriculture, says David Livingston, senior adviser to John Kerry, the president’s special climate envoy. These include emerging technologies, smallholder farmer innovations, and agroecological research, “or what some call regenerative agriculture.”

The program will run for five years (2021-2025). “I think one thing that makes this initiative very unique is that it is not an open-ended initiative. It’s not a new institution that exists just to create a new institution,” says Livingston. “I think by setting that timeline, you actually create an extra sense of urgency, an extra sense of focus.”

Running towards COP27

Kerry traveled to Egypt this week to discuss the upcoming COP27 summit in November, where AIM for Climate hopes to launch innovation sprints in four focus areas: smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries, methane reduction, emerging technologies and agroecological research. .

Some “sprints” are already underway. IBM, for example, pledged $10 million to organizations that promote sustainable agriculture.

One organization, Plan21, helps small farms in Latin America. IBM has already provided the organization with both funding and its powerful weather forecast data. “By providing these weather forecasts, we can increase the productivity, crop yields and incomes of these smallholder farmers,” said Justina Nixon-Saintil, vice president and global head of corporate social responsibility at IBM.

“In addition to this, farmers will be able to showcase their sustainability certifications and credentials for their crops.”

In another sprint, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has earmarked $40 million to fund gene banks and farmers’ access to seeds with built-in resilience to climate change.

“Farmers need to change the variants they use from time to time,” says Enock Chikava, acting director of agricultural development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Vertical farming, aeroponics and aquaculture

Some of Asia’s largest food producers are absent from the AIM for Climate initiative: Russia, India and China. Many AIM signatories are net food importers, including the United Arab Emirates, which spent more than $1.1 billion on produce from American farmers in 2021.

“When you import 80% of your food and the climate compromises the ability to produce that 80%, you’re very interested in making sure the supply continues,” says Vilsack.

But the UAE wants to secure its food supply in other ways. The country is currently investing vast sums in agritech and aquaculture, says Ames Lewis, managing director of Knight Frank in the Middle East and Africa.

Dubai-based Fish Farm, launched in 2013, produced 600 tons of salmon in 2020, rising to 1,000 tons in 2021. Nearby Abu Dhabi is investing $100 million in four agrotech companies, the first stage of a program $272 million in broader agtech support.

The UAE is unlikely to ever be food self-sufficient, but by boosting its agritech industry, it may be able to achieve this and reduce its emissions. “Everyone really needs to do something, do what they can do,” says Vilsack.

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