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World of Farming start-up wants to make meat more sustainable

Hydropnics and vertical farming.

Abu Dhabi-based start-up investors Hatch & Boost Ventures has added World Of Farming (WoF) to its portfolio, the company’s first agritech start-up that uses vertical farming and hydroponics to grow livestock feed more sustainably.

A start-up in UAE aims to produce livestock more sustainably through vertical farming and hydroponics.

This sustainable farming solution could help mitigate the climate impacts of livestock feed, but this only addresses a portion of the meat industry’s climate problems.

Agritech solutions should focus on more efficient forms of food products to meet a growing global demand under strain from climate change.

In the deserts of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), growing food has always been a challenge. Growing food sustainably is an even bigger challenge.

High temperatures, scarcity of arable lands, and limited freshwater resources in the UAE create a harsh environment for farming. As a result, the country imports an enormous 80-90% of the food it consumes, including livestock feed.

To address this problem, Hatch & Boost Ventures, a company dedicated to “hatching” start-up ideas, has invested in its first agritech company, World of Farming (WoF). WoF has developed a first-of-its-kind hydroponic livestock feed farming methodology for the meat and dairy industry in the Middle East, to increase the sustainability of the sector and reduce dependence on imports.

Hydroponics unlock agricultural potential in UAE

The start-up uses automated vertical hydroponic farming to grow livestock fodder in a smart system so farmers can easily track and manage the growth of that fodder. WoF claims that their technology can go from “seed to feed in one week” at any time of the year and without the use of fertilisers and pesticides.

Through a closed-loop method, WoF’s technology claims to cut water usage by 86% and uses 90% less land – all while increasing yield by 80% – meaning more fodder versus traditional farming methods. This makes the technology an especially good fit for the land and water strapped desert lands of the UAE.

The technology can be set up directly on livestock farms, allowing farmers to produce their own livestock feed locally instead of importing to mitigate supply chain disruptions and food security issues, which will become more of a risk in the coming years as climate change impacts the agricultural sector.

“With more farmers adopting our farming approach locally, our ultimate goal is to enhance the agricultural sustainability of livestock ranching and supply chains, and the customers they serve on the regional global scale” commented the CEO and co-founder of WoF Dr. Walid Saad.

WoF’s technology is still in its early stages and has only recently been awarded its first customer contract for a fully integrated circular farm in the UAE with a total output of 3,000 metric tonnes of fresh animal feed all year round.

The meat industry is one of the biggest contributors to emissions

“Today, animal agriculture is one of the most harmful industries on the planet, directly responsible for 14% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and upwards of 50,000 acres of forest are cleared by farmers and loggers every day, around the world”, explained Faris Mesmar, CEO and managing partners of WoF’s backer Hatch & Boost.

Meat production involves the clearing of lands to produce livestock feed and to set up farms to raise livestock which can cause habitat and biodiversity loss, the releasing of GHG’s from carbon sinks, and an erosion of soil quality and water supply. Land use change for food production is a major contributor to climate change.

Faris explains that this coupled with “the effects of international mass shipping, and copious amounts of water consumption” causes a “snowball effect of unprecedented global challenges” in regards to the climate impact of the meat industry.

WoF’s technology offers a solution to these problems, by producing livestock feed locally, with a small amount of land and water. However, the livestock feed issue only accounts for under half of the sector’s total emissions and is therefore not a silver bullet to make your hamburger good for the planet.

Livestock feed is only half the problem

According to the FAO, feed production and processing accounts for 45% of the meat industry’s GHG emissions. Around 39% of the remaining GHG emissions from the sector come from ruminants (i.e. release of methane through belches), 20% comes from fossil fuel consumption across the supply chain, and 10% comes from manure storage and processing.

This means that even if livestock feed production became completely carbon neutral, the meat industry would still account for a significant portion of GHG emissions due to the nature of breeding livestock.

Additionally, around 44% of livestock emissions are in the form of methane – a GHG with a 100-year global warming potential that is 28 to 34 times more than carbon. Methane in the context of livestock is mainly produced by the ruminants of livestock such as cows and sheep in the process of digesting food.

While changing feeding habits and farming practices can help reduce the amount of methane produced by these animals, there will inevitably always be methane produced by these animals due to natural biological processes.

Meat is not an efficient way to feed the world

With the growth in global consumption of meat proteins projected to increase by 14% by 2030 due to an increase both in population and demographics (as more in the middle classes means more disposable income), this will create an even further demand for livestock feed, and therefore an increase in emissions.

However, many food security experts warn that the demand increase for meat will need to reverse in order to meet growing food demands across the world. Studies estimate that the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, which will require an increase in global food production of 70%.

Meat is one of the least efficient forms of nutrition, as it requires an immense amount of food and water to produce – food and water that could directly go to feed human populations instead. IDTechEX research finds that on average it takes 9 calories to produce 1 calorie of chicken meat – and this is one of the most efficient forms of meat.

A growing demand for meat therefore places an immense amount of pressure on agricultural sectors that are already struggling to meet demand due to supply chain issues, drought, floods, and decreasing availability of arable land.

Additionally, climate change is already negatively affecting crop yields, with heatwaves in Europe slashing staple crop yields by 8 to 9 % across the continent this summer.

While novel farming solutions such as vertical farming and hydroponics are promising to produce more food with less climate impact, the food harvested from these sustainable farming practices should not necessarily be earmarked for the meat industry and could instead go towards more efficient food products to help meet a growing demand.

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