Industries in Depth

These two start-ups are making farming more sustainable. Here’s how

A person farming. Two start-ups in India and Ghana are among those making sustainable farming a possibility.

Two start-ups in India and Ghana are among those making sustainable farming a possibility. Image: Unsplash/Anaya Katlego

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Agriculture, Food and Beverage

  • A rapidly increasing global population is putting more pressure on the agriculture sector to meet demand and reduce food insecurity.
  • However, food production is currently not sustainable, making up more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Two start-ups in India and Ghana are among those making sustainable farming a possibility.

As the global population rapidly approaches 8 billion, more pressure than ever is on the agriculture industry to increase production. With climate change also posing a growing threat to the planet, feeding more people more sustainably has become more important than ever.

Food production contributes more than a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions, reports Our World in Data. Agriculture is also the primary driver of biodiversity loss, threatening 86% of species at risk of extinction, according to the UN. This impact is likely to increase as the world’s population grows.

So what can be done to make farming more sustainable?

A chart showing global greenhouse gas emissions from food production
Food production accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Image: Our World in Data

Helping farmers protect India’s fragile forest ecosystem

Farmers for Forests started in late 2014 to incentivize farmers in India to protect existing forests and grow new ones on unused land. In India, “climate change-induced erratic weather patterns are causing decreasing agricultural yields which are adversely impacting farmer’s lives and leading to even more forest land being cleared for agricultural purposes – creating a vicious cycle.”

The start-up, a World Economic Forum Uplink innovator, recognized the need for innovative and sustainable solutions which also protected the interests of vulnerable farmers and local communities who rely on forests for their livelihoods. It uses the Payment for Ecosystems (PES) approach, whereby land owners are financially compensated for sustainable practices. This includes protecting the habitat of endangered species, soil conservation and carbon sequestration through forest re-growth.

Regular payments are made to owners of barren or degraded land that is then re-forested. Owners of existing forested land are compensated if they stop cutting trees down. Farmers for Forests then “tracks the forest cover through rigorous satellite and drone monitoring and is in the process of connecting these projects to voluntary carbon credit markets to ensure a sustainable, long-term payment.” It aims to restore over 12,000 hectares of land into forests by 2030, thereby removing 25 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

An infographic showing payments for ecosystem services.
Farmers for Forests uses a payment incentive scheme to promote sustainability. Image: Farmers for Forests

The fight to avoid food waste

Ghana-based start-up AkoFresh says that 1.3 billion tons of post-harvested food is lost each year globally and quotes the UN to say 15% of food-waste-related emissions is a result of insufficient refrigeration. AkoFresh says the problem is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than a third of food lost, mostly due to inefficient supply chains.

The company provides off-grid community storage units, which it says can extend the life of perishable crops from the usual five days to 21 days. The cold rooms are mobile as well as solar-powered and are available to rent to farmers.

An image of a solar-powered cold-storage unit
Solar-powered cold-storage units are helping Ghanian farmers keep their produce from becoming spoilt. Image: AkoFresh

AkoFresh says every solar-powered cold room it provides reduces up to 16.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions monthly. It estimates that over the next 5-10 years, its project will help reduce food losses in 10 communities in Ghana by 50%. This, it says, will increase farmers’ total seasonal income by more than $10 million as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15%.

The organization says it then plans to expand into two more African countries with the aim of reaching 15,000 smallholder farmers and traders. This could include Burkina Faso, which is one of the main tomato-producing countries in West Africa.

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Related topics:
Industries in DepthFood and WaterSustainable DevelopmentClimate ActionForum Institutional
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