The food and agricultural sector is facing enormous challenges to feed a growing population of 9 billion people by 2050, with the need to increase the food production by 70 percent while preserving the environment and adapting to climate change. On the flip side, around the world, a third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. In Hong Kong, food waste accounts for around 30 percent of all municipal solid waste, which is always one of its biggest environmental problems. What if technology could be used to answer some of these challenges? How do community, business and technology work together?
Across the world people and companies are investing in creating new ways and technology to provide a more sustainable future and food supply chains. Famous investors include Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Leonardo DiCaprio, and even the former McDonald's CEO Don Thompson, all pushing technology of farming and agriculture forward.
A record US$754 million of venture capital was invested in the industry in the first three quarters of 2020 which is a 34 percent increase from the whole year before, according to figures from Pitchbook. It especially draws interests from nations such as the UAE and Singapore whose food industries rely on over 80 percent of imports, but have since pledged to increase their national food production. Whatever the real market estimates are for vertical farming, it is undeniable that this type of agricultural business model is attracting a lot of interests and with the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic has accelerated the demand for freshly and locally grown products.
On the other hand, food waste is an imminent problem in Hong Kong. Over 3,500 tonnes of food waste is dumped into landfills every day, the equivalent of 250 double decker buses. According to the EPD, the city has a low recycling rate for food waste with only 1 percent of its total in the city to be recycled. It is an issue that needs to be tackled immediately.
Here, we take a look at two innovative organisations who respectively reimagine food production and waste problems with their own solutions. Farm66, an urban farming company that looks into increasing Hong Kong’s food quality and production; and Food Angel, a sustainable charity organisation that integrates a ‘waste-to-table’ concept, by collecting edible food from catering and marketplaces to then redistribute them to low-income families and elderlies as to create a closed loop of sustainable cycle.
Future of Farming is Vertical - Growing Fast and Fresh
Urban cities are running out of farming land. Along with climate change, this is where urban agriculture and “Agtech” comes in. They give rise to ventures from an underground farm in London to a Japanese office building with a rice paddy field...
Technologies Alleviate Sufferings of the Needy
Food Angel is a Bo Charity food rescue and assistance programme with a decade of rescuing surplus edible food, reintegrating it into the food supply chain. They have been collecting these safe surpluses donated by the catering industry, which are then transported to their central kitchen to be prepared as hot or cold meals, after which are to be distributed to the underprivileged communities and elderly...
Brilliant Successors Hold the Future
To stay ahead of the game, Tam at Farm66 emphasises the importance of employing local Hong Kong talents. His team of 80 consists of brilliant people with crazy ideas. “And that’s how it works in innovations,” he says and adds that they offer internships to students who oftentimes come up with brilliant brainstorms. Farm66 has also set up a farming lab at a local school in Hong Kong as they want to establish an environment in which students can cultivate a better understanding of what indoor farming and its technologies truly entailed. “We have to become pioneers in thinking up new concepts - and that can only happen with “out of the box” ideas.”
Food Angel shares the same vision and success formula with Farm66 on the future development of sustainable food chains, which are talents and people. “Our success so far comes indirectly from education and community efforts,” says Chow. “We only focused on recycling in the past, who would think about succession? How do we continue ten or twenty more years? We need to find our successors so as to continue our culture.”
It’s been ten years since Food Angel was established, attaining sustainability is one goal but there is also importance in transferring their concept to the next generation. “It is not simply about using biodegradable meal boxes, or reducing carbon footprint, or rescuing edible food but also about teaching students about food wastage, environmental protection, hunger and poverty issues through seminars, workshops and other activities,” says Chow. “As the organisation grows bigger and we are getting older, we have to consider how to continue in terms of both people and technology.”