August 14, 2020
With an existing commitment to promote urban agriculture through its Bayer Kubo project in Taguig, Bayer is exploring new opportunities to grow food in limited urban spaces to bring food closer to consumers.
Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of Bayer AG and Temasek, a global investment company headquartered in Singapore, recently announced a joint investment and formation of a new company, Unfold. The new venture will focus on innovation in vegetable varieties with the goal of lifting the vertical farming space to the next level of quality, efficiency and sustainability.
While most start-ups in the vertical farming market are focusing on the development of more efficient infrastructure, Unfold is the only company with unparalleled assets to unlock the genetic potential of vertical farming. By utilizing the seed genetics from vegetable crops, Unfold will focus on developing new seed varieties coupled with agronomic advice tailored for the unique indoor environment of vertical farms.
Unfold raised USD 30 million in the initial funding round and entered into an agreement for certain rights to germplasm from Bayer’s vegetable portfolio.
“Innovation that offers sustainable solutions for agriculture is one of the 10 areas of engagement and investment that Leaps by Bayer is focused on,” said Jürgen Eckhardt, Head of Leaps by Bayer, which was built to drive fundamental breakthroughs in the fields of health and agriculture through new technologies. “The investment in Unfold is a great example of a transformative, creative approach to developing agricultural products that meets the needs of consumers, farmers and the planet by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables, supporting sustainably grown, hyperlocal production and addressing food security challenges faced by growing urban populations.”
Meanwhile, Bayer Crop Science in the Philippines had introduced urban agriculture in a densely populated community in Barangay Ususan, Taguig City early this year as its current local contribution to food and sustainable livelihood during the pandemic. Its 300-square meter Bayer Kubo may still be the traditional ‘horizontal’ urban farm, but it provides the opportunity for residents there to make productive use of their time in growing vegetables such as eggplant, tomato, pechay, sili, and different herbs.
“We’re fortunate that the community in Barangay Ususan continues to enjoy making their own food with the urban farm set up right inside their residential area,” said Iiinas Ivan Lao, Country Commercial Lead for Bayer Crop Science. “Filipino consumers have preference for fresh vegetables and this initiative caters to them. Obviously, vertical farming has the potential to increase food output in very scare areas for planting within highly urbanized cities.”
These urban farming investments align with Bayer’s vision of “Health for All, Hunger for None”, a commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations has set for 2030, especially the goals of assuring healthy lifestyles and putting an end to hunger.
Vertical farms, also known as indoor farms or plant facilities with artificial light (PFAL), utilize indoor growing facilities that leverage artificial light, reduce dependency on synthetic chemistry and other crop inputs, optimize water use and allow food growth in challenging environments with limited arable land. Vertical farms help crops grow more quickly, enabling the reliable growth of fresh, local produce anywhere, anytime utilizing less space and fewer natural resources while reducing the need for food logistics and transportation. Unfold will support the hyperlocal production of consumer-pleasing vegetables while also addressing the increasing need for a reliable and safe supply of sustainably grown produce, especially in food deserts and in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Investment in the vertical farming market has increased significantly in recent years mainly due to decreasing arable land, increasing market demand for local, sustainable produce and migration towards mega-cities.
Singapore, where Temasek is headquartered, is one of many mega-cities experiencing an increasing demand for fresh, sustainable and locally grown produce that has a smaller environmental footprint, using fewer resources to grow and ship, offering peak freshness and flavor.
“The global food challenges we increasingly face require us to rethink traditional farming practices. We need to ensure secure farm-to-fork supply chains in urban settings while we also work to reduce the overall environmental impact of farming. Reducing food waste and improving the safety, traceability and nutritional value of food are all the more important as populations grow and demands for food expand,” said John Vaske, Head of Agribusiness at Temasek. “Investments in companies such as Unfold allow us and our partners to support innovative, sustainable solutions that will benefit all of us over the long term.”
Led by CEO John Purcell, Unfold will be a U.S. entity headquartered in the Davis, Calif. area with commercial and research and development operations in both California and Singapore.
“What sets Unfold apart is its unparalleled investment in germplasm and crop growth models best suited for vertical farming environments, an area currently largely underserved,” said Purcell. “As a company fully focused on the vertical farming industry, Unfold will combine leading seed genetics with the best agtech experts in order to dramatically advance productivity, flavor and other consumer preferences. We look forward to serving the market through partnerships with vertical farming operators, technology providers and others across the produce supply chain.”