Food Sustainability Solutions: An Interview With BioArk
Monday, January 3rd, 2022 | 48 Views
In an interview with Asia Pacific Food Industry (APFI),Mr Edward Loh and Mr Jeremy Chua, Business Director and Technical Director of Bio Ark shares the company’s solutions towards countering global food sustainability issues.
By Weiqi, Assistant Editor
- As consumers become more environmentally aware, sustainability is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. What challenges do Bio Ark identify for a sustainable food industry? How will Bio Ark address these challenges?
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has stated that we are overusing the Earth’s biocapacity by 56% every year. Agriculture, which directly links to the food industry, accounts for:
80% of global deforestation,
70% of global freshwater use,
70% of terrestrial biodiversity loss,
29% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
From these numbers, we can arguably label our food systems as broken across multiple facets; and thus, unsustainable in their current designs.
Controversially, by continuing with our current systems, the act of eating, which is the most basic of functions to sustain human life, can be considered unsustainable.
At Bio Ark, we focus on the facets that involve the inputs that grow our food. To try and solve the problem at its root, we look at fertility as a resource that can be created, rather than one that is exhausted, or shifted around the world in the form of non-renewable resources. Other aspects that cascade from this include the nutrition within food, and subsequently, how we can recover nutrients, water, and energy from the food we do not consume, or potentially waste.
Today, most of the fertility inputs for land and crop come from energy-intensive and chemical processes using non-renewable resources. These non-renewable resources are mined or extracted globally and transported across the world to be used for the manufacture of fertilizers and plant inputs.
A large-scale fertilizer factory looks indistinguishable from a petrochemical plant, because of how closely fertilizer production is coupled with petrochemical use, and the high amount energy needed to produce the end products.
Consequently, one of the effects that we’ve seen this year, is fertilizer prices (currently at $1,200USD a ton, as compared to $400USD at the same time last year) shooting through the roof because of global gas price hikes.
This is, in term, expected to lead to a corresponding rise in food prices due to higher input costs, or worse, a sudden drop in food supply as farmers cannot afford or find inputs to put in their crop.
Bio Ark is trying to correct this by providing regenerative nature-based solutions that decouple the current reliance of crop fertility on intensive energy use and nonrenewable resources. We focus on adding long term fertility and resilience back to our growing environments, without levying large environmental costs in the way of unsustainable inputs or resource exploitation.
In our fertilizer production, use both renewable and regenerative feedstocks, together with our unique consortia of microbiology.
When formulating our product, we select biological ingredients that are both renewable and regenerative. They have little to no, or potentially even negative, net carbon, water, and ecological footprints, and we try to ensure that they also confer tangible ecological benefits during its lifecycle.
We believe in considering every aspect of sustainability in the production chain which will contribute to increasing numbers in economic and environmental value as well.
Apart from harnessing microbiology for growing inputs, we also use it to recover nutrients and resources from biological and food waste. We see such food waste as a potential resource. It is a combination of coveted resources – solar energy, water, and minerals, in biological form. This presents opportunity for any food, and thus resource, lost along the supply chain to be recovered, and put back into the system in a meaningful manner and as inputs for the next cycle of growing.
The final aspect of a break in our food system is around diversity of crops and their subsequent nutrition. Out of 6000 species of plants that are cultivated for food, we predominantly grow just 9* (0.15%) of them, and they account for 70% of global crop production. Arguably, this has been a seismic shift in patterns from only 60-70 years ago, where over 1,000 crop types were deemed as staple food sources and were distributed more evenly.
Bio Ark hopes to bring attention to a greater range of cultivated crops, first as food and also as regenerative feedstocks. This brings a wider choice of food to the consumer, a more varied and nutritious diet, and subsequently a more biodiverse food production system.
*wheat, potatoes, rice, sugarcane, sugar beet, soyabeans, corn, maize, oil palm.
2. How has the Covid-19 pandemic intensified the warning bells of our broken food system?
Covid-19 has shown how far we’ve come in our journey of globalisation. Pre-pandemic, this interconnection allowed us to distribute natural capital in the form of resources and inputs around the world at breakneck speeds.
However, it had also masked the lack of resilience in our food systems. Distribution and logistics of actual food products aside, it also showed that a sudden shortage or disruption of inputs meant that the land was unable to produce crops. The constant need for external inputs in terms of fertilizer year on year also show how unsustainable current practices are.
We hope that this acts as a watershed moment that highlights the need to bring fertility and resilience back in a regenerative manner to our land and environment.
Apart from raising productivity of existing crop production in a sustainable manner, it may potentially bring back land that has been degraded or unused back into the picture. With such buffers, the world will be better placed to weather such supply and logistical shocks.
3. Tell us more about Bio Ark’s partnership with Smart City. How will it transform the agriculture industry?
Although we want to fundamentally shift how inputs can be made regeneratively, we recognise that it will be a journey as existing chemical-based inputs will not be immediately replaced. As such, there will be a need to optimise where possible, to reduce resource usage and inputs.
Beyond the traditional focus on growing systems, precision agriculture and automation as the mainstay of Agritech 4.0, we have partnered up with Smart Cities Network to create a new information and gateway for producers to share information and publish data through the concept of Digital Twinning – an integrated digital ecosystem that allows stakeholders to access the digital replica of a site; its assets, people, places, systems and devices. These “twinning” processes will yield insights and a better understanding of the current state, analyse the data captured, and subsequently develop data driven insights and solutions.
Farmers can use their data to apply to the right products, at the right rates, and at the right time. Distributors can use data to source inputs and position themselves for maximum advantage in the market, and manufacturers can improve their means of production and better target their customer base.
The increased visibility for all parties will lead to higher outputs and greater trust which, in turn will lead to more consistent returns and increased profitability – against a backdrop of better use of resources and lower environmental impact.
4. What does the future of sustainable food look like?
As mentioned above, with the current unsustainability of our food systems, our current practices of eating are damaging our planet. We believe that there is the opportunity to transform it with the correct supporting processes by producing food and eating in a manner that adds back to our ground, environment, and ecosystem.
Resources from food waste can be recaptured and sent back to where they are needed most. Transparency from digital inclusion also allows for food and resources to be sent to where it is needed the most, at the appropriate pricing.
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