Koen van Seijen’s journey to regenerative agriculture started in 2010 well before the term was a household phrase bandied about in corporate board rooms and mainstream farming conferences.
“I read part of a book where Tony Lovell of Sustainable Land Management Partners mentioned a road trip he took in Australia helping farmers and ranchers with holistic grazing. I met Tony in 2011 and from that moment I started to see the huge potential for a carbon positive industry,” van Seijen told AFN.
van Seijen works part-time as a senior manager for Toniic, a global community of active impact investors. The group is not an investor or an advisor but works with members to help them complete more impact investments. In some cases, Toniic has helped members move their portfolios toward impact investing across asset classes. He’s also a partner at a family office and asset manager in Milan that is focused on investing in regenerative food and agriculture companies in Italy alongside Slow Food.
But perhaps most importantly, van Seijen is trying to build a community of people who are putting money to work in regenerative food and agriculture including fund managers, investment managers, investors, and other stakeholders who want to restore soil health while generating a fair return.
“I always had issues explaining regenerative agriculture to investors who I work with through Toniic, so at some point in 2016 I started recording those conversations and interviews as something to share with investors specifically focused on the question of how to put money to work in regenerative agriculture while getting a fair return back; that was still the big question back then.”
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The podcast, Investing in Regenerative Food and Agriculture, can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. van Seijen has interviewed a wide swath of players in the regenerative agriculture and investment communities, including Tony Lovell and Land Life Company CEO and co-founder Jurriaan Ruys.
Regenerative agriculture doesn’t have a formal definition, but for van Seijen it’s about rebuilding soil at its core and increasing the amount of organic matter in soil, which tends to be a good measurement of other environmental health factors.
Through these podcast interviews and his work at Toniic, van Seijen has identified three key subsectors in regenerative agriculture that are particularly promising:
- Technology-enabled landscape design: What is needed to take regenerative agriculture to the watershed, ecosystem level? How do we decide what to plant and where taking into account climate models for the next 20 years, indigenous knowledge, market circumstances, and more?
- Making nutrients visible: How do we make any nutrient differences between conventionally-produced and regeneratively-produced food visible? Will new technology show the link between healthy soils, healthy produce, healthy guts, and healthy people to investors and consumers?
- Payment systems for regenerative practices: How can we help farmers get paid for biodiversity, water storage, and carbon storage? Paying for good, nutrient-rich food isn’t enough to finance the major transition that is needed at the farm-level, according to van Seijen.
And then there are the key financial mechanisms that investors will need to deploy to finance this global farming revolution, including climate bonds, green bonds, new funds, vehicles blended finance, and crowdfunding/crowdlending.
“As far as who is investing in regenerative agriculture, it’s mostly family offices and private individuals; people who can decide on their own or who have a small structure and a lot of control, from what I’ve seen,” he explains. “As for why they are investing, many of the people I talk to see it as the only way to address climate change. The issue has a lot of connections to food, healthcare, and water, but you see people who research the issue of solving climate change and at some point they end up on soil.”
Investors are increasingly coming into the space, with at least 70 investments totaling $47.5 billion already deployed, according to a new report called Soil Wealth.
Even major food corporates like General Mills are getting behind the buzzword, announcing a multi-million commitment to helping farmers in its supply chain adopt regenerative farming practices aimed at reducing pesticide use and integrating well-managed livestock. And Indigo Agriculture has centered its latest initiative on regenerative agriculture practices with the goal of sequestering one trillion tons of carbon from the atmosphere. (Indigo’s challenge is still open for innovators working on tools to this effect.)
There’s also a brand new investment conference dedicated exclusively to the regenerative agriculture space launching in September called the Regenerative Food Systems Investment Forum where van Seijen will be speaking. van Seijen is looking forward to meeting many of his past podcast interviewees in person for the first time.
I will also be speaking at the conference, moderating a panel on innovations in regenerative agriculture. (Use code JOINME-LM for a discount on registration!). The conference will explore drivers of demand for regenerative agriculture, the investment case for ecological agriculture, diverse strategies for investing throughout the agrifood supply chain, and steps that are needed to build this investment opportunity.
“Only a few actually follow through and the sector is rightfully skeptical. A farmer has probably had so many people reaching out or promises made in the last several decades. How many were actually true or made good?” van Seijen notes. “Although I think any attention on soil health is good, we have to be very focused on results. How much organic soil matter is actually being built? What is really being paid to farmers above the commodity market? How farmers’ lives changing? Until that is transparent and open everything else is just noise.”