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May 12, 2022updated 13 May 2022 2:19pm

Unilever to set up regenerative-agriculture investment fund

The Knorr maker is teaming up with asset management firms AXA and Tikehau Capital.

By Dean Best

Unilever is to put EUR100m (US$103.9m) into a fund backing companies working on regenerative agriculture.

The Knorr maker has signed an MoU with asset management firms AXA and Tikehau Capital to set up an “impact fund” they say is “dedicated to accelerating and scaling the regenerative agriculture transition”.

Tikehau Capital will manage the fund, into which each investor will put EUR100m. The time frame over which the partners would invest their funds was not disclosed. Just Food has asked Unilever for further comment.

Nevertheless, the fund, when launched, will focus on three areas: protecting soil health; the supply of “regenerative ingredients”; and technology to speed up the use of regenerative agriculture in the food supply chain.

Eric Soubeiran, vice president of the Climate & Nature Fund at Unilever, said: “We know that one of the key ways to address climate change is through nature, and agriculture is a part of that solution. In 2020, Unilever committed to invest EUR1bn in climate and nature projects, connecting value chain transformation with our business and brands, allowing Unilever to take targeted and meaningful action to address climate change and grow responsibly.

“Eventually, we would expect projects to include accelerating the transition of regenerative surfactants, scaling low carbon dairy and plant-based acceleration. We look forward to working with partners on this new regenerative agriculture finance mechanism.”

There is no clear definition of regenerative agriculture but, last year, Unilever launched a set of “principles” in the area. The FMCG giant said the principles encompassed “agricultural practices focused on delivering positive outcomes in terms of nourishing the soil, increasing farm biodiversity, improving water quality and climate resilience, capturing carbon, and restoring and regenerating the land”.

As the planet’s population expands and the need for sustainable food production becomes more intense, there is an increasing interest in regenerative agriculture as an approach to sustainable farming.

Proponents of regenerative agriculture point to the benefits to biodiversity and the ability of soils to better sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

Sceptics believe the potential of regenerative agriculture is being over-hyped. Some also say farmers will need to support gaining the skills needed, particularly in the area of soil management.

Soubeiran added: “We know that introducing regenerative agriculture principles can require a significant amount of training and resource. To help with this, infrastructure is needed to aid the onboarding process, as would be expected with many practice changes. While a transition can take time, it pays off in the long-term, unlocking new value and resilience through regenerative practices.”

Tikehau Capital has said it is aiming to have EUR5bn of assets under its management “dedicated to addressing the climate emergency” by 2025.

Pierre Abadie, Tikehau Capital’s group climate director, said “a collective effort that takes place on a large scale” is needed to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. He added: “Through the launch of this fund, our goal is to pool resources, skills, and expertise to support the technological innovations and the changes of practices that are required to improve both soil and human health.”

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