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Five must read resources on impact investing, sustainable food systems and climate action

SVX is hosting a three-part blog series to build engagement and understanding on key topics amongst active and interested impact investors in Canada, particularly individuals, families, foundations, and faith-based organizations. This series has been prepared alongside our annual All-in Impact Gathering.

The first post in the series includes five must read resources on impact investing, sustainable food systems and climate action. Please note that these are not the only resources available, and we cannot categorize them as the top resources, as there are so many individuals and organizations writing and thinking on this topic. But they are excellent sources of information that will give you a great overview of thinking on the impact investing, food systems and climate action from recognized and respected sources.

The report provides a framework for investors as they consider how to invest in sustainable food systems across common portfolio asset classes as well as alternative asset classes in sustainable farmland and timberland supporting with leading examples from across the field.

Key takeaways from this resource include:

  • The nature of impact investment opportunities is by no means equally developed across all asset classes.
  • In some cases, such as farmland and ranchland, investors can get very direct exposure to sustainable agricultural production trends, like the growing market for certified organic crops or pastured livestock. In other asset classes, such as public and private equity, investors can focus on financing sustainable AgTech innovations or engaging with publicly traded companies that drive social and environmental impact trends across global value chains.
  • The multiple investment returns — financial, social, and environmental — vary across a wide spectrum. Investors seeking to finance more resilient agricultural value chains will therefore need to assess the opportunity set that is most closely aligned with their financial and impact objectives.

You can also read an updated resource, Soil Wealth: Investing in Regenerative Agriculture Across Asset Classes by the Croatan Institute.

This article shows how farming boosts people, planet and profit through investing in regenerative farmland and farmers. The Regenerative Agriculture Initiative team sets the context that defines financing for regenerative agriculture in the United States, both before and in the coming recession.

Key takeaways from this resource include:

  • Two questions prove to be insightful to evaluate the investor’s desired level of risk investment:
  • Do investors want to expand the land owned and managed by investment companies or land owned and managed by independent farmers?
  • Will they take risks on innovative agricultural entrepreneurs that are likely to fail or will they stick to businesses most likely to succeed?
  • Farmers of colour, female farmers, indigenous farmers, and immigrant farmers, typically manage smaller farms with higher-value products, receive significantly less government funding and support and are more likely to be tenants than landowners.
  • Regenerative agriculture stakeholders have plentiful opportunities to support and help formulate the efforts for diverse participation and land access.

The video discusses the significant barriers to keep progress towards regenerative agriculture in the U.S. and how we can overcome these challenges, based on a report by Forum for the Future called Growing Our Future: Scaling Regenerative Agriculture in the United States of America. The discussion featured Dr. Sally Uren, OBE, Chief Executive Officer of Forum for the Future and Cornerstone’s Chief Impact Strategist, Katherine Pease, who addressed ways in which investors can fuel growth in regenerative agriculture practices.

Key takeaways from this resource include:

  • All routes towards regenerative agriculture begin with shifting the goals of the current agricultural system.
  • There are multiple barriers preventing more regenerative and sustainable agriculture, including public policy, financial incentives, supply chain infrastructure, and systems data.
  • Financial solutions must be paired with systemic solutions including regenerative public policy, public and private investments in infrastructure, and sector and consumer education.

This article discusses the creation of reports which convey the impact performance of agriculture and financial inclusion impact investments and showcase real-world results associated with impact investments.

Key takeaways from this resource include:

  • Impact investors are increasingly committed to integrating impact into decision-making and sharing results transparently.
  • Credible and comparable impact data is key to achieving the promise of impact investing, yet 84% of investors cannot compare impact results with market performance because they lack the needed tools and resources. To address this, GIIN created the Evaluating Impact Performance reports on clean energy access and housing, published in October 2019.
  • There is significant progress being made by the GIIN towards standardizing impact performance analytics and increasing the transparency and availability of comparable impact data for investors.

This report presents the outcomes of a stakeholder meeting which discussed the need for foundations to integrate their grant and investment capital into building more equitable and renewable food systems.

Key takeaways from this resource include:

  • There are a variety of principles and frameworks that can guide impact investments, including the Total Portfolio Activation, to fund sustainable agriculture and food investments in all of their asset classes.
  • Foundations need to think holistically to transform food systems, blending grant and endowment resources in integrated capital strategies, employ total portfolio activation approaches — and consider how patient capital, loan loss reserves and guarantees can be game changers.
  • There needs to be open conversation and equitable relationships between investors — including foundations — and investees.
  • A series of action steps were created at the end of the meeting: 1) Formalize a Community Practice; 2) Share Foundations’ Protocols and Investments; 3) Explore the Establishment of a Fund and 4) Develop Investment Case Studies Using True Cost Accounting.

There is also a great primer on the work that the Swift Foundation is doing on food systems in a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

There are other honourary “must read” resources you can also check out, including:

It’s important that we also understand the underlying challenges and issues we are facing. Here are a few resources to provide a deep dive on the topic beyond the realm of impact investing:

  • Sustainable Food Consumption for All: Improving the Accessibility of Sustainably-Produced Foods in Canada, Food Secure Canada. Food Secure Canada led a research project between April 2018 to March 2019 to better understand how consumers living with low-incomes value and access sustainably grown foods, what barriers they face in doing so and what policy measures could be undertaken to facilitate greater access.
  • The Nutrition Source: Sustainability. The Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health has an excellent primer on the sustainability of foods systems. Food sustainability is a crucial part of sustainability because it enables to meet today’s needs without compromising the ability of meeting future needs of nutrition in availability and quality access.
  • The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. In this talk, David Wallace discusses the background of his book “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming”. David distils dry scientific information about the impacts of climate change into descriptions on a human scale, and what role technology may be able to play for both mitigation and adaptation solutions.
  • Cities and Circular Economy for Food. This report commissioned by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, “…offers a vision for a healthy food system fit for the 21st century and beyond, underpinned by the circular economy principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.”

Do you have any questions or comments? Did we miss any resources? Please let us know by sharing questions and comments below.

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