When restaurants closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the nationwide market for oysters cratered. That’s not the end of the story.
Jim Jackson developed timber and farmland in Eastern Washington, protected from coastal rains by the peaks of the Cascade mountains, building out a clutch of apple farms and other properties on the state’s sunny side for 40 years.
Traditionally, he raised money to expand operations for his farms through his existing network, which meant asking previous investors to pool together and come up with the cash.
But more recently, Jackson turned to a fundraising platform that operates entirely online. Like hundreds of other farmers, he’s using a service called AcreTrader to raise money for agricultural development projects. AcreTrader is one of a growing number of companies revolutionizing the way farm and forestland are acquired, developed and commercialized across the United States.
There’s lots of farmland in the U.S. Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and the world’s third-richest man, is the nation’s largest owner of farmland, holding roughly 242,000 acres. That number seems high until you compare it with the 897.4 million acres of land that are currently arable and used for farming in the U.S.
Another 823 million acres of forests dot the United States, the majority of which are privately owned.
Taken together, that’s a massive amount of real estate with economic potential that’s traditionally been accessible only to the ultra-wealthy to acquire and finance for development. Now, startups like AcreTrader and others including Tillable, ($8.3 million) FarmTogether ($3.7 million), and Harvest Returns are bringing marketplace models to the farming world — potentially bringing hundreds of thousands of investable acres to financiers looking to diversify.
The $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund has a new chief executive and it’s Andrew Steer, the former head of the World Resources Institute — an organization that Bezos described as “working to alleviate poverty while protecting the natural world.”
As the head of the fund, Steer will be responsible for spending that money down by the end of 2030, according to a tweet from none other than Steer himself.
“The Earth Fund will invest in scientists, NGOs, activists, and the private sector to help drive new technologies, investments, policy change and behavior. We will emphasize social justice, as climate change disproportionately hurts poor and marginalized communities,” Steer wrote.
With a $100 million award from the first rounds of grants the Bezos Fund issued in November, the World Resources Institute was one of the largest recipients of Bezos’ largesse. Other big recipients from the first block of grants included the Environmental defense Fund, The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy and The World Wildlife Fund.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to join the Bezos Earth Fund as its CEO, where I will focus on driving systemic change to address the climate and nature crises, with a focus on people. Too many of the most creative initiatives suffer for a lack of finance, risk management or the right partnerships. This is where the Earth Fund will be helpful,” Steer said in a statement issued by the WRI.
While at the WRI, Steer oversaw its international expansion from an advocacy organization centered primarily in Washington to a global organization with offices in Indonesia, the UK and Colombia along with hubs in Ethiopia and the Netherlands. Steer also expanded the offices in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Mexico.
His tenure also involved creating coalitions and initiatives that changed the understanding around the economics of climate change, including the launch of a $10 million annual initiative to support the implementation of climate plans by 100 countries, according to a statement from the WRI.
“The $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund has the potential to be a transformative force for good at this decisive point in history. Andrew’s global reputation, deep technical knowledge and experience, and commitment to social justice make him a perfect leader for the fund,” said Christiana Figueres, co-founder of Global Optimism and former Executive Security of the UNFCCC.
Mercado Libre, one of the largest e-commerce and financial services company from Latin America by market cap, has selected the startup and Y Combinator alumni Pachama as its strategic partner in developing projects to restore ecosystems in Latin America.
The selection of Pachama is part of a program initiated by Mercado Libre, Latin America’s answer to Amazon, which is called Regenera America. The $8 million that Mercado Libre is investing will be in two reforestation projects: the “Mantiqueira Conservation Project”, organized under the auspices of The Nature Conservancy and the “Corridors of Live Project”, designed and implemented by the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas.
Both projects will focus on the reforestation of over three thosuand hectares, through natural regeneration and planting over 1 million trees, restoring biodiversity corridors and protecting hydrological basins in the Atlantic Forest region of Brazil, the two companies said in a statement.
Pachama will provide satellite and machine learning technologies to verify and monitor the carbon sequestration produced by the sweeping reforestation efforts in a deal which leapfrogs Mercado Libre ahead of Microsoft as the young startup’s largest customer.
Software tools provided by Pachama will also increase the efficiency and transparency of the actual reforestation efforts on the ground, the companies said in a joint statement.
The deal between the two companies, and Mercado Libre’s big buy was announced earlier today at a press conference in Argentina and the agreement marks the first time Mercado Libre has tapped money from a recently issued $400 million Sustainability Bond that was designed to finance projects of what the e-commerce giant called “triple impact” in the Latin American region. The bond was issued by JP Morgan and BNP Paribas.
“We’re taking our first steps. We have always tried to do things the hard way and go to the core of problems. We have had a very interesting debate internally about when is the right time to start buying carbon offsets and carbon credits but we also realize that the … getting up and running of projects that generate carbon credits in Latin America was potentially even more of a challenging situation and more of a longterm solution,” said Mercado Libre chief financial officer Pedro Arnt.
“This is a building block of a longer term strategy thinking through not just what we can do for the next two or three years,” Arnt said.
The Regenera America project has four pieces, Arnt said: measuring and reporting emissions internally for the company; buying clean energy for the company’s operations; providing electric vehicles for its own fleet and assisting its last mile and logistics partners in electrifying their own transportation; and the development of reforestation efforts across Latin America.
“This is setting up an example for more traditional industries across Latin America,” said Diego Saez-Gil, the co-founder and chief executive of Pachama. MercadoLibre is the largest company by market cap in Latin America and serves as a standard bearer for the forward thinking businesses in the region, he said. “Latin America is one of the biggest holders of biodiversity and carbon stocks in the world, and should be playing a more active role in climate mitigation.”
It’s a big step for Pachama as well. The deal marks the first time the young company has involved itself in project origination and provide a new revenue stream to compliment its existing lines of business.
“We are incredibly excited to start helping new reforestation projects get off the ground that have the capabilities to plant millions of trees and remove millions tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. If we are to solve climate change we need more projects like these to start as soon as possible,” said Saez-Gil in a statement. “We are confident that technologies such as AI and satellite imagery are key to scaling these efforts with high integrity, efficiency and transparency. Partnering with world-class organizations such as Mercado Libre, The Nature Conservancy and IPE for our first projects represents an incredible opportunity for us.”
Facing a climate crisis, environmental groups and industry agree to work together to bolster hydropower while reducing harm from dams.