AIM for Climate Summit looks to stoke the public-private fire

Led by the US and the UAE, the summit tries to promote agtech investment and public-private collaboration, but fitting the ‘puzzle pieces’ together is a work in progress.

Denizens of the agricultural conference circuit are feeling at home in Washington DC this week, as roughly 1,000 delegates gather at the Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate, spearheaded by the US and the UAE.

The three-day (8-10 May) event includes breakouts on familiar topics such as soil quality, alternative protein and methane emissions, as well as site tours to local farms and research centers.

Keynoted by the US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, UAE Minister for Climate and Environment Mariam Almheiri and former US vice-president Al Gore, the summit seeks to help raise agriculture’s profile within the climate dialogue ahead of the COP 28 meeting in Dubai later this year. AIM for Climate launched at COP 26 in 2016 and tallies increases in investment into innovative agriculture from a 2020 baseline among a group of 500 partners that includes national governments, investors and ag-related research and non-profit firms.

On Monday, organizers highlighted their success in catalyzing $10 billion in government support and $3 billion from the private sector.  The private sector’s contribution has been organized through 51 ‘innovation sprints’ that offer a framework for targeted investment and group efforts into subsectors including carbon finance and sequestration, precision breeding and sustainable beef. Participants include Rabobank, The Nature Conservancy and consumer brands-focused L Catterton, as well as private capital-backed companies including Aleph Farms, Inari, Pivot Bio and others.

“The idea is that you have to accelerate, rapidly, the implementation and the discovery of these initiatives,” Vilsack told Agri Investor. “If the private sector is investing for it, we invest. We jointly invest. The faster we can get these technologies developed and implemented, the better off we collectively are going to be. This is not a competitive thing. This is basically a collaboration, and complementary.”

The language of “investment” and “partnership”, familiar to those in and around private markets permeated the AIM for Climate summit, but the role envisioned for investment firms already active in agricultural technology remains unclear. Private capital’s voice was relatively quiet across the summit’s conversations focused on new public-private-partnerships in ag.

Indeed, USDA AIM for Climate lead Jaime Adams told Agri Investor the initiative is not seeing the amount of participation it would like from investors and the summit’s call to action was motivated in part by a desire for more venture capital, debt and family office investment in support of innovative agtech. She said although AIM for Climate was never intended as a funding mechanism, it does try to motivate political will for more investments in innovative agtech.

“It’s almost as if we are starting to map a giant puzzle, but we don’t know what the puzzle looks like and we’re trying to get the puzzle pieces closer together to connecting,” said Adams. “That’s what we are trying to do with the innovation sprints, where there is a potential harmony between them if they only knew what each other was working on.”

UAE Minister for Climate and Environment Almheiri told Agri Investor that commitments to closed-end funds are included within UAE’s AIM for Climate pledge. Adams said the US government contribution will come in the form of $1.5 billion over five years supporting research and an effort by USDA to find new synergies among the growing number of organizations interested in joining.

“We can’t necessarily say if there will or will not be some funds that would eventually be made available through some mechanism. The opportunity is always there,” she added. “Every government’s budget process is different.”

Though plans call for the bulk of the US government AIM for Climate funding to come as support for research and de-risking finance, the summit also included reference to new forms of public-private partnership made possible by the recent Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Whether the initiative becomes a vehicle for new forms of government-backed agricultural investment remains to be seen, but it has solidly signaled a high-level government commitment to the sector’s broader ecosystem that will inevitably shape the space for private capital.