Bill Gates’ climate fund joins Temasek and venture builder to launch agritech startup

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BREAKTHROUGH Energy Ventures, founded by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, is teaming up with South-east Asian venture builder Wavemaker Impact, Singapore state investor Temasek, and Temasek subsidiary GenZero to help decarbonise rice cultivation.

The firms intend to build a startup to identify strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in rice cultivation. This includes economic incentives to drive the adoption of sustainable cultivation techniques, they said in a statement on Wednesday (Oct 26).

Rice cultivation is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in agrifood due to methane-emitting bacteria generated from flooded rice paddy fields. It has been estimated to account for up to 33 per cent of South-east Asia's methane emissions.

"90 per cent of rice is cultivated and consumed in Asia, so this is a climate challenge that needs an Asian solution," said Steve Melhuish, one of Wavemaker Impact's founding partners.

Wavemaker Impact, which builds sustainability startups with entrepreneurs, was launched last October by deep-tech investor Wavemaker Partners. Its founding team comprises individuals who have invested in and helped build over 35 sustainability startups.

Carmichael Roberts, an investor from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, noted the fragmented nature of rice cultivation that has led to the lack of innovation in solutions to reduce emissions. In Asia, the livelihoods of 400 million people on 144 million smallholder farms depend on rice. The average farm size ranges from 0.5 to 2 hectares.

The adoption of practices to reduce emissions and increase yield has been slow due to entrenched farming practices, lack of access to high-quality inputs and incentives, as well as infrastructure challenges.

"We see the urgent need to create innovative, scalable solutions that have a sustainable model of incentives to ensure adoption," said Roberts.

Carbon financing could be a means to incentivise adoption of green solutions while improving farmers' income. "The voluntary carbon market has grown tremendously in recent years and quadrupled traded value to nearly US$2 billion in 2021, compared to just US$520 million in 2020. We look forward to supporting further growth of the agriculture carbon market, which today comprises just 1 per cent of total carbon credits issued," said Frederick Teo, CEO of GenZero.

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