Today, the earth is home to more than seven billion people. And as the number continues to soar, it is estimated by the World Resources Institute that the world population could reach a whopping 10 billion by 2050. This means we will have 40% more people to feed. So, can we meet this growing demand? More specifically, can we satiate this burgeoning need without putting enormous pressure on the world’s existing resources and causing environmental damage?
This is not an easy row to hoe. But some visionary entrepreneurs are taking the plunge to tackle this challenge through their unique insights and approach. Staying at the forefront of reducing food loss and waste, they are increasing crop yields with innovative ways and implementing sustainable farming practices across the globe. One such influential entrepreneur duo that has turned their passion for farming into a tool to address the challenges of the global food industry and enhance farming efficiencies with a holistic approach and initiative is Anders Haagen and Christian Eyde Moeller.
Haagen had a passion for integrating natural processes in agriculture since the beginning. So, he left banking in 2012 to dabble in integrated farming models. Sharing a similar passion for sustainable farming, Moeller ventured into the agriculture industry after successfully setting up many businesses in Asia and Europe. He is deeply fascinated by working with people, putting all the pieces together, seeing it take form, and engaging all the stakeholders to make it happen. So, it’s the common vision of inspiring change in the agricultural world that brought these old friends together to found Lionheart Agrotech Limited, a Hong Kong-based agricultural company.
The Fruitful Beginning of Lionheart
It all started when the entrepreneur duo arrived on a seemingly deserted island in Rizal in southeastern Palawan, responding to an invitation from the Philippine government to help develop land for coconut farming. But, it was all dirt roads in a radius of one hundred kilometers around the farms with no electricity, no telecommunications, and so forth. This made them think—while the demand for coconut products is strong and expanding globally, why the coconut farmers are still poor? The indigenous community in Palawan had land but it was not cultivated. So, the agripreneur duo decided to create an opportunity for the local community to improve their livelihood. Their goal was to build a socially and environmentally responsible business. So, adhering to the “more with less” philosophy, they decided to harvest hybrid coconut which produces three times more nuts than the ordinary kind with less water, less land, and less carbon footprints. And thus, Lionheart was born. Today, Lionheart is harvesting enough nutrients to feed 400 people per hectare while offering a disproportionately high ratio of employment per hectare to the local community.
Harvesting the Energy of the Coconut Flower
Combining the best sustainable farming practices and state-of-the-art processing, Lionheart delivers healthy, traceable, and single-source coconut products starting from traditional coconut sugar to nectar and savory coconut amino seasoning or vinegar to the market ensuring the highest levels of food security. The fresh sap harvested from the coconut flower which is full of energy and nutrients is the foundation of the products at Lionheart.
“Harvesting the sap from photosynthesis before it forms a coconut increases the harvest efficiency by a factor four compared to traditional coconut harvest because the photosynthetic building blocks are not needed for the husk, stem, shell, etc that are usually discarded in the traditional model. Lionheart thus manages to harvest and sell more than 50% of the tree’s photosynthetic output which is higher than most other crops,” elucidates Haagen.
Residing on Three Key Pillars: People, Planet and Profit
Lionheart focuses on three key aspects: people, planet, and profit. When it comes to people, the role it played in lifting the indigenous people of Palawan out of poverty is commendable.
When they arrived, the official poverty incidence was 65% among the tribal community. It is now below 20% and continues to go down. “While there was resistance initially – there were logging and wildlife poaching actors who put up a big fight to block the project – we are immensely proud that 99% of the host community voted in support of the project in the latest Free and Prior Informed Consent survey conducted in 2019 by the National Committee for the Indigenous People,” opines Haagen.
Focusing on the environmental, or planet pillar, it has planted in less than 20% of the area it signed up for, and most of the landscape is intact. Its lease contract also dictates populating the areas with native trees and plants, and it maintains a large botanical garden to supply ingredients to its organic planting protocol, such as neem and chili (for organic insecticide). Moreover, its cover crop is kudzu or wild peanut which fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere and reduces evaporation of rainwater. Also, as a coconut tree removes and stores almost 500 kg of CO2 annually at its peak, the farm will be able to offset all of Palawan’s power-related emissions. Finally, the firm has the greatest respect for capital. It believes no project is scalable if it doesn’t deliver superior risk-weighted returns to its financial stakeholders. And a vertically integrated coconut farm with a focus on coconut sap products more than satisfies that hurdle.
Enlightening Future Entrepreneurs
According to Moeller, a lot of opportunities are there especially in tropical countries to significantly improve productivity as consumers worldwide will continue to demand more and better food. However, looking at the challenges that the smallest independent farmers have to face in countries like the Philippines, only a few will want to be a farmer in generations to follow. Thus, he believes that it is more critical than ever to educate young people and encourage them to bring new skills to agriculture to create a bright future of farming. He advises budding entrepreneurs to focus on value creation, embrace technology, and recognize that people working together with complementary skill sets are often required to address specific challenges. But above all, to survive as an entrepreneur, he urges them to live with a purpose. “You must live with purpose and transcend this to others to bring them along as ultimately, we can only do relatively few things alone or you simply burn out as great perseverance is always needed,” asserts Moeller.
Chalking the Growth Ahead
Today, Lionheart has come a long way since its inception, navigating several challenges not least the pandemic. Now, it aspires to further expand its footprint while staying true to its principles of delivering the best product. “We are firm believers in the vertical integration model, but we are also mindful of the time it takes from planning, through planting, to harvest and sales and patient capital is scarce in the fast markets we experience in these years, so from a practical perspective we will probably expand by taking over management of existing coconut plantations to shorten the time to return for investors,” states Haagen.
Besides expansion, the company also has several key strategic initiatives in its pipeline. In fact, looking ahead, Moeller feels their work is not done yet and there is a lot to do. But meanwhile, he also dreams of sitting quietly under the coconut palms seeing the next generation taking over the reins. “Every day when I am out in the community, then I see so many young people dream of a better future, so hopefully we can have their trust and be here to guide them,” concludes Moeller.