‘Fund of Funds’: South Korea zeroes in on food system sustainability and digitalisation with US$70m scheme
Earlier this year, the East Asian nation already announced its overall food and agriculture business plan for 2021 with a focus on technology, food security and sustainability, and recently this was followed up with news of a mega-investment fund that can be seen to back this up.
According to the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), a total of KRW 80.5bn (US$70.3mn) will be invested as part of what it has dubbed the ‘Fund of Funds’, which is an overall ‘womb fund’ concept with funds that will be invested into multiple sub-funds, or ‘child funds’ in the food and agricultural sector.
“This agri-food fund is especially focused on new growth areas such as Green Bio and Smart Agriculture [and] is the result of [our] low-carbon, digital transition plans with an emphasis on this sector, which has been deemed a promising investment corresponding with post-COVID-19,” MAFRA stated via a formal statement.
“Of this funding, KRW52.7bn will come from the government and KRW27.8bn from the private sector. [The first funds] to be newly created will be the Green Bio Fund (KRW15bn / US$13.5mn) and the Smart Agriculture Fund (KRW15bn / US$13.5mn), which will both be used to invest in related companies [specialising in the relevant] technologies or capabilities.”
Under the Green Bio Fund, investment targets include firms in five major sectors that can contribute to a sustainable food system: microbiome, alternative and medifoods, seeds, veterinary medicine and other materials vital for advancing the food sector.
“Within the alternative and medifoods area, we will look at companies developing and producing alternative food sources such as plant-based products cultured meat; as well as medifoods which are foods customised for diseases and at [particular stages of] life cycles,” said the ministry.
“[Other food-related areas of focus here] will be companies working with different agricultural resources such as insects, mushrooms and other forestry products to create functional [or edible] ingredients.”
The Smart Agriculture Fund on the other hand will be focused on the use of technology to push towards carbon neutrality in the agricultural sector, which will include things like next-generation smart farming systems, robotics, AI and big data, as well as precision agriculture.
“Investments by each sub-fund will begin in the second half of 2021, and more sub-funds related to the food and agricultural industry will also be created within the year,” said MAFRA.
“In addition to individual sub-funds for different areas, we will also be creating customised funds targeting businesses at various growth stages throughout the industry [to ensure] a competitive business environment.”
‘Fund of Funds’ concept
The ministry added that the ‘Fund of Funds’ concept was created to promote healthy public-private joint ventures in the sector, with some private management companies selected to manage major funds.
“We have also formed the ‘Private-Public Joint Agri-food Fund Expert Consultative Group’ which has individual working groups for each sub-fund field comprising of experts from government, academia, investment associations and so on,” it said.
“So the ‘Fund of Funds’ will act as a ‘womb fund’ comprising the public government funds – this will be disseminated into the individual subsidiary funds where private funds will come into the picture to boost each sub-fund.
“The total [public and private] investment values for each sub-fund will then be invested into select food and agricultural businesses, and finally we will come to look at the returns of investment to be used for reinvestment.”