Investing in life vs. investing in tech: Nature is all we need!

By Laura Ortiz Montemayor

Laura Ortiz Montemayor
7 min readApr 4, 2024

“We need to invest in life, rather than expensive infrastructure investments,” Anne van Leuween, a founding farmer from the European Alliance for Regenerative Agriculture, pleaded from the mic during the Regenerative Food Systems Investment Summit in Brussels last February. “We should focus on soil, compost, seeds, animals, and people.”

I endured Brussel’s freezing weather (and missed out on the magical Latin American Impact Investing Forum FLII) in order to learn from regenerative agricultural investors at the wonderful Regenerative Food Systems Investment Summit.

Why? Because I believe agriculture and food systems are not sectors. Rather they are everyone’s life-axis and are at the core of our economic system’s relationship with people, social justice and ecosystems.

The last three ag-tech deals that I’ve witnessed from Latin America left me feeling very uncomfortable. On opening the website of one of these “impact” deals you encounter an agrochemical catalogue from 2 main corporate brands. These deals are being marketed under the pretense of “impact investing,” while serving big banks or big corporate interests, selling more toxic agrochemicals and perpetuating degenerative outcomes for both biodiversity and small holder farmers. They are increasingly indebting farmers, increasing corporate control and accumulating massive amounts of land in the hands of the few.

For anyone that thinks that agriculture equals impact, there’s a more nuanced and accurate perspective. The relationship between the two can be managed in several ways:

Extractively, by exploiting natural and social capital, concentrating power, working against biodiversity.

Sustainably, by neutralizing damages, aiming for “less harm”; or,

Regeneratively, by being context-specific, following the flow of living systems, restoring ecosystems, enabling biodiversity to thrive, building partnerships, enabling local leaderships, and centering social justice and wealth creation and distribution for all stakeholders involved.

(here’s a more nuanced version of the Regenerative Agriculture Continuum, by Ethan Soloviev).

In the pursuit of impact investing, it is crucial to distinguish between extractive, sustainable, and regenerative approaches to agriculture.

Sacrifice zones

While ag-tech may offer efficiency gains, it often neglects the cultural and ecological dimensions of farming favoring corporate interests over the well-being of smallholder farmers and the environment. True impact lies in regenerative practices that restore ecosystems, promote biodiversity, and empower local communities.

Tech-centricity. The omnipresent cognitive dissonance imperative in climate-tech and ag-tech investment narratives: “Tech got us into this mess — industrialization, ecocide, overproduction, overconsumption, plastic pollution, digitalizing usury, planned obsolescence, processed food, weapons of mass destruction, discardable stuff, poisoning our food, water and air, endless resource extraction and mining — and tech will save us!”

This paradigm comes from the anthropocentric domination dynamic of humans wanting to prove we can somehow “outsmart nature.” An example: “This human-lab-made protein is better than nature’s and will save us from the climate crisis.”

Techno-optimism. This attitude dominates the climate finance global party. Rainforests and their stewards remain substantially undervalued against the salary of any chief technology officer. Don’t get me wrong, we are not against tech itself but it is fundamentally different to be tech-enabled than tech-centric. Tech should be a temporary means and never an end in itself.

Rarely, if ever, are planetary boundaries or the biosphere’s limits to technological growth acknowledged. The contradiction of needing ever more gadgets and minerals for so-called “climate-tech- solutions” is one of the biggest blindspots.

Our current economic system has already transgressed six out of nine planetary boundaries. We are reaching all of the biosphere’s limits.

Material and thus mineral degrowth is not an option. Rather it is a fact we must act on to transform our economic systems and its underlying paradigms. This shift should reframe radically our increasing appetite/addiction to tech-gadgets.

Emerging climate technologies require increasing amounts of mining rare metals. Regions of the global South which have become the defacto “sacrifice zones,” like the Democratic Republic of Congo that is powering tech’s cobalt addiction, but there are many more througout the planet.

Carbon Footprint of Mining by // Mining is an extractive activity to both social and natural capitals needed in increasing amounts due to the energy transition and the tech industry.

Regenerative management

We need a paradigm shift towards ecological intelligence — EI — over artificial intelligence, or AI.

The debate surrounding climate-tech and ag-tech investments revolves around the tension between efficiency-driven technological solutions and the more nuanced, context-specific approaches that prioritize ecological and social well-being.

Ag-tech promises to revolutionize agriculture through data-driven precision. But it often comes at the expense of affordability and cultural and ecological integrity, by treating farms as machines in need of optimization, standardization and farmers as disposable.

True impact in the agricultural sector lies not in furthering corporate control and perpetuating unsustainable and expensive practices but in embracing regenerative approaches that prioritize the well-being of smallholder farmers, who represent roughly 80% of global food supply, along with social justice and the ecological resilience of landscapes.

This entails shifting the focus from capital-intensive investments in high-tech solutions to investments in the fundamental elements that make ecosystems thrive and people come alive. The good news is that while improving social and environmental impact, regenerative agriculture has proven to be very profitable as well when managed well in many geographies. According to BCG’s latest report based on global north data (U.S. + Germany) “once farmers reach a relatively steady state of regenerative practices, data indicates a positive long-term business case for farmers, resulting in between 70% and 120% higher profitability and a return on investment of 15% to 25% over 10 years.” We’ve also seen this profitability potential in cases in Mexico, Ecuador, East Africa, and Argentina, in fact in SVX we have been part of a partnership called NAR for mapping Latin American Regenerative food businesses in this Website with Fundación Avina funded by IDRC:

Too many impact investors are funneling investments into planet-consuming tech. It’s time to challenge the pervasive belief in technology as the ultimate savior, acknowledging its role in environmental degradation. The path to prosperity lies not in artificial constructs but in co-creating ecologically with living systems wisdom.

Let’s not overlook the perfect climate technology already available to us: nature itself. The synergy of natural systems, from photosynthesis to ecosystem dynamics, offers unparalleled and real solutions. Yet, investment valuations often fail to recognize the inherent value of natural capital, prioritizing venture capital profit over genuine impact.

It’s time to reassess our investment priorities. Instead of pouring funds into tech-driven ventures, we must allocate resources to nature and communities stewarding ecosystems. True impact lies in regenerative practices that restore ecosystems, promote biodiversity, and empower local communities.

Let’s break free from the techno-optimism that dominates the investment landscape, recognize the limits of technological growth and acknowledge the environmental costs of our tech addiction. Impact investing should not be about efficient short sighted symptomatic solutions; but rather about cultural and ecological, systemic transformations to achieve long lasting collective abundance.

Embracing nature’s potential for abundance

Embracing this alternative vision requires navigating a myriad of challenges and complexities. There is a risk of inadvertently perpetuating neo-colonial conservation schemes that prioritize global-north/ Western ideals over indigenous wisdom and local needs. Moreover, the concentration of land ownership in the name of sustainability threatens to exacerbate existing inequalities and undermine the very communities sustainable finance should aim to support.

This year (2024) could mark a turning point where natural capital becomes a mainstream asset class, signaling a shift towards more holistic investment strategies.

Some of the investors and funds that are really practicing this nature-based approach include Eco Enterprises Fund, Ceniarth, Reciprocity Fund, Mad Agriculture’s Perennial Fund, CI Ventures, URAPI, The Nest, Grounded Investment Company, Althelia (bought by Mirova), and more.

We are learning from them to build the Regenera Ventures Fund by SVX Mexico to invest in the rural transition towards regenerative management. Regenera Ventures Fund emerged from Sustainable Landscapes Ventures, a partnership funded by USAID, and implemented by Conservation International in alliance with other strategic partners for technical assistance like Minkadev and El Buen Socio.

Let’s manifest the words of Vandana Shiva, the founder of Navdanya, a movement for biodiversity conservation and farmers’ rights in India. “The primary threat to nature and people today comes from centralizing and monopolizing power and control. Not until diversity is made the logic of production will there be a chance for sustainability, justice and peace.

“Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times: it is a survival imperative.”

Join us in the Regenerative investors Webinar: Invitation to our webinar presenting Sustainable Landscapes Ventures Blended Finance Results & Regenera Ventures Fund on Friday, April 19th at 9:30 a.m. Mexico Time. Register here.

This post was originally posted in Impact Alpha:

Laura Ortiz Montemayor is a mompreneur, founder & Chief Purpose Officer in SVX MX and Managing Partner for Regenera Ventures Fund. Her life mission is ensuring that capital serves life, instead of governing it. She is also a lifelong student of ecofeminism, biodiversity regeneration and living systems thinking. Her paradigms have been transformed and deeply influenced by: Vandana Shiva, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Maria Sabina, Lyla June, Wendell Berry, John Fullerton, Jed Emerson, Morgan Simon, Donella Meadows, Eduard Müller, Yayo Herrero, Jason Hickel, Kate Raworth, Carol Sanford, Alnoor Ladha, Tom Chi, Melina Angel, Bill Baue, Joana Macy, Eduardo Galeano, among many others.



Laura Ortiz Montemayor

My mission is to ensure capital serves life. Impact investment advocate in Mx and systems entrepreneur founder of working for a Regenerative Economy.