Yasai is seeking to revolutionize agricultural practices from its Zurich base. Today, agriculture takes up 40 percent of the ice-free surface area of the world, uses 70 percent of all available drinking water and accounts for 30 percent of global CO2 emissions. These statistics were highlighted by Mark Zahran, co-founder and CEO of the Zurich-based start-up, during the digital event “Making the Zurich economy visible” organized by the Zurich Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
However, the concept of vertical farming – which essentially involves transferring agricultural practices to building-based settings – could reduce land use for the same production output by a factor of 15, while also cutting water consumption by 95 percent. It also requires the use of practically no pesticides. “In this way, vertical farming is even better than organic”, according to Zahran. Moreover, the vertical farming concept follows the circular economy principle.
Together with the agricultural cooperative Fenaco, Yasai – Japanese for vegetables – has already built a pilot system in Zurich. According to Zahran, the plan now is to establish a large-scale system covering 10,000 square meters. For this, investment of around 20 million Swiss francs is needed. To this end, the spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) is joining forces with the supermarket chain Coop to jointly develop a new system that will primarily be used to cultivate herbs.
And further large-scale projects are likely to follow, with Yasai having already scoped out suitable buildings in places such as La Sarraz, Zuchwil and Thayngen in the cantons of Vaud, Solothurn and Schaffhausen respectively. “Buildings on the outskirts of towns, but near to consumers are of particular interest from a business perspective”, Zahran commented. Proximity to the planned subterranean goods transportation system would also be appealing from a logistical point of view.
The production of agricultural goods in buildings is highly technical. Software is used to control aspects such as irrigation, light, fertilizer supply and room climate. Technology and production management are handled by Yasai, while partner companies are responsible for logistics.
And Switzerland represents only the first stage of this journey. This technology holds international appeal, both for drought-affected regions such as the Middle East and megacities like Tokyo, Zahran explains. Which is just as well, because Yasai is planning to secure global growth in the future as well.