FEED Business Worldwide - December, 2011
BIOMIN's Asia Nutrition Forum 2011
by F.E. OLIMPO in Bangkok
Held in the Philippines, Thailand, India, China and Japan, BIOMIN's Asia Nutriton Forum 2011 seminars carried a serious and urgent message - a feed crisis is now at the world's doorstep.
One of the forum's speakers, Dr. David Farrell of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, described the root of the problem most succinctly. "Even today we are unable to feed our 7 billion people, let alone those additional 77 million arriving here each year."
Statistics bear him out. Of the world's 7 billion people, 850 million people are undernourished or chronically hungry. Only three months ago, a famine was officially declared in the Horn of Africa, where 12.4 million are reported starving. And this is just one of the world's hotspots. Food shortages are also happening â€“or about to happen - in other continents as well.
At the rate it is growing, world population will reach 9 billion by 2050. Unless current levels of food production is increased 100%, warned another speaker, Dr. Robert van Barneveld of Becan Consulting Group, Queensland, there is no way the world can "adequately provide for all." With the world's supply of arable land already almost fully used up, this entire increase must come from higher crop yields, which have been flattening out and trailing demand for two decades.
Obvously, increasing plant-food production by a 100% when arable land area is irreversibly shrinking is an impossible proposition. "Over half the world's population," noted Dr. Farrell, "lives in and around cities." But, he added, "airports, housing, highways, high-rise apartments, warehouses, golf courses, tennis courts are taking up millions of hectares of the most fertile [feed growing] land every year and there is little left that is sustainable."
And this is where the dilemma becomes more complicated. To increase livestock production, animals need food. Especially in "intensive pig and poultry production," much of this food has alternative uses in the human food chain. In effect, they compete with humans for an already scarce food resources, said Dr. van Barneveld.
The problem doesn't end there. With soaring population, the world needs more energy to light more homes, run more cars, operate more factories, etc. Consequently, fossil fuel has started to run out and man has turned to feed crops such as corn for its fuel needs. America, the world's largest corn exporter, now turns more into ethanol than into animal feed.
Short of calling it a travesty, Dr. Farrell questioned the logic of using "limited and valuable fertile land to grow biofuels." Yet that's happening now. He says "35% of the corn crop in the US goes to produce ethanol and significant arable land in the EU is being used to grow oilseeds where by 2020, 10% of all motor vehicles will run on biofuel."
And there are other factors that make the situation worse. "We rely heavily on water to grow crops," said Dr. Farrel, who is also author of a recently published book, Great Wealth, Poor Health: Contemporary Issues in Eating and Living. "This is becoming a scarce and unpredictable resource. Climate change is already having a devastating effect on weather patterns and driving the increase in ambient temperature. This is melting the glaciers on the Tibetan-Quinghai plateau and the snows in the Himalayas, upsetting the flow of water into the great rivers that depend on these sources. In India, China and the Mekong countries, water tables are dropping often by over a meter a year and aquifers are running dry."
In the Thailand edition of the Asia Nutrition Forum, held at the luxury Royal Cliff Beach Hotel in the resort city of Pattaya on Oct. 13, the theme of this BIOMIN-sponsored dialogue should have hit home, as many attendees came from high meat demand but feed scarce Southeast Asian countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand itself.
In fact, the Asia Nutrition Forum's theme of feed scarcity was especially relevant to Thailand at this time. At the time of this conference, nearby Bangkok was bracing for a huge flood, which had already inundated by several feet the entire ancient city of Ayutthaya and neighbouring provinces. The surrounding, fertile countryside was flooded far worse than Bangkok itself and would exacerbate shortfalls of feed crops such as corn, which would impact livestock production and exports.
Is there a solution, Dr. Farrel asked, to this "looming food crisis?" There is, he said, but this requires radical changes in the way livestock production and feeding are done. This involves, ironically, going back to age-old principles rather than principally relying on ultra-modern solutions such as genetically modified (GM) crops or transgenic animals, Dr. Farrel pointed out.
"In the past," Dr. van Barneveld said, "a key livestock attribute was to utilise feed resources that could not be consumed by humans and to act as a valuable store of high-quality protein and fat." Only excess grains were then fed to animals and this was only done in times of abundance to stabilise the crops' prices. He argued that "regardless of the level of vertical integration and the scale of the operation , a key factor in the profitability of livestock production systems from this day forward will be the capacity to utilise alternative nutrient and energy resources that do not compete as a human food."
Calling for reduced reliance on grains such as corn, wheat and barley, Dr. van Barneveld said alternative nutrient sources, such as algae and bacteria, should be explored. "Autotrophic, heterotrophic and mixotrophic algae, alone or in combination with bacteria, yeasts and fungi, need to be examined as livestock production co-products and potential nutrients."
Specific coarse grains, such as triticale, sorghum, peas and lupins are all right as feeds, provided they are grown on land not suited to human food crops, Dr. van Barneveld said. However, he expressed reservations about the sustainability of fishmeal and DDGS as feed sources. They "represent a false economy," he said, as "they are either depleting a finite resource or represent uses of nutrients that could have otherwise entered the human food chain in another form."
Barneveld was not, of course, entirely against the use of co-products such as oilseed meals, animal protein meals, and milling and refinery wastes, stating that they, "will continue to be important nutrient sources". Besides, they also "support the concept of 'default livestock' production whereby without animals as an end-user, the human food processing industries would be faced with significant disposal issues."
Dr. Farrel, for his part, sees "sustainable farming through better management of resources" such as water, arable land, fertilisers, soil organic matter and feed by-products as the "real solution" to the impending food and feed crisis. Farrell added that, "Smarter use of our irrigation water is needed," as than 50% of the water used on plants actually reaches their roots.
At a time when standard livestock feeds are composed of grains and animal matter like trash fish, bone meal, fat, shrimp peels, etc., Dr. Farrel suggests a switch back to traditional practices. "Ruminant animals were designed to utilise low-quality, fibrous feeds," he said, as he called for a return to pasture and grazing and the utilisation of cereal byproducts such as rice and wheat bran, copra meal, and even DDGS, among other things.
What is important, he emphasised, is that livestock animals should "not compete with man for quality protein or grain." And definitely, energy production shouldn't be competing against agribusiness for scarce resources. "Second generation biofuels, using solid state technology and fibrous waste products to produce ethanol from cellulose will temporarily ease the looming energy crisis but the final sustainable solution must be wind, solar power and geothermal energy."
Farrel concluded that, "It is clear that we must make the choice. Are we going to continue to use up our natural resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished? Our ecological footprint is a measure of the area of land needed to sustain an individual for his/her lifestyle. Our footprint now exceeds the earth's ability to replace those essential resources by 50%. There are very few countries that do not exceed this critical equilibrium point of 1.8 hectares per person."
For generations, he added, "we have been moving forward. Just ahead, we may have to slow down and take a few steps backwards if we are going to feed the future."
As the Asia Nutrition Forum criss-crossed Asia, Dr. Farrel and Dr. van Barneveld, and the other speakers took their message of looming feed scarcity to some of the world's largest, fastest growing and feed short markets in the world. These included forum events in China, the world's number one feed grains consumer, and India, the world's second most populous country, before winding up in Japan, which sustains its meat consumption by being the world's largest corn importer.
Will their warnings and suggestions be heeded - or just be taken as an oversimplification of a problem that no matter how serious and real still seem to belong to the distant future? This Forum made clear that feed shortages are no longer hypothetical problem but a present crisis firmly rooted in both our past and future. Only time will tell if we can respond to this global challenge but BIOMIN's Asia Nutrition Forum did its best to keep us abreast of both the situation and the latest innovative attempts to address this dilemma.
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