THE era of affluence is over, and the age of scarcity has begun, Erich Erber, chair and founder of BIOMIN, said in opening the company's recent American Nutrition Forum in San Antonio, Texas.
Erber pointed to Dr. Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution starting in the 1960s as well as the Philippine Rice Research Center's work with improved rice yields as the start of the age of affluence, when the general food price trend declined until 1999.
Erber noted that 1999 was the end of the decade in which 1 billion people were added to the global population. It was also the year the 1933 Glass Steagall Act, originally enacted to control market speculation, was dismantled, which allowed banks to bet on their own financial performance. These events altered global economics and food policy, he said.
As the world economizes food production, Erber noted a few actions agriculture can take, including: (1) increasing vertical integration to control processes in which farms will follow raw materials, (2) innovating to add revenue such as from biogas and algae and (3) using artificial intelligence and robotics to expand in agriculture.
In order to feed 9 billion people while maintaining global biodiversity, Dr. Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund told the forum that stakeholders must create awareness that is science based while acknowledging that everyone interprets science differently, and then consensus must be built across industries/sectors.
Clay explained that it isn't just population growth that is a concern but also increasing incomes globally that will double consumption. Because of this, he said businesses must review their operating plans every 8-10 months instead of every three to five years.
He noted that roughly 100 countries with about 60% of the global population grew their gross domestic product more than 5% during the recent recession, which really affected only Europe and the U.S.
Specific to food production, Clay said more needs to be produced from less — instead of maximizing one variable, several must be optimized — and intensification is key. The real question is which production system(s) is best to double productivity. To determine this, he reiterated the axiom that "you manage what you can measure," so what do you measure?
Clay also asked, on a finite planet, should consumers have a choice to purchase sustainably produced products, or should all products be sustainably produced?
He noted that one out of every three food calories are wasted, so genetics cannot be taken off the table; the question becomes which genetics to use.
The agriculture industries need to figure out how to put more nutrients in certain productive crops — such as bananas — instead of simply producing more of certain crops such as corn, Clay said.
Also speaking about the intensification of agriculture at the forum, Dr. Frank Mitloehner of the University of California-Davis pointed out that while environmentalists are discussing intensification more, that message is not getting through to the general public.
Mitloehner added that there is a direct inverse relationship between productivity and environmental footprint, but that message is also not being communicated to the public or to policy-makers.
Mitloehner explained that management of reproduction and production efficiencies is likely the best tool to reduce animal agriculture's environmental footprint. While intensifying production reduces the environmental impact of that production, Mitloehner said high production practices are controversial.
He suggested that developed countries focus on waste management to reduce the environmental impact of livestock but said emerging countries should focus on improving livestock efficiencies. There are large opportunities to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of livestock, he said.
Mitloehner pointed out that the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization is now discussing production intensification as a key to environmental mitigation, but he noted that removing proven technologies is the greatest threat.