The Great Unseen Land Grab

Interesting article from The Economist on how some countries are already organizing and securing their food supplies for the future. Major political-economic chess game in the running.

Buying farmland abroad – Outsourcing’s third wave

It connects quite well with my previous article about Jim Rogers buying land in Canada and Brazil.

And it also connects well with the move made by the Canadian investment firm Sprott Asset Management to secure a land lease of a million acres in partnership with First Nations on the Canadian prairies to grow crops as an investment in agricultural commodities.

Mergers in agribusiness are building strategic economic blocks of tomorrow

Only yesterday, two major mergers took place in the agribusiness world.
In Brazil, Sadia and Perdigao will now form the world’s largest poultry producer, as the new company is larger than Tyson Foods. That is not nothing.
In Canada, Viterra, formerly Saskatchewan Wheat Pool is acquiring the Australian ABB Grain.
As there is a growing awareness that agricultural commodities will play an increasing economic role, we certainly can expect more of such mergers & acquisitions.
With larger and more powerful players in the agribusiness, we will see a lot of strategic realignment and shift to gain more control in teh food production chains.
This will not only have an impact at corporate levels as well among suppliers as among the distribution and the retail, but this will also reshape the world map of the politics of food.

We saw two possible strategies here, although of course not new. One is the creation of a national giant in an emerging country with great ambitions as a major economic player in general and in agriculture in particular. The other is a multinational player specialized in their own specific industry, but now active in two very critical production areas.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Jim Rogers Buys Land, Starts Farming in Brazil and Canada

From CNBC, March 3, 2009
See full article and video on http://www.cnbc.com/id/29477080

Commodities are still the best play for the long term, legendary investor Jim Rogers told CNBC, confessing that he has been buying farmland himself.
“We’re still going to eat, probably; we’re still going to wear clothes, probably. Farmers cannot get loans for fertilizers right now. So the supplies of everything are going to continue to be under pressure,” Rogers said.
He is the director of two funds which are buying greenfield land in Brazil and existing farms in Canada and starting to farm it. The funds are clearing the land, fertilizing it, irrigating it and hiring farmers and, Rogers said, some day will probably sell the land but that is a remote prospect.
“If I’m right, agriculture is going to be one of the greatest industries in the next 20 years, 30 years.
“Food inventories are at their lowest in 50 years, Rogers said, while the oil and mining sectors are also good bets.
“Even if demand goes flat or down, as it did in the 30s, as it did in the 70s, you can still have a nice market,” he told CNBC.Despite the recent rally, gold is still a good opportunity if investors choose the right time and way to get in, according to Rogers.
“I own some gold, of course I own some gold. If gold goes down, I’ll buy more,” he said. “The IMF is trying to sell their gold and if they do then they’ll drive the price of gold down a lot. If they do … that’ll be the last opportunity to buy gold in a long, long time.”
“You can buy coins, you can buy the real stuff, you can buy ETFs and ETNs on the exchanges, you can buy mining companies if you know what you’re doing…,” he added.
Earlier this year, Rogers said he liked the Swiss franc and the yen but gave up the Swiss currency. “I stopped buying the Swiss franc when the Swiss (central) bank bailed out UBS. I still hold the yen.”
Asked whether the current collapse in commodities prices worries him, he said: “You’re supposed to buy when they’re collapsing. I expect to own commodities for years, for a long time.”

Eating “Green”: Let’s Get The Facts Right Before We Nosh

Here is an article (http://www.cnbc.com/id/27828087) found on CNBC.com that challenges the claim that eating locally grown food is more environmental. True or false? Controversial? Up to you to decide.

Eating “Green”: Let’s Get The Facts Right Before We Nosh
Posted By:Cliff Mason November 21 2008
Many environmental activists claim that you can do your part to help fight global warming by eating locally grown foods. Sadly, that’s a myth, albeit one that environmentally conscious millennials, eager to reduce their carbon footprints, vigorously cling to.
My generation really cares about climate change, so the least we can do is get the facts right. The whole “eat local” movement is based on the logic that transporting food over longer distances results in greater carbon dioxide emissions. That’s undeniable, but it really doesn’t mean much by itself.
First off, how much more carbon intensive is it to buy food from the next continent over rather than the next county? Not all that much. In a Reason article called “The Food Miles Mistake,” Ronald Bailey lays out some of the facts about carbon emissions caused by the production and transportation of food.
As it turns out, a study done in the United Kingdom found that consumer shopping trips generated 39.38% of food miles, the distance food travels from the farm to your plate. Since the United States is a much more automobile friendly country than Great Britain, I’d imagine that the percentage is even higher here. The same study found that air freight, loathed by local food activists, accounted for less than 1% of food miles.
Think about those numbers. People driving to their local grocery store make up 40 times more food miles than airplanes shipping food from halfway across the world. The carbon emissions from your car when you go to shop for local foods are way more damaging to the environment than the jet fuel that gets burned shipping that food.
So eating local doesn’t really cut down on the aggregate distance food has to travel to get to our dinner table by a significant margin at all. Better to take a bicycle when you go shopping than to buy local.
Eating local can actually do more damage in terms of global warming than eating foreign. Depending on where you live, local foods may generate far more carbon emissions than foods grown far away. Why? Because transportation isn’t everything.
Here’s an interesting fact from Bailey: “In the United States, a 2007 analysis found that transporting food from producers to retailers accounted for only 4 percent of greenhouse emissions related to food.” Where do the rest of the emissions come from? Growing the food, and you driving to the store to pick it up.
Food production is an energy intensive activity. If your local fruits and vegetables were grown in a greenhouse or hydroponically, that uses a whole lot more energy and releases a whole lot more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than growing them out in the sun somewhere tropical. In that case, NOT eating local is the green thing to do.
If you live in a temperate climate and you buy local foods that can be produced with far less energy in a tropical or sub-tropical climate, you’re actually doing your part to make the globe just a wee bit warmer. If you really want to reduce your carbon footprint, don’t buy local, buy tropical.
Questions? Comments? Send them to millennialmoney@cnbc.com

Study: Organic food not more nutritional

Story Highlights:
* New study finds organic foods are not necessarily more nutritious
* The organics market in U.S. to exceed $25 billion in sales this year
* Organic farming is becoming more popular in countries like India

Here is the link to the CNN article: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/08/19/organic.cooking.pv/i…

London (CNN) — If you’ve ever found yourself in your local supermarket agonizing about whether the organic apples will be a more nutritional and greener choice than the cheaper non-organic ones, you’re probably not alone.
A new study reveals organic foods are not necessarily healthier than non-organic food1 of 2 Year on year the organic food market grows as consumers look to make a greener and — often thought — more nutritional choice. A report by the UK’s Soil Association revealed that consumers there spent a record $3.7 billion on organic products in 2006, that’s more than 20 percent growth on 2005 spending on organic goods including food, drinks and health and beauty products.
It’s a similar story in the U.S. where — according to the Organic Trade Association — supermarket chains like Whole Foods have helped the organic food and beverage market grow from around $1 billion in sales in 1990 to around $20 billion in 2007. Total sales for organic food and non-food products in the U.S. are expected to surpass $25 billion this year.
However, one possible spanner in the works for the organic sector could be the results of a new study by the University of Copenhagen which revealed that organic foods contained no more nutrients than non-organic foods grown with the use of pesticides.Researchers studied five different crops — carrots, kale, mature peas, apples and potatoes — which were cultivated both organically (without pesticides) and conventionally (with the use of pesticides) and found that there was no higher level of trace elements in the food grown organically.
Study leader Dr Susanne Bügel said: “No systematic differences between cultivation systems representing organic and conventional production methods were found across the five crops so the study does not support the belief that organically grown foodstuffs generally contain more major and trace elements than conventionally grown foodstuffs.
“This study — published in the latest edition of the Society of Chemical Industry’s (SCI) “Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture” — is the first to assess the nutritional value of organic fruit and vegetables. It should be noted that the study does not make conclusions about the comparative levels of pesticides or chemicals in conventionally and organically grown food or the health effects of consuming such chemicals.
The study results could be seen to support the idea that shopping organically is a lifestyle choice.
When the idea of organics being a lifestyle choice was floated in 2007 by then UK environment secretary David Miliband it drew fierce reaction from proponents of organic food, including the Soil Association, which represents organic producers.He told the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper in January 2007 that organic food represented a lifestyle choice consumers could make and suggested that the use of chemicals and pesticides in non-organic foods didn’t necessarily mean they were of inferior quality.So if organic foods aren’t necessarily more nutritional, are they better for the environment?According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, traditional agriculture accounts for around 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, and the nitrous oxide found in fertilizers contributes most to these emissions.
Even still, in 2006 the UK’s Manchester Business School assessed the environmental impacts of food production and consumption and concluded that there isn’t a clear cut answer to whether the environmental impact is greater on a trolley full of organic food compared to a trolley full of non-organic food.
Not so, was the response from the Soil Association. Do you believe organic food is more nutritional?
It countered that: “Overall, organic farming is better for tackling climate change than industrial agricultural methods. As well as lower average energy use, organic farming also avoids the very large nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer manufacture.”
“Additionally, organic farming builds up soil carbon, removing it from the atmosphere. Organic farming also supports more local food marketing, reducing food miles.”
While the jury might still be out about whether organic farming is, on the whole, better for the environment, there is little doubt that it’s a booming industry which is starting to catch on in other parts of the world.
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that organic farming now accounts for around 4.1 million hectares in Asian countries like India, China and Russia.
In India where the Green Revolution in the 1940s helped transform it into an agricultural hub, organic farming is slowly expanding in specialist areas like tea and spices. Perhaps an indication of the potential of the organics market there is that the Prince of Wales is looking to expand his organic food business to the sub-continent by the end of 2008.
With a mandate of sustainability, The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) in India developed an organic farm in the small village of Supi in Uttarakhand in 2002. Here, local farmers are given the know-how and technical skills to develop their own organic enterprises.
“Local farmers are involved in cultivating oregano, parsley, thyme, peppermint, rosemary, rose geranium, artimisia, stevia, lemon grass, and several other herbal and medicinal plants,” TERI’s Madhu Singh Sirohi told CNN.
The herbs are commercially available to hotels and restaurants in the area and Hilton Hotel executive chef Kuntal Kumar was so impressed with the quality, he’s authored an organic cookbook which makes use of the herbs.
Chef Kumar told CNN that organic fruit and vegetables only make up around 14,000 tons of the two million tons of food produced by India’s agricultural industry, but that measures like the “Original Organics Cookbook” would help with wider awareness.
“Our approach is two pronged; firstly we are trying to build awareness about organic farming which is in its infancy in India and secondly we are trying to build awareness within the culinary industry in India.”
Kumar is sold on the superior taste, color and texture of the organic foods he uses in his kitchen, and he says the response from diners has been overwhelming.
“The response has been very positive; they are overwhelmed that we are going so close to nature and that their food is fresh from the farmland to the table.”
With increased consumer awareness perhaps it won’t be long before the choice between the organic and non-organic apples will be played out in markets across India

Food production and environmentalists: time to co-operate

Food is loaded with emotional symbolism. Therefore, this is no wonder that agribusiness industry and environmentalists regularly have conflicts.

After my graduation, I remember reading a book on such matters, which had as introduction about half a page of complaining about how low the quality of bread had gone. The funny part was that the complaint had been found on some ancient Egypt papyrus document!
The agribusiness, being a business, is about making money. As such, this is not shocking since this is what business is about. Of course, this is acceptable as long as this is does not imperil us, and this is, in my opinion, where environmentalists play a very important role. They balance the power and challenge what the food industry does. This is very useful, as it stimulates thinking about what we do, and it can help stopping us from making mistakes. The problem is when this debate slides into the dogmatic and doctrinal sphere. Then, this is no more about the general interest, but about partisan interests only. The debate shifts from the moral to the political.

On the one hand, we have aggressive opponents to the industry, unfortunately too often supported by the media, because sensation is good for ratings. On the other hand, we have the industry that tends to react too rigidly and too defensively, as they resist change very often because of short-term production costs increase, while on the long term they actually delay the possibility of securing their business. Moreover, they spend a lot of money for lobbying purposes, which could be invested in the systems of the future.

Clearly, neither approach benefits the general interest. The sad thing is that both sides always claim to possess the absolute science to demonstrate their points of view. The main result is that the public opinion is confused, which is normal, since unless you are a specialist of these matters, there is no way of knowing who tells the truth. Once, I was attending a conference organized by Marks & Spencer on public perception of animal husbandry and animal production practices. The master of conference then said one very relevant thing: the main source of scientific knowledge for the public over there was The Sun (very popular British tabloid), not Scientific American!

I believe that most has been said in the debate between the food industry and the environmentalists. They rarely say anything new, just the same old things being repeated over and over again.

Not everything is perfect in the agribusiness, as it is work in progress; and consumers deserve to be properly informed, so that they can cast their vote when they shop by electing the good products and rejecting the bad ones. Eliminating bad practices is exactly what can benefit us all.

This cannot be done through confrontation only. It is highly frustrating to hear people opposing something while not offering a solid alternative based on solid evidence, facts and thorough analysis.

The way of the future is a co-operation between the industry and environmental groups, by joining not only their knowledge and science, but also their financial and business understanding to develop and support sustainable solutions. By joining forces, they will help us develop a better agriculture and find the most sensible ways to feed nine billion people and preserve our ecosystems. Such an approach has already started, for instance with the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and Unilever that created the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), which certifies sustainable fisheries. The WWF is busy with a similar approach with aquaculture. In Brazil, the beef industry has agreed with Greenpeace on a moratorium on deforestation and they will not expand their ranches at the expense of the rainforest anymore. This type of co-operation needs to be developed to a much larger scale!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Food production: the balancing act

Since the beginning of times, feeding a population has always been about balance.

When mankind was still in the stage of hunting, fishing and gathering, survival was about keeping resources at a level that would allow the group to keep on feeding from its close environment.
When agriculture started, followed by the domestication of what became farm animals, the idea was clearly to have more control on the resources and insure that they would be available on a more regular basis. Of course, there were times when this did not happen, but the principle has remained.
For many centuries, agriculture was a local activity. Farmers would grow a diversified group of products that insured a sustainable balance at local level. The different products were a reflection of seasons and of land diversity. They also would offer different activities, and some revenue, through the different times of the year.
Their productions were part of a cycle. For instance, farm animals would eat crops coming from the farm to produce meat, milk, eggs which are all related to the reproduction cycle and the continuation of their species. What would not be digested, as well by the farm animals as by the local human population would return to the land as manure (usually mixed with a crop by-product such as straw to provide and insulating litter), fertilizing the next round of crops. So basically, what was extracted from the Earth was returning to it, thus insuring the continuity of the system, for as long as the climate would support it.
With the growth of world population and the increasing mobility and later globalization of markets, this very local and sustainable system has evolved. Products are sold far away from their area of production; many farms have specialized and replace the manure cycle by purchase of fertilizers. Animals are fed with raw materials originating from the over side of the world. Genetics, crop engineering, technical progress have also allowed yields to sharply increase as well as the speed of the production of foodstuffs, vegetal and animal. This has benefited mankind on the shorter term because it provided more food at relatively cheaper prices, so more accessible to a larger group. This has benefited trade and business, but it has brought its toll on the balance that is the cornerstone of any biologically related activity.
For example, intensive animal husbandry was developed in poor regions, allowing farmers to have a decent revenue in areas were they could not have stayed, but as the animals were fed with non-indigenous feedstuffs, they produced massive amounts of manure that were much higher than the local ground could process. This has led to loss of soil fertility, as a result of excess phosphates in the ground, among other things. Water resources have been polluted with high level of minerals, such as nitrates making it risky to use for infants and pregnant women. The exclusive use of chemical fertilizers in crop areas, as a result of the disappearance of a mixed farming also led to lower levels of organic matter (which is crucial to fix minerals and make them fully available for plants) and has caused some severe erosion of very fertile soils. While these problems were growing in the West as we were putting too much back on the land, on the other side of the world the opposite situation was happening with an exhaustion of soils to produce crops aimed for export only, which resulted in taking more out of those soils and not returning it in the right form. Further, these regions developed very often these commercial crops on land that had been won from ecosystems such has tropical forests, which have very sensitive soils to rain, erosion and oxidation of metals such as aluminum and iron.
By bringing the natural cycles out of balance, we have weakened the Earth from providing us optimally with what feeds us. Our future and our sustainability will depend of our ability to manage this balancing act. As usual, what seems a challenge can also offer new opportunities!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

The challenge of feeding the world and preserving the planet

The world population is increasing at an amazing rate.
From 6 billion people on the planet in 2000, we will be 9 billion by 2050; an increase of 50%; and we were only 3 billion in 1960.

By looking how much damage has been made to the environment and the huge depletion of natural resources that we have created in the last 50 years (or last time the population grew by 3 billion), one can wonder how we will be able to feed, shelter, provide water and energy to the whole population in 40 years from now.
When it comes to feeding the world, the first question that comes to mind is where can we produce 50% more agricultural products on a land area that will decrease as a result of more area needed for urbanism (unless, we grow cities in height) and 50% more demand for drinking water than now. And these percentages are actually very conservative if we think that the emerging countries are seeing their standard of living increasing, which unfortunately also means that more resources are wasted than just the incremental growth of 50%.
We need to feed 3 billion people more who on average will tend to eat more animal protein at the expense of grain and legumes. This demand for animal protein means more competition between humans and farm animals for the grains and legumes. So, we have less land available to grow so much more food of vegetal and animal origin.
We could consider increasing the agricultural area, but this means more deforestation and a strong reduction of natural habitats. More agriculture will mean more use of energy and water, which will have a huge impact on our environment and the price of commodities. And I am not even taken in the picture the fact that we also want to feed our cars with agricultural product, bio-ethanol.
On the other side of things, we hear more and more calls to restore more balance our environment, to use our resources more carefully. And this is the challenge, if not the dilemma of the coming years: we have only one Earth and it is not expandable, while our population is exploding.
How will we be able to meet both targets? Personally, I do not have the answer to this, but I am sure of one thing: a dramatic change must come, either of our own free will or forced by Nature, and we need to anticipate for this as this will require an adaptability as mankind has not known for a long time.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.