Feeding the world in 2050 – FAO coming summit

September 23, 2009

This question seems to keep many people busy, and this article sums up a number of conclusions drawn by the FAO about the subject.

The information that I find the most interesting is their estimate of the percentage of the world population living in cities, moving up from 49% today to 70% by 2050. Expressed in number of people living in rural areas, this means a drop from roughly 3.2 billion people today to roughly 2.9 billion people in 2050, or around 10% less! This clearly indicates that the future of food supply is not with small farms, but that large units will have to do most of the work in order to feed everyone.

When it comes to their estimate of a necessary increase of 70% of agricultural production to meet the food demand, I have some reservations about their expectations. I doubt that with such a tight supply, people will eat as much meat and animal products as they claim. I believe that money will talk and meat being more expensive that they expect, the diet will probably include relatively more vegetal products and relatively less meat than the numbers that they present.

As I showed at the end of my previous article titled “Price of fish and meat: up”, a healthy readjustment of the Western diet will free a lot of food to feed many more people. As per today, we already are much closer, theoretically, to be able to feed these 9 billion people than we think. I say theoretically because the main problems are:

  1. Guaranteeing access to food through proper infrastructure, which in large part rests on the shoulders of politicians, and
  2. Ensuring that people have enough money to pay for food.

For those who claim that we need three or even four Earths to deal with the problem, clearly, their assumptions are based on having the whole world on the American diet, but that will not happen. We have only one Earth and that will not change. Other things will, though.


USDA experiments with grain harvesting device

August 27, 2009

Here is a nice illustration of what I meant with my article “Innovation and tradition shape the future“.

New harvest method for same yields and better soil and moisture preservationThis is an article from WorldGrain.com describing the result of a test on a new harvesting system for grain carried out by the USDA. They tested the stripper header on millet and wheat.
The idea of this system is to strip away the grain and leave as long as possible a stubble, so that it protects the soil from erosion and enhances precipitation storage. So far results tend to indicate that yields are not affected by this harvesting method.
Just an example of using new technology and innovation to help improve a rather traditional method of getting organic matter in the soil.


The future price of meat and fish: up

July 17, 2009

With a world population increasing strongly and an agricultural area that will not grow accordingly, the law of offer and demand clearly indicates that agricultural prices will increase in the future. This is true for agricultural commodities such as grains, but the increase will be even stronger for animal products, such as meat, poultry, dairy and fish.
This will be the result of an increasing and very likely quite aggressive competition between the need to feed people with the basic commodities, the need to feed farmed animals and possibly for some time the need to produce biofuels.
Since it takes more than one and even several kilograms of animal feed to produce one kilogram of meat, the feed conversion ratio (FCR) will affect by which factor the price of the various animal products will increase.
Efficient productions like chicken will be successful and will remain quite competitive pricewise against other sources of animal proteins, thanks to its low FCR, to its low water use and to the good agricultural value of its manure. In the aquaculture sector, efficient productions such us tilapia and pangasius have a bright future ahead, as they can help feed a large population for an affordable price. In general, aquaculture has the opportunity to fill the huge gap left by depleted wild fish stocks, although it will have to solve some issues in order to be successful (see my article titled “The lessons of intensive animal husbandry to aquaculture“). In terms of price, the scarcity of wild fish will make these quite expensive for the future.
Less efficient species such as pigs and beef cattle will see the price of their products increase relatively much more. Pigs also have the disadvantage of producing low quality manure, which will limit the level of intensification. However, pork plays an important role in some cultures, and therefore, it will still show a reasonable volume growth, with geographical variations.
A high FCR species such as beef cattle will probably undergo the most dramatic change. Higher feed costs, linked to a relatively high capital need will probably push a number of farmers to shift to other more efficient productions. Highly intensive systems such the feedlots will also undergo major changes, as regulations on the use of antibiotics and hormones will make them financially inefficient. Further, their high impact on the environment because of the manure will also work against them. I do not expect the 99-cent beef burger to be here for all that much longer, burgers will continue to exist, but just quite a bit more expensive. On the other hand, I can see good possibilities for specialty beef products, such as grass-fed beef, but customers will have to pay the right price for it. Grass is the animal feed that we all seem to underestimate, yet it covers vast areas of very often fragile soil, and cattle is one of the few species that can transform it into high value protein.
In the aquaculture sector, a carnivore species such as salmon will also meet its own limitations. Although, salmon feed has shifted from mostly fish oil and fishmeal to a much more complex mix of vegetal oils, this production will see its production costs rise strongly. I expect salmon to become a luxury product again.

Consumption per capita will decreaseWhat will a higher price mean?
There again, simple economics tell us that this will influence the level of consumption per capita. The price increase will moderate the level of consumption and the price differential between the type of protein, as well as health concerns, will cause a shift between the respective consumption of the different products. In Western countries, people consume quantities of animal products that are substantially higher than what they actually need, and this has led to many health issues. The decrease in consumption will help make people healthier, and reduce the burden of health costs in that part of the world.
In developing countries, the situation is different, as consumption trends show an increase of consumption of animal products, from rather low levels, though. In these countries, consumption per capita will increase, but will not reach the levels that Western countries have shown, simply because prices will be too high to get to such levels.
The decrease of consumption per capita that we will see in developed countries does not mean that the meat industry will get into trouble.  Less average consumption per capita in the West will be more than compensated by the growth in emerging countries, where population numbers are significantly higher, and this will lead to a higher global demand of animal products. The main change is that the consumers will be distributed geographically rather differently than they are today. This also means that production will be located in different areas than today.

Just as a teaser: if Western countries consumers were to reduce their meat consumption to just the necessary maintenance needs, it would free volumes enough to cover the maintenance needs of meat for the whole population of China!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


Rabobank: Sourcing grains critical in animal feed-to-food chain

June 22, 2009

This is an article from World-Grain.com about a report from Rabobank on their outlook of a growth for meat of 50% between now and 2025 and its consequences on feed-to-food value chains.

Albert Vernooij, author of the Rabobank report ‘Changing Industry Landscapes’ says “The global feed-to-food value chain has switched from being supply driven with a long-term sustainable share for each link in the chain, to being demand driven. This is placing the retail and food service sectors in the leading positions, and farmers and abattoirs (slaughterhouses) have become the weaker links”.

Certainly the retail and food service, because they are the closest to the final consumer have the best position to connect to market demand, but I disagree with his statement that the value chains are demand driven. Most of meat products are commodities and retailers and food service companies buy at the lowest price a rather undifferentiated product. Most slaughterhouses and farmers are still purely production driven, or more accurately put, volume and cost driven, instead of being profit and niche driven. Only very few value chains are really market driven, although most are marketing driven, but that is not quite the same.


Canada’s meat, grain sectors eye EU trade

June 4, 2009

This is an interesting article, that shows that when you want to be market-driven, opportunities will come your way.

Here is the story of Canadian beef that might be sold in the EU, if the producers are willing to change their production system (by going hormone-free). While this means higher production cost, the sales price that they get makes them actually make a higher profit margin.

Story at http://www.nationalpost.com/related/topics/story.html?id=1658785


Biofuels may be a non issue

May 23, 2009

Biofuels is a topic that divides many people. To some, it is a solution to reduce dependence on oil, and to others it is an insane idea.
I do not think that biofuels will be a discussion topics for very long, and here is why.
Very likely, the future of cars will be electricity. Inevitably, at some point oil prices will rise again to very painful levels and stay there. This is what will make alternative energy sources economically interesting, even without government subsidies.
One of the major opposition to the electric car is being handled in a very smooth way by the Obama administration. General Motors and Chrysler were strong opponents of the electric car, and helped send it to the landfill for a while, but neither company is around anymore. The Obama administration just put an end to the outdated automobile gas guzzler model once and for all, with the new regulations on gas mileage and car emissions. Fact is that an important page has been turned for good.
Just realize that if all US cars have a similar mileage as their Europeans counterparts, the gasoline use would reduce to substantial amounts, in the vicinity of an equivalent of 80-100 million cars less (old US mileage standards). Normally, this should make the price of oil drop, therefore reducing the need for biofuels. And when oil prices increase again, then electricity will take over.
Other signs that biofuels do not have that much of a future is the lack of excitement from the investment community for it. Wind energy attracts investors (for instance think of Boone Pickens’s energy plan). Solar energy attracts investors. But biofuels? The main party that seems to be pushing for it is Brazil, for internal reasons mostly.
The fundamentals do not look good for biofuels, either. They score negatively on all three bottom line criteria.
As such, this is good news for food supplies. If biofuels made out of edible grains do not have much of a future, the situation is different when it comes to biofuels made out of cellulose. These probably have a decent future, as they do not compete with human consumption, and can be a good way of using and recycling materials that further would be of little interest.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


The Great Unseen Land Grab

May 21, 2009

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.