Market Uncertainty & Search for Options
By Martin Chidwick
When the biggest producer and biggest consumer/importer of pulses in the world, India effectively shuts up shop, the reverberations around the global trade have been shocking. Yet, perhaps the time to take stock will inspire a fresh wave of perspectives and credible and sustainable business models... if, investors and bankers can have a little patience... read on.
A question of priority and motivation: As the pulse producers in the Northern hemisphere ponder how much land to devote to the planting of 2018 legumes, I heard, what for me was a beautiful illustration of what it is that growers everywhere facilitate.
“What we are eating, is soil transformed. Soil gives its body to that seed. With the help of that soil, the seed becomes a plant or a tree. Where else could we get such a magnificent return on investment?“asked Satish Kumar, Indian activist and editor. (Satish went on to talk of the apple tree as his guru...of humans having come from earth... or ‘humus’... meaning earth and ground; of an apple tree never turning a ‘consumer’ away, regardless of ethnicity, education, status and wealth. Humbling. An interesting perspective!)
Meanwhile it is perhaps no coincidence that the 2016 International Year of Pulses followed the International Year of Soils... and just may be we missed an opportunity for some critical messaging... although there is no critiquing from me for what was a wildly successful IYP!
Back to Satish. “We grow food to make money, not to feed people. We should use money to grow food”. How do we combat the mantra ‘the principal focus is the profitability of growers’, or ‘what is the percentage earned and reflected in our EBIDTA statement this year?’
I recall a board meeting at the then CICILS-IPTIC, when the impassioned response of one noted member to ‘there should be no GMO research in pulses’ was - “people need to eat. They need full stomachs. We can do more studies on any negative aspects of GMO in 50 years from now. But pulses accessibility is the priority. We have to explore all avenues and science available”. (Words as per memory not exact!)
Of course I would be naive to suggest that making a living, making some money is not a prerequisite for being in our industry; but I am concerned we are trafficking into an era where all that matters is the fiscal cost and reward to self. As if that is the only measurement that matters. You matter. Your health matters. Your family matters. Your country matters. (Segue... Half Cup Habit 3X a week challenge. Think put my oxygen mask on first before assisting others... Eat pulses and support the cause!).
The Golden Temple in India, the holiest Sikh Gurdwara, feeds over 100,000 people daily, a vegetarian meal, regardless of race, religion and class. I read these words, “From a culture of sharing we have become a culture driven by possession and profit. The century of self”... and here comes an interesting one...” This year the world will produce enough food to feed twice the world’s population, yet every day almost one billion people will sleep hungry”. (*See below for a contrarian view... which is it?) So what is our priority and motivation in this pulses industry...?
A question of accessibility, need and transparency. A different kind of value.
Recently Michael McCain, CEO of Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods was interviewed by Dawn Calleja and published in print for The Globe and Mail. “The food industry is in crisis” Michael says. He wants to build the most sustainable protein company on earth... even if that means making meat out of plants... (which on reflection is what livestock already do effectively themselves, but at apparent great misuse of water, land and atmosphere).
The crisis (and a dichotomy*) “is rooted in the realization that the global population is drawing on a limited resource pool, planet earth, and the dietary trends and growth in population over the next 20 or 30 years will make the food system we have today unsustainable. At the same time, the level of trust in the food industry is not what it should be.”
Do we or don’t we produce enough food? If at 7.6 billion people we produce twice what is needed today... then how much more poignant when Michael says that part of the problem with food production around the world is not the arable land base - it’s getting the arable land base to the same level of productivity that exists in North America, without a carpet of chemicals... ..(how’s that for competition to those of us in North America?... look at Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Moldova, East Africa just to name a few...).
Too much or too little, there are some 800million people who do not access food that should be their inherent right. There are growing hundreds of millions who distrust the ingredient deck on processed foods. Then there is the whole question of accessing nutritious food at an affordable price. Says Michael, “It’s not just having food available to you, but having the correct nutritional balance; it’s a fundamental challenge in the plight of food security.”
As consumers, do we know what we need? Even the least switched on among us in terms of what’s good... understand we need protein in one form or another! As concerned participants in the pulses industry, do we care enough, collectively, to speak up for those with no voice and no access to our nutritious pulses?
I contend that a different kind of value be what motivates our participation. Others first.
Lesson from a Chinese bamboo tree and guidance from the pet food trade? Plant a bamboo seed. Water it, nurture it and fertilize it, daily. Nothing much happens. Not for 4 years. Then in year five... an incredible development. A small sprig becomes a bigger one the next day, and by the end of 5 weeks, its 26 metres plus, tall!
Take a look at the push for plant based proteins. In Canada alone, an alliance of 120 companies and organizations focused on developing plant based proteins (of which beans and lentils are front and centre) won a spot in the Federal Government’s $950 million super-cluster proposal. Across Canada different market commentators will variously say expect demand for dry peas as a domestic protein source to attain over 700,000 tonnes. I am not sure in my analogy, whether we are in year 3 or 4... but many of us can taste the mounting excitement that explosive growth of a year 5 will bring!! Stick with it...
This morning I read these words “We couldn’t find an animal or plant protein with the ideal amino acid profile that was truly natural, sustainable and humane. So we decided to create it?! “An in depth study of the pet food industry (did you read of General Mills near $8 billion spend on Blue Buffalo Pet products Inc and the motivation behind it?), will reveal how health conscious and how driven their focus is on providing safe nutritious healthy food for our pets, that check all the boxes of food secure, food safe, environmentally friendly and sustainability demands out there.
The lengths the pet food industry goes to connect with the consumer... with the heart, speaks to the Soul Search of this articles title. When I read publications within the pet trade... I don't see an ex
A lesson from the Netherlands: The globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value. Second only to USA which has 270 times its landmass. “Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry ’twice as much food using half as many resources’. Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in green houses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent. Here comes that dichotomy again to those who say we do and will have enough food and those who say we don’t...” The planet must produce more food in the next four decades than all the growers in history have harvested over the past 8000 years”. No doubt... power of exponential growth.
Today, India has effectively closed the door to imports of pulses. We can all be cynical or we can all look for the silver lining. Mr Modi sees the power of addressing the heart of his people... not mine or yours so much! His government’s protectionism. His prerogative. As for us, ‘unprotected’, what do we believe about our supply chain today versus tomorrows demand? How can we mirror the Dutch food successes and the Chinese bamboo tree? How can we live on a different kind of value? Where does a soul search take us...whatever aspect of the pulses trade we are a part of?
This industry remains an exciting dynamic place...