Solving hunger and climate change through agriculture

Solving hunger and climate change through agriculture

What if we could solve world hunger while also stopping climate change?

With nearly one-quarter of the total greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change coming from food, agriculture and land use, it’s clear that we must make drastic changes to reduce our impact. From deforestation to methane emissions from livestock, a growing list of causes have the potential to either protect or pummel our planet.

But what if these concerns could actually become part of the solution? With the right strategies, the right management and the right mindset, they can.

“Most of the time, whenever we are having a discussion about what we can do to address climate change, the answer is directed toward energy and renewables,” said Dr. Mamta Mehra, senior fellow with Project Drawdown. “And that is true. We need those solutions. But nature-based solutions also have an impact.”

Project Drawdown is a California-based think tank for climate solutions, and one of their most impactful strategies for solving global climate change comes from the food, land and agriculture sectors. By changing how we approach food production and land management on a global scale, we can not only make a major impact on agriculture greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of global warming — we can also help reduce food waste and hunger across the globe.

“We believe at Project Drawdown that for every problem, there is a solution,” said Dr. Mehra at the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience 2020. “For every fear, there is a possibility. And every conflict can be resolved by collaborations.”

What is drawdown?

The concentration of greenhouse gases in the air continues to increase, magnifying and accelerating global climate change. Drawdown refers to the point at which those levels of greenhouse gas emissions begin to decline — in other words, the point at which we begin to reverse global warming.

Project Drawdown is dedicated to finding ways to achieve that goal by 2050 by looking at climate solutions across all industries and sectors. Of their 20 most impactful climate solutions, ten are related to land, food and agriculture, making those sectors some of our most powerful weapons in the fight against global climate change.

Project Drawdown’s top 10 food, agriculture and land-use strategies

  1. Reduced food waste
  2. Plant-rich diets
  3. Tropical forest restoration
  4. Silvopasture
  5. Peatland protection and rewetting
  6. Tree plantations on degraded land
  7. Temperate forest restoration
  8. Managed grazing
  9. Perennial staple crops
  10. Tree intercropping

Transforming threat into opportunity

So how can we turn land use and agriculture from a cause of climate change into a solution? As with any topic this diverse, the answer lies in making multiple smaller changes instead of attempting to make one big change. Project Drawdown’s climate solutions fall into three main categories:

  1. Protect intact ecosystems: Earth is rapidly running out of intact ecosystems, as 77% of the land on the planet has been modified by human activities — and that’s excluding Antarctica. The remaining intact forests, wetlands and grasslands are vital to fighting the effects of global warming and must be protected from further encroachment and destruction.
  2. Restore degraded land: This could mean restoring wetlands to their original, intact state. It could also mean turning degraded forests and grasslands into usable space for growing crops like corn or bamboo. Both strategies turn degraded land from wasted space into productive acreage, helping reverse the effects of global warming while also protecting intact ecosystems from future use by reducing the need for new land to exploit.
  3. Shift agriculture practices: Shifting existing agricultural practices to more sustainable methods can have a major impact on climate change. Many of these practices — like silvopasture, the integration of trees and pasture for grazing livestock, or planting perennial staples like bananas, avocado and coconut instead of annual crops — have been practiced for thousands of years but aren’t used as widely as they could be.

All of these climate solutions fight the effects of global warming in two ways: they reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere and they sequester carbon dioxide into the soil, as well as into the biomass of the plants themselves.

Answering global hunger

Where exactly does world hunger come into play in this discussion?

For Project Drawdown, changing the way the world eats is key to solving global warming. Their number-one most impactful solution is reducing food waste, which accounts for a staggering percentage of total global food production.

“Reducing food waste is about reducing food losses and wastage across all stages of production, distribution, retail and consumption,” said Dr. Mehra. “Thirty to forty percent of food gets wasted, and we still have issues of poverty and hunger. And because we are having these losses, the resources — seeds, water, nutrients and financial capital for the production of these wasted foods — also get wasted.”

According to the World Food Program USA and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reversing food waste “would preserve enough food to feed 2 billion people . That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe.”

In addition to reversing waste, Project Drawdown also highlights the positive impact of shifting to a plant-rich diet. With 77% of all agricultural land currently in use for livestock, reducing the demand for meat and dairy would reduce both the need for this land and the methane gas emissions from cattle — a major source of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Since plant crops use less land and fewer resources than livestock, shifting to a plant-rich diet would allow us to grow more food — and feed more people — on existing grazing lands across the globe.

“Together, as a system addressing the supply side and demand side, our analyses have shown that we are in a position to produce a sustainable amount of food and biomass for our current population as well as a growing population, besides having additional impact on the climate,” said Dr. Mehra. “This is a win-win situation. You have a positive climate impact. You have a positive impact on society, and you also have a positive impact on the livelihood of the people who are dependent on these resources.”

The takeaway: “Drawdown is very much possible,” according to Dr. Mehra. “What we need is a political will and collaboration at all stages with global, national, regional and local groups to achieve it.”

Tanzania’s seaweed economy: Listen to women, save the world

Tanzania’s seaweed economy: Listen to women, save the world

On the Tanzanian coast, in the warm waters of the Indian ocean, you’ll see a sight with the potential to save the world. Rows of sticks, embedded in the sand, rise above the shallow coastal waters. Fuzzy green lines are visible under the clear water between the sticks. Welcome to Tanzania’s seaweed farms: an international and sustainable economic force, a valuable food source, and a potential weapon against climate change, all powered by local Tanzanian women farmers.

This blue seaweed economy is a rare triple-threat: a win for women, a win for the planet, and a win for sustainable economic development. And it could all be brought down by climate change if those in power don’t take the lead of the women who know this delicate industry best.

Seaweed: Endlessly useful, seriously sustainable

Seaweed is a new superfood—and demand is rising. In addition to being used as an ingredient, it can be processed for use in countless food additives, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetic products.

“You might not know you’re consuming seaweed, but you are,” said Dr. Betsy Beymer-Farris, Director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program at the University of Kentucky. “Check your chocolate milk and you’ll see something called carrageenan in it. It comes from seaweed that is farmed along the coast of Tanzania by women.”

Other uses for seaweed:

  • Fertilizer
  • Animal feed
  • Pharmaceutical ingredient
  • Wastewater treatment tool
  • Food emulsifier
  • Cosmetic component
  • Nutrient-rich food source

Seaweed uses go far beyond chocolate milk. The first new Alzheimer’s drug in 17 years, recently approved for use in China, is seaweed-based. And it has the potential to sequester carbon—meaning it can be a weapon in our global fight against climate change.

Seaweed can absorb and store carbon that would otherwise be absorbed by the ocean, which has led to increased ocean acidification and subsequent disastrous effects on coral reefs. When that carbon is absorbed by growing seaweed, however, it can be safely stored as the plant rapidly grows—and the potential is limitless.

“If we decide to farm 10% of the ocean in seaweed, we can safely store up to 40 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year,” said Dr. Beymer-Farris at the 2020 Alltech ONE Conference. “That’s the equivalent of what the entire world emits on a yearly basis.”

As seaweed grows, it provides an important habitat for fish and other aquatic species. And the climate-friendly effects don’t stop after it’s harvested: cows fed a seaweed additive belched 58% less methane—a greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

With so many uses and benefits, it’s no wonder that seaweed farming is a rapidly-growing $6 billion business, projected to top $9 billion by 2024. And in Tanzania, the main drivers of that business are the female farmers who know seaweed, and the conditions it thrives in, better than anyone.

The women’s work of farming seaweed

Some 70% of Tanzanian seaweed farmers are women, and they’ve been farming seaweed off the Tanzanian coast for decades. The area is one the top seaweed producers in the world, making the crop a powerful source of financial stability for women farmers and their families. While Tanzanian men head out to deeper waters to fish, Tanzanian women are expected to stay closer to home—making the intertidal zones of the seaweed farms their domain.

That’s how Tanzania’s women seaweed farmers started noticing that the sea level in their shallow-water seaweed farms was dropping, even as global sea levels were rising. The initial reaction of scientists was disbelief and shock.

“When I was doing research with these women in coastal Tanzania, they kept telling me the sea level was falling,” said Dr. Beymer-Farris. “And I responded by saying, ‘That’s impossible. There’s sea level rise happening as a result of climate change.’ So we took women’s ecological knowledge and we compared it to the academic literature by geomorphologists and geologists, looking at sea level rise. And what we found is that along the coast of Tanzania, the sea level actually is falling because of plate tectonic activity on the East African Rift Valley. There’s continental uplift happening, causing the sea level to fall.”

Those falling sea levels and subsequent rising temperatures mean that the farmers are no longer able to grow a specific species of seaweed, Kappaphycus alvarezii, more commonly commercially known as cottonii. Lacking access to boats to farm the species in deeper, cooler waters, Tanzania’s women farmers are missing out on a major income source, as cottonii is more valuable on the world market. Its loss is a major blow for these farmers. And to make it worse, since women lack representation in local village governments, no one is listening to them about it.

“Women’s traditional ecological knowledge matters,” said Dr. Beymer-Farris. “When we’re looking at global climate change policies, without women’s knowledge telling us that sea level is falling, there are some ramifications to ill-conceived global climate change policies that are introduced in the country.”

Those ill-conceived policies have included $8 million spent on seawalls to protect wealthy cities like Dar es Salaam from rising sea levels. Without women’s representation in local village governments, the knowledge that sea levels are, in fact, falling on Tanzania’s coast was not communicated. The result: Tanzania spent millions on a solution that fit the global narrative about climate change, but missed the situation on their own coast.

Listening to women, saving the world

Could the voices of these women farmers unlock the potential for a Planet of Plenty? Could we fight climate change through the seaweed economy in Tanzania?

In short: we could make a start. If we helped empower female representation in all levels of Tanzanian government and listened closely to the women farmers witnessing falling sea levels, economic investments could be made in ways that make sense for the local climate and local economy. We could provide women farmers with boats and swim training to help expand their seaweed farming to deeper waters. That access would allow them to carry on an ecologically sustainable industry and a lucrative source of economic growth that could benefit them, their families and their community.

With additional resources, these farmers could expand their operations even further into the ocean, creating a massive, sustainable carbon sequestration operation that also provides a multitude of other benefits: valuable habitats for ocean wildlife, a valuable food source, and a valuable commodity on the world market. Together, we have the power to help provide that win-win-win: for women, for the planet, and for sustainable economic development—all through Tanzanian seaweed, and the Tanzanian women who know it best.

3 myths debunked: Animal agriculture’s real impact on the environment

3 myths debunked: Animal agriculture’s real impact on the environment

The way the public and the media perceive animal agriculture’s environmental impact can, and should, change. New research from Oxford University and the University of California, Davis have recently debunked some of the most critical and long-standing myths surrounding animal agriculture. But can this breakthrough overcome animal agriculture’s bad reputation?

The current narrative about animal agriculture says that ruminant livestock animals (e.g., beef cattle, dairy cattle, etc.) produce methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Thus, animal agriculture is bad for the environment.

During a keynote presentation for the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience, Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor at the University of California, Davis and air quality specialist, boldly proclaimed a path for animal agriculture to become climate-neutral.

Yes, “you heard me right — climate-neutral,” said Dr. Mitloehner. He said he would like to, “get us to a place where we have the impacts of animal agriculture that are not detrimental to our climate.”

Important Greenhouse Gases to Know

Table of important greenhouse gases

3 myths about animal agriculture’s environmental impact debunked

Myth #1: Methane (the most common greenhouse gas, or GHG, in animal agriculture) acts just like other GHGs in the environment.

Fact: The three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, all impact the environment in critically different ways, especially as it relates to their source, life span in the atmosphere and global warming potential.

Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are known as “stock gases.”  Stock gases are long-lived gases and once emitted will continue to build up in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, for example, has an estimated lifespan in the atmosphere of 1,000 years, meaning carbon dioxide emitted from the year 1020 may still be in the atmosphere today. Methane, on the other hand, is a “flow gas.” Flow gases are short-lived gases and are removed from the atmosphere at a more rapid pace. Methane’s lifespan in the atmosphere is approximately 10 years. This means a flow gas like methane would impact the environment for a duration that is nearly 100 times shorter than the stock gas carbon dioxide.

What causes these gases in the first place? Carbon dioxide is created by the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used as the energy source to power most homes, vehicles and industry globally. As the graph below depicts, Dr. Mitloehner refers to stock gases like carbon dioxide as a “one-way street” because they only accumulate in the environment over time due to their long lifespan.

Stock Gas vs. Flow Gas chart

Methane can be produced in a variety of methods, but most commonly, it’s produced through the rumination process in beef and dairy livestock (i.e., belching). As a short-lived flow gas, “The only time that you really add new additional methane to the atmosphere with the livestock herd is throughout the first 10 years of its existence or if you increase your herd sizes,” explained Dr. Mitloehner. Methane levels do not increase if herd sizes remain constant because methane is being broken down at the same rate it is being produced.

“What I’m saying here by no means (is) that methane doesn’t matter,” he continued. “While that methane is in the atmosphere, it is heat-trapping, it is a potent greenhouse gas. But the question really is, do our livestock herds add to additional methane, meaning additional carbon in the atmosphere, leading to additional warming? And the answer to that question is no. As long as we have constant herds or even decreasing herds, we are not adding additional methane, and hence not additional warming. And what I just said to you is a total change in the narrative around livestock.”

Alternatively, carbon dioxide is created from extracting fossil fuels that are millions of years old and are trapped under the Earth’s surface.

“These long-lived climate pollutants are only emitted,” said Dr. Mitloehner. “They are put into the atmosphere, but there’s no real sink for it in a major way.”

Fossil fuels example diagram

This demonstrates that carbon dioxide and methane are very different types of gases (stock versus flow) and have very different lifespans in the environment (1,000 years versus 10 years), but what about their global warming potential?

 

Myth #2: The current method for assessing the global warming potential (GWP100) of greenhouse gases properly accounts for all important variables.

Fact: The initial method for calculating GWP100 misrepresents the impact of short-lived flow gases, like methane, on future warming. The new “GWP*” is an improved and more representative measurement.

The initial GWP100 measures produced by the Kyoto Protocol nearly 30 years ago marked a very positive step for assessing global warming. The initial documents included many footnotes and caveats to account for variability and unknown values. “But the footnotes were cut off, and people ran with (it),” said Dr. Mitloehner. “And in my opinion, that was a very dangerous situation that has really gotten animal agriculture into a lot of trouble, actually, quite frankly.”

The current GWP100 measurement generates an over-assessment of methane’s contributions to global warming. Currently, in short, GWP100 measurements are all standardized to a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. So, all non-carbon dioxide emissions are converted by multiplying the amount of the emissions of each gas by its global warming potential over 100 years value. Methane has a GWP100 value of 28, meaning it is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, this type of calculation completely omits the fact that flow gases, like methane, are destroyed after approximately 10 years and would not continue for the entire 100-year duration as described in the GWP100 formula. Additionally, it underestimates the impact that stock gases, like carbon dioxide, would have that persist in the environment for 1,000 years.

Dr. Mitloehner cited Dr. Myles Allen from Oxford University as the pioneer of a new calculation called “GWP*.” The new GWP* calculation better accounts for both gas intensity and gas lifespan in the atmosphere in its measurements of global warming. This is a new narrative to explain global warming emissions and, Dr. Mitloehner said, “you will see it will gain momentum, and it will become the new reality” soon.

 

Myth #3: To keep up with increasing demand and global population growth, the United States has continued to increase its numbers of beef and dairy cattle, thus increase methane emissions.

Fact: The United States reached peak beef and dairy cattle numbers in the 1970s and has reduced its number of animals every decade since, resulting in 50 million fewer cattle in total.

Over the last half-century, the United States has made tremendous progress to improve efficiency and increase productivity while also reducing total beef and dairy cattle numbers. For example, in 1950, the U.S. dairy cow herd peaked at 25 million cattle. Today, the dairy herd is approximately 9 million cows, yet it is producing 60% more milk — that’s significantly more milk with 14 million fewer cows!

Though cattle numbers have continued to increase in countries such as India and China, this means the United States has not increased methane output — thus not increasing GHG contributions from livestock — over the last five decades.

 

So, what does all this mean?

Animal agriculture, unlike any other sector, can not only reduce its GHG output, but can also create a net cooling effect on the atmosphere (i.e., actively reduce global warming).

The three scenarios shown below demonstrate the important differences between carbon dioxide and methane, and their ability to generate global cooling. With rising emissions, warming carbon dioxide increases at a growing rate, while methane also increases. With constant emissions, warming from carbon dioxide continues to increase while methane no longer contributes to additional warming.

“But now, the thing that really excites me, and that’s the third scenario,” said Dr. Mitloehner. “So, imagine this scenario here, where we decrease methane by 35%. If we do so, then we actively take carbon out of the atmosphere. And that has a net cooling effect. If we find ways to reduce methane, then we counteract other sectors of societies that do contribute ― and significantly so ― to global warming, such as flying, driving, running air conditioners and so on.”

Rising vs. Constant vs. Falling emissions chart

Examples of Dr. Mitloehner’s 35% reduction scenario have proven to be possible. Over the last five years alone, California has reduced methane emissions by 25% via a combination of improved efficiency and incentives for anaerobic digesters, alternative manure management practices and other technologies.

Though the narrative on animal agriculture has been negative on climate change, there is now increasing hope and new data to debunk even the most long-standing criticisms.

Dr. Mitloehner concluded, “because I know if we can do it here (in California), it can be done in other parts of the country and in other parts of the world. If we indeed achieve such reductions of greenhouse gas, particularly of short-lived greenhouse gases such as methane, then that means that our livestock sector will be on a path for climate neutrality.”


Access on-demand content until May 2021, with new content added monthly. Visit one.alltech.com for more information.

Dr. Mark Lyons & Dr. Frank Mitloehner photo

Dr. Mark Lyons: Unifying for a Planet of Plenty™

Dr. Mark Lyons: Unifying for a Planet of Plenty™

Post-COVID, there will not be a “return to normal.” According to Dr. Mark Lyons, president and CEO of Alltech, now, more than ever, we must take a leap of faith and recognize that it is up to us to make positive changes in our “new normal.” COVID-19 presents monumental challenges, but also innovative opportunities, particularly in agriculture.

“We can see that ag is not a problem to be solved, but is a potential solution,” said Dr. Lyons, “and we’ve heard so many examples and so many ideas this week of ways that we can do just that.”

In his closing keynote presentation, Dr. Lyons shared his key takeaways from the launch week of the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience, which features on-demand insights from leading experts in agriculture and beyond. Many of the highlights illustrated Alltech’s Planet of Plenty™ vision of promise, possibility and positivity for the future, which centers on the belief that a world of abundance is achievable, but it will take all of us working together.

Leadership is not a title — it is action

Now is a time for leadership, both at individual companies and in the agriculture industry as a whole. However, we may need to tweak our idea of what makes a great leader.

“Leadership is not a title,” said Dr. Lyons. “Leadership, to me, is an action. You aren’t a leader because you hold a certain position or a certain role. Much as we’ve heard that love is a verb, something active, so is leadership.”

He noted that in a crisis, a leader must exemplify three traits:

1. Decision-making

2. Confidence

3. Trust in their people

There is, however, one important thing that can undermine leadership: ego.

“In a crisis, a leader must put their ego aside,” said Dr. Lyons. “We as leaders must realize that the decisions we are making are impacting so many more people and in much more profound ways during a crisis. In that regard, our personal well-being and our interests must be subjugated to the importance of others’.”

Already, we are seeing many examples of people setting aside their differences, coming together and thinking through challenges creatively. These, Dr. Lyons said, are the teams that will win in a crisis.

We must listen to the experts

An important component of Alltech’s Planet of Plenty vision is the need to listen to our experts, from farmers to scientists to economists, as well as those from many other professions. Even when we do not like the ideas that experts present, it is important that we acknowledge them.

“We need to take the time and energy to understand them and, if we agree, put a little more energy in and make sure we can communicate these ideas to a broader audience,” said Dr. Lyons. “Their insights and their ideas often hold the key to not only those new innovations, but the mere survival, at times, of our industry and our society. Making sure that we are giving time to those experts, I hope, will be a legacy of this time.”

We could be seeing a resurgence in the public’s openness to listening to experts. Their insights could make all the difference in helping us achieve a more abundant world for everyone.

Telling your story, and the story of agriculture, is critical

Trust has become the new currency of our time. Consumers are voting for brands that they trust with their money and their loyalty. Brands that showed up during COVID-19 with a strong focus on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects of their businesses, from treating their employees well to sustainability, will come out ahead.

It is important to tell these often hidden and unrecognized stories of agriculture and to celebrate the unsung heroes who put food on the table for families every day — from dairy operations harnessing cow manure to generate electricity to using insects as a sustainable protein source or farming cattle and trees together.

“You, and the stories you tell, are important,” said Dr. Lyons. “Your legacy is part of this whole story, and part of what is at stake. How and why the world is different because of what you do is an important aspect of that story, and it’s possibly one of the most important things you can do.

“Sharing your story of purpose is such a powerful thing,” he continued, “not simply because it builds the understanding of others, but it also gives them the right to do the same, and to feel empowered and make a change.”

We must unify and take action, today, for the future of agriculture and our planet

“We are on a journey, a journey of sustainability, and we’ve learned this week that this is never a destination,” said Dr. Lyons. “It’s something that we will be constantly changing, as we always have.”

On this journey, the only way that we can move forward is together. Luckily, at this moment of widespread virtual networking, Dr. Lyons believes a democracy has been created and has fostered an ability to connect across all levels and positions, increasing the spread of information and ideas.

The Alltech ONE Virtual Experience illustrates this perfectly, bringing more than 23,000 attendees from 118 countries together, which is roughly seven times the number of attendees previously seen at Alltech’s annual, in-person conference in Lexington, Kentucky.

Coming together as ONE team with many ideas represents the best chance we have to make positive change.

“If we unify and we take action, we can connect with leaders, we can bring about change,” said Dr. Lyons. “If we don’t, we will look at ourselves at this time next year and say that we missed that golden opportunity. What we need right now is that unified action to make sure that we make this difference and provide for this planet in an even better way than we have in the past, and truly create that Planet of Plenty.”

Access on-demand content until May 2021, with new content added monthly. Visit one.alltech.com for more information.

How to improve the future of food and agriculture – Jack Bobo

How to improve the future of food and agriculture – Jack Bobo

“I want us all to imagine that we are in 2050, and we’re looking back on this moment, this day, and we ask ourselves: did we do everything that we could do to make the world the place that we want it to be?”

Jack Bobo, CEO of Futurity, opened his keynote presentation at the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience with a challenging question for the audience. If our mission is for a better future of food and agriculture, what can we do to achieve this? The answer begins with a simple yet effective solution: we need to listen to the narratives surrounding these industries.

“We give meaning to the world around us through the stories that we tell… so today in my presentation, I’d like to talk about three different stories of what food and agriculture means.”

The three stories Bobo focused on were those of:

  1. Conservationists.
  2. Consumers.
  3. Farmers.

These three groups of people have one goal: a plentiful future of food and agriculture. However, these three groups tend to actively work against each other. But why is that?

Starting with conservationists and the planet

In 2018, the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report documented that 60% of wildlife populations on the planet have disappeared between 1970 and 2014. We also know that 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in the last 50 years.

“So, this dramatic loss in biodiversity has occurred within the lifetimes of many of us,” said Bobo. “Biodiversity is undergoing this incredible challenge, and things are not looking good.”

According to these findings, the future will suffer the same trend of degrading biodiversity.

“So, we have this tremendous challenge of not destroying all of our wild spaces,” said Bobo. However, the bigger question is, “How do we make sure that we leave a world for our children that’s as good or better than the one we received?”

Many people wonder: Is agriculture the problem or solution to our conservation struggles? People tend to believe the former, yet Bobo is not convinced.

“But how do we talk about it?” asked Bobo. “What’s the story that we need to tell?”

The stories we hear about biodiversity tell us that:

  1. Of global respondents, 80% believe that poverty has either increased or remained the same over the past 20 years.
  2. The food system is broken, and agriculture is failing the people around us.
  3. All deforestation is due to agriculture.
  4. We do not have the means to feed the rapidly growing population.

The stories we need to tell about biodiversity are that:

  1. Statistically, there is less poverty than there was 20 years ago — “Yet the public,” said Bobo, “think things are getting worse.”
  2. We are producing more food on the same amount of land than we were 50–60 years ago — “This is important,” said Bobo. “If food production stays ahead of population growth, well, that means people become better fed, they rise out of poverty, nutrition and hunger disease.”
  3. Better productivity and higher yields mean more food is being produced due to higher efficiency — “Improved productivity has saved a billion hectares of forest around the world. So more than a quarter of all the forest — nearly a third of all the forest — would be gone today without productivity increases.”
  4. The rate of population growth was at its highest in 1968 when we were growing at 2.1% per year. However, today we are growing at about 1% per year. As we continue to project toward the future, that number will keep going down. Because population growth will slow dramatically but, “if that productivity was to continue, every day after 2050, it gets easier to feed the world,” said Bobo.

“And so, I want to look at this question of sustainability, and how it impacts the stories we tell about the world we live in,” explained Bobo.

Diving into sustainability with consumers

Bobo says that sustainability is not a destination — it is a journey. However, sustainability means different things to different people. Is it organic food? Regenerative agriculture? GMOs? Consumers, in particular, seem the most concerned about sustainability in agriculture.

The stories we hear about sustainability are that:

  1. Farmers need to use less fertilizer and insecticide in order to reduce run-off into the local environment.
  2. We need to farm organically.
  3. Europe has pushed to intensive agriculture and is reducing the amount of fertilizer they use and the size of their farms. This should be a global initiative.

The stories we need to tell about sustainability are that:

  1. It is a challenge for farmers to use less insecticide and fertilizer because it means that they will probably produce less food — “If you produce less food on that farm, that means you’re going to need more farms,” explained Bobo.
  2. Organic agriculture produces 20–30% less food. If the whole world farmed organically, we would need to dedicate another 20­–30% to farms, and 40% of all the land on earth is already allocated to agriculture. This would have a devastating impact, according to Bobo, including the loss of our forests.
  3. Europe practices intensive agriculture but also imports 70% of its animal feed needs. Most of their imports come from Brazil, the country with the greatest level of deforestation — “So, in many ways, Europe has exported its environmental footprint to arguably the most biodiverse country on the planet,” said Bobo.

No matter how you dissect it, it is clear that we have a problem: we need to produce more food. The Food and Agriculture Organization states that we are going to need 50–60% more food by 2050, but why is that the case if we are only going to see about 20% more people? This is directly due to an improvement in income and overall wellbeing, and when people are making money and feeling well, they buy more animal protein. Yet more protein means more crops to feed animals, hence, a spike in food production.

“The former director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, once said that the amount of food that needs to be produced in the next 40 or 50 years is equivalent to the amount of food that was produced in the last 10,00 years,” explained Bobo. “Let me repeat that. The amount of food we need to produce in the next 40 or 50 years is greater than the amount of food produced in the last 10,000 years of human civilization.”

The challenge is daunting, and while agriculture is getting better, it is not getting better fast enough.

There are no silver bullets to solve this challenge, but we do know that we need to increase our food production as sustainably as possible.

Bobo explored possible solutions, such as:

  • Shifting diets: Many people believe that becoming a vegan or vegetarian is the solution to the problem. It is important to think about changing our diets to improve our health, but is this the way to also improve the environment? — “It’s not going to solve all of our problems,” said Bobo. He further explained that, even if the United States and Europe shifted their diets completely, people from low-income countries will be making more money in the next 30 years, which means they will be eating more protein. “So, shifting diets is important, but it can’t solve the problem all by itself.”
  • Food waste: A third of all food produced is lost to food waste. In developed countries, a third of food is wasted post-consumer. But, in third-world countries, food is wasted because of loss in the fields, supply chain and storage — “If we could somehow address that third of food that’s lost through food waste, then that would get us most of the way to our challenge,” explained Bobo. However, there are so many types of food waste (storage, distribution, consumer, field) and food waste issues with different products (tomatoes, soybeans, corn, cantaloupes) that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving the issue.
  • Technology: There are high-tech solutions, like gene editing and genetic engineering, and abundant ag-tech data that proves cover crops produce a higher return on investment and a lower environmental footprint.
  • Alternative proteins: “Of course, these alternative proteins are part of the solution,” said Bobo. “The problem we have, though, is that companies that are producing these different products… they’re talking about them as the solution. That plant-based proteins can eliminate livestock. That cell-based agriculture is going to make dairy obsolete.” This approach suggests that there is a silver-bullet solution to a really complex problem, “and as we’ve already discussed,” said Bobo, “there’s not one solution to the problem.” Bobo also notes that the protein market is a trillion-dollar opportunity and will only get bigger in 2050. “And so, who really believes that plant-based meat is going to become a trillion-dollar industry in just 30 years?” asked Bobo.

These solutions are all necessary for achieving sustainability. However, they have become competitors in the market rather than working together as a single solution. Bobo says we need to think about what the future will look like, and work toward opportunities instead of focusing on problems.

“We don’t need one solution,” explained Bobo. “We need them all.”

Actively working on these solutions with farmers is the best and most effective way to achieve the goals of conservationists and consumers.

Working with farmers

“I’m just happy that consumers and conservationists are now joining farmers on this journey of sustainability,” said Bobo. “Because we could use their help. Instead of framing it as agriculture is the problem to be solved, we need to help them to understand that agriculture is the solution to the problem.”

What we find from data collected by the World Resources Institute is that if agriculture continues to improve the way it has been, 60% of the gains we need to achieve a sustainable future will happen just by farmers continuing what they are already doing. The data also talks about incentivizing steps that will increase productivity and improve efficiency in:

  1. Livestock production.
  2. Reducing methane emissions.
  3. Using less fertilizer.

“Well, efficiency is something farmers want to do… So, these are huge opportunities. These are not challenges,” said Bobo.

However, if agriculture is the solution to our problem — the answer to improving the future of food — then why do we still hear that agriculture is the problem to be solved?

“Why do we talk about a broken food system when the food system was never not broken?” asked Bobo.

While it may be broken, Bobo assured the audience that the food system is better than it has ever been, and it will only continue to get better every day. But it is just not happening fast enough. Yet if we continue to spend our time spreading false stories and narratives about farmers being the problem, we cannot actively work with them toward a solution.

Organic agriculture may be critical to saving the planet, but it does not mean that genetic engineering and gene editing are not.

New alternative proteins are critical to saving the planet, but so are dairy farms and livestock production.

“It takes a menu of solutions to solve a problem,” explained Bobo.

Final thoughts

Bobo asked us an important question at the beginning of his presentation: Thirty years from now, will we be confident that we did everything that we could do to make the world the place that we want it to be?

Again, conservationists, consumers and farmers all want the same thing: a safe, plentiful and sustainable future of food and agriculture. The only way to achieve that goal is to start telling the same story, even if we are not always on the same page.

“Because if we do that,” said Bobo, “we all can save the planet.”

Access on-demand content until May 2021, with new content added monthly. Visit one.alltech.com for more information.

Breaking records with organic trace minerals in poultry

Breaking records with organic trace minerals in poultry

Granja Pavão, a layer hen operation, was founded in 1985 in São Paulo, Brazil. When it moved to the state of Goiás, Brazil, in 2000, it had 30,000 layers. Today, it has 400,000 laying hens, and it reached a historic milestone in 2019: achieving 500 eggs at 100 weeks of age without a molting period. This is not only a record in Latin America — it’s a feat that put the operation in second place globally.

“(We’re very grateful) because it shows that the sum of many things we (have) done right here in the company had a positive effect,” said Luis Fernando, owner of Granja Pavão.

In addition to implementing good housing management, a vaccination program and a specialized labor force, the company puts a strong emphasis on nutrition — particularly organic trace minerals — in their poultry operation.

Organic trace minerals in poultry production to support bird health and sustainability

Alltech has proven that organic trace minerals can be included at significantly lower levels than inorganic trace minerals while still improving animal performance. This optimizes animal mineral requirements and reduces negative environmental impacts, an innovation Alltech calls its Total Replacement Technology™ (TRT).

Granja Pavão has been working with Alltech to support its layer hen nutrition for six years. Some important goals for Luis and his team included reducing the rate of mortality in the birds, improving enteric conditions and supporting product quality in terms of albumen, Haugh units and eggshell quality. Overall, they wanted to optimize layer hen performance, and to do so, they use several Alltech technologies, including organic minerals, organic acids, probiotics and prebiotics.

“It is (satisfying) to know that this partnership is with a top company that brings us all (the) expertise and technical support, nutritional support — which is the main factor — where we see their product quality, the company responsibility,” said Luis.

In the past, Granja Pavão implemented a forced molting practice to prolong the use of the birds. Today, thanks to the genetic and nutritional improvements in the birds, that is no longer necessary.

Using the right minerals for a Planet of Plenty™

By supporting nutritional efficiency through organic trace minerals, the operation also saw increased sustainable poultry production. Because organic trace minerals are better absorbed, stored and utilized by the bird, fewer minerals are excreted into the environment. This, in turn, means fewer minerals make their way into our soils and water sources. It also has positive implications for the long-term sustainability of the business as a whole, such as decreasing antibiotic use.

“What we saw, also, was a better nutritional efficiency with the use of organic minerals and organic acids, those products that help us (with) better digestion and lower feed consumption,” said Luis. “That ensures a better quality of the GI tract, improving nutritional efficiency, supporting reduction of antibiotic use and seeing the sustainability of the business (in the) long term. Less excretion (into) the soil and better results overall, less mortality — that was very positive, too.”

As Granja Pavão illustrates, maximizing performance and yield through nutrition, technology and improved management is key to creating a Planet of Plenty™ in which plants, animals and people thrive in harmony.

Product quality over quantity to feed a growing world

For Luis and the Granja Pavão team, helping to feed the world is an important aspect of their job. Through organic trace minerals, they can make that idea a reality with optimized animal efficiency and more sustainable poultry production.

“Yes, of course we are very proud of what we do,” he said. “We see ourselves that way: being part of the society, helping mainly (in) the world, where we see so (many) food shortages in many countries, such as in Africa. And we see the meaningfulness of our sector producing food and bringing it to the table of the consumers.”

For Granja Pavão , farming a quality product is critical not only for their operation, but for the end consumers who are feeding their families.

“We know there are big farmers in Brazil with 5 million layers — however, that is not our goal,” explained Luis. “Our aim is working with quality and to bring a good result to the table of the final consumer.”

One of the ways they continue to build on this promise and support the quality of their products is to attend ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference. Alltech’s annual international conference is where everyday heroes from industries across the globe explore solutions to improve their businesses and the world around them, and it includes a poultry-specific focus session.

“That has been an experience of great intensity for us, because the (search) for new information, new technologies, that is all included at ONE,” said Luis. “The visit to other farms, the exchange of experiences with other farmers, that has been a very positive factor for our company.”