When feed supplies are dwindling, prices are rising. With increasing demand in high protein food, can we afford to resist agriculture biotechnology, which offers a solution to farmers and the feed industry against feed shortage?
India is witnessing a significant growth in the demand for foods of animal origin, which are rich in protein, like milk, chicken meat and eggs. Initially, the demand was majorly from the urban areas, now it has been observed that rural demand is also increasing gradually. This is certainly an encouraging sign for the poultry and dairy industry, which has been witnessing a revolutionary change over the years. Today it has got transformed into well-organized, scientifically oriented and technologically driven industry, which all set to witness further growth, as the demand for foods of animal origin increases.
However, rise in demand for high protein diet for human consumption also means greater use of cereals and oilseeds for animal feed especially for the poultry and dairy industry. However, under the prevailing situation, it is difficult meet this demand, without relying on imports.
Dwindling supplies of feed
Soya and maize are an important source of feed for the poultry industry, and their current production is around 9/10 million tons for soya and 22 /23 million tons for corn, in India. Annually, the domestic poultry industry consumes around 12 million tonne of maize and 4 million tonne of soymeal. Together, these account for some 85% of total poultry feedstock.
At the outset, it may seem that the production is satisfactory, but the reality is not and hence it is ringing an alarm bell to the industry, because this consumption is growing year after year, while the availability of the same is shrinking, especially for soya meal.
This is in spite of the fact that our meal exports have practically become zero. Soya Production which used to be closer to 10 million tons has now come down to about at 8 to 8.5 million tons. With farmers becoming unwilling sellers in view of falling returns, the bean availability for crushing industry is insignificant. Hence, the poultry industry has to fight hard to secure its supply of feed raw materials.
Recently, to deal with the impending competition of cheaper imports of chicken legs from the United Sates, Indian industry has demanded permission to import at least one million tonne soya meal, to help the poultry industry to get cheaper raw material and reduce its cost of production, which is thrice the cost of production of US chicken legs. It has been observed that cost of Indian soya meal is higher than the global soya meal because the productivity in India is much lower than the productivity of countries like the US, which have adopted the technology of GM soya, with no ban on its production and consumption as feed.
The situation for corn, may not be as alarming at the moment, but it is to be noted that due to back-to-back drought, it is estimated that the summer-sown corn output this year is going to drop by 15 per cent, and this corn accounts for nearly 80 percent of India’s total output. It is being estimated that 60 percent of the corn produced in India goes for the animal feed sector, and the poultry sector consumes about 44 percent of corn produced in the country. However this situation can change dramatically in next few years with few big plants coming up for producing starch and ethanol and demand for animal feed also skyrocketing. This perhaps might be the reason that the representatives of the corn industry too expressed need to import the feed raw material.
Price volatility in feed- a rising concern along with decreasing supplies
Over the past few years, feed prices had seen an upward trend backed by high maize prices, continued strong demand from the poultry sector and limited supply. Further, according to a recent report from Rabo bank, periods of significant feed price volatility will become “the norm” throughout the coming decade, which warns that as global demand for meat, fish and dairy grows, so will the demand for animal feed.
Recently, in Germany the poultry farmers association (ZDG) recently withdrew its 14 year old commitment to only use non-GMO soybeans in poultry feed, as the same was getting unsustainable. Similar concerns are also within the UK feed and food sectors that it is becoming increasingly difficult and costly to maintain a non-GM supply chain, and that it may become unsustainable at some point in the future.
The question is how we are going to meet the demand and ensure protein security
While there is a rise in the consumption of protein rich diets, with the changing lifestyle of the people that the demand is going to reach higher proportions is very clear as it has been estimated that at 194.6 million, India today houses the highest number of protein deficient and undernourished people in the world. Further, by 2030, India will be home to 1.6 billion people, which means overall demand for food will be much higher. While there are many poor in India (roughly 60% of the population), there are also some very rich people, along with a rapidly rising middle class. Incomes have been rising by 7-8%. Hence there is a greater demand not just for more food, but also for better quality food, in terms of fruits and vegetables and milk, eggs and meat.
Thus it is very clear that the opportunity for the poultry and feed industry to grow are enormous, but the question is how we ensure supply of feed ingredients at an affordable price at the current pace of agriculture development when adverse weather conditions create further decrease in yields.
Agriculture biotechnology has the potential to arrest the situation
Today, we are faced with an extraordinary set of challenges of increasing food production of animal origin with all the other limitations like land, water and weather and the question is how we would meet these demands.
We also have another challenge that the food we produce has to be highly cost efficient to make it more sustainable. This means that the real prices of milk, eggs, meat and fish would be falling. So how do we produce more food for feed or in other words increase crop productivity? In such a situation when the scope of using conventional methods of cross breeding etc is decreasing with limited land available, agriculture biotechnology can potentially play a very significant role.
Agricultural biotechnology brings together advanced disciplines of biology, genetics, molecular biology, biophysics, biochemical engineering and computer science.
In the face of a proven slowdown in the productivity gains from the green revolution, biotechnology or gene revolution has the potential to increase production to meet future food needs. Hence India needs high yielding varieties of cereals and oilseeds, which would need minimum irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides to meet feed requirements for its growing livestock population.
There is also scope for producing disease resistant crops, which take a devastating toll on crops like corn, soya, rice etc. After Bt cotton, we do not have any commercially available cereal or legume genetically modified grain that is considered disease resistant, in India. Agriculture biotechnology can also help increase crop’s ability to withstand natural environment factors such as heat and drought, soil toxicity, high salinity etc and hence improve farming in regions in which the crop is difficult to grow. Countries like US, Brazil, Argentina, and China among others have been consistently witnessing its benefits.
Biotechnological interventions can play a vital role not only in the productions but also in environmental protection and sustainability. Genetically modified feeds can improve water and soil quality by reducing levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in animal waste.
The strengths of the Indian biotech sector are mainly excellent scientific infrastructure in agriculture, trained man power, knowledge base, rich biodiversity and low cost of production. Hence an integrated approach to livestock development would be effective, as no single option would provide the answer for achieving the goal in an eco-friendly, cost effective and sustainable manner.
The revolution that biotechnology for insect protection in cotton has brought for India, can also be replicated in other crops like soya and corn. This intervention will surely catapult the poultry and the feed industry to the next level of growth and help these by increasing supply of feed and in the process enable India to ensure protein security for the coming decades.
1The Economic Times Securitising feed for poultry industry, 14 September 2015
2The Economic Times – Poultry market likely to see double-digit growth in 2015, 25 December 2014
3The Economic Times Securitising feed for poultry industry, 14 September 2015
4The Economic Times – Indian poultry industry wants to import 1 mn tonne soya meal to compete with US imports, 19 June 2015
5Reuters – Drought to cut India’s summer-sown corn output by 15 percent industry, 14 September 2015
6Pigworld – Rabobank issues warning of significant feed price volatility, 8 July 2015
7USDA Gain Report GM14008
8The Hindu Business Line – Poultry advisory body launches drive to fight protein deficiency, 23 September 2015
9The Economic Times – Poultry India announces launch of all-India protein awareness campaign, 24 September 2015