Research on innovative and disruptive livestock technologies: Need of the hour

B Soundararajan -A renowned and humble personality of Indian Poultry Industry – is the Chairman and Managing Director of Suguna Holdings Private Limited. The man who foresaw the great potential of growth in poultry integration as early as in the 90’s, brought the concept of Contract Farming in India. Presently he is the Chairman of CLFMA of India, the apex association representing the dynamic Indian livestock industry.
In a telephonic conversation with Think Grain Think Feed, he shares his views about present trends and challenges of the Indian livestock sector, impact of developments in global trade and more. Below are the excerpts of the interview:
What according to you are the key trends in feed industry globally and in India?
Globally meat consumption is growing and hence feed industry is also growing in tandem. However, Asian (particularly South East Asia) countries are growing much faster than the rest of the world. In India, for example, poultry meat consumption is growing at 7 to 8% per annum and dairy products consumption is also growing. Similarly, with increase in incomes and consumer awareness, protein share in diets is expected to increase. India has recently emerged as one of the most significant exporter of shrimp. All these indicate encouraging trend for the feed industry.
There are major current challenges for the livestock industry on a global level including India? What is the role of CLFMA of India in overcoming these challenges?
Recently, there is lot of negative publicity being created by some groups with vested interests and questionable credentials with regard to livestock and meat industry. We must understand that India is still the home to millions of malnourished population especially having proteindeficiency. It is quite imperative that animal protein must be made available to them at affordable prices. This kind of propaganda against industry, without any scientific data to justify the claims, shall only cost the country big in terms of food and nutritional security, if it is not addressed appropriately. Lack of understanding among consumers about how food is produced leads to unjustified negative public perception on tools and technologies that are useful in food production.
Another challenge is that the import of GM feed ingredients, which is prohibited, while ironically, the country has agreed to import US chicken which is fed on GM ingredients, or shrimp feed import made using GM ingredients. Approx. 90% of world production of feed ingredient is genetically modified and a premium is to be paid for organic or non-GM. Lower per hectare production of corn and soya in India also remains a major challenge.
CLFMA’s primary mandate is development of the livestock sector in India. So, CLFMA actively works with diverse stakeholdersto drive home the point that this is a shared responsibility of all stakeholders connected to the food value chain including the industry, government, policy makers, scientists, media and general public. As an organization, CLFMA also actively supports the government vision of doubling the farmer’s income which can be achieved by increasing productivity of corn, soya and other key crops. This would ultimately bring sustainable income for farmers and better protein availability for consumers (human as well as livestock).
How do you define sustainability in the context of livestock production? How is India doing when it comes to sustainability and what would be your suggestions to improve it further
We mustappreciate thatnowadays the consumer is not only concerned about food prices and quality but also much interested to look into how it is produced, especially inrelation toenvironmental issues, resource use and welfare. As India is one of the efficient producers of animal protein, our production systems are already much improved in the last few decades. In future, we must be more focused towards things such as water use, judicious use of other inputs including medicines and additives, cutting down waste both on and off the farms, improving the share of processing etc. There is always a scope and need for continuous improvement.
As per recent report by TOI1, India spends less than 1% of GDP on R&D. What is your opinion on this issue and how could the industry respond to this low percentage spent on R&D?
It is generally accepted that India should increase its R&D spend across the board in agriculture and livestock industry. However, it should not be isolated and confined to only public and/or private sectors. The future is about collaboration between these two sectors and the Government is also keen to promote PPPs (Public Private Partnerships) to ultimately benefit the industry and the country. Indian poultry industry is already one of the most efficient producers in the world. Still the country should invest on breeding else we will remain dependant forever on few international companies. However, the industry is experimenting but it is not sufficient. Innovative and disruptiveresearch in technologies arethe needs of the hour.
With strict FSSAI regulation in place, what could be its impact on Indian livestock industry?
In my personal opinion, it is a welcome move since consumers are quite concerned about food safety and quality. The organized players are already conforming to the standards and relevant laws. FSSAI’s regulation will make the unorganized and unscrupulous players to conform or quit. It might also bring the shift in consumer preference from live chicken to processed chicken. However, I would like to emphasize that effective implementation of the regulation is very critical.
There is a lot that has been recently said about antibiotic usage in India, highlighting livestock industry as the main culprit. There is a need to bring right information to the end-consumer. Any thoughts you would like to share on this issue?
As I mentioned earlier, scaremongering without scientific data and making untruthful claims had become more popular tactics of people who have vested interests. However, the industry is already doing its part to promote awareness on judicious and responsible use of inputs including antibiotics. Everyone including media and journalists has a great responsibility to ensure consumers are not misled. At CLFMA, we are always advocating for judicious and responsible usage of all inputs. Hence, without scientific evidence, any unnecessary regulation or blanket bans will only be harmful. On the face of it, these sorts of campaigns lead to confusion and anti-industry perception among public. Everyone concerned with the food and nutritional security of the country must counter this with facts and science-backed information.
Recent reports suggest a global trade war is on cards that would impact the commodity market. What are your views on its impact on Indian feed industry?
Indian feed industry largely depends on domestic supplies except in odd years when our production falls short. However, we cannot be complacent and remain immune to the global dynamics. If the so-called trade war is happening, we must be watchful about prices since our prices are aligned with the global prices in both the key commodities – maize and soybean. During such times, government has a major role to play in protecting the domestic industry by focusing on farmers’ income and industry’s competitiveness.
You are speaking next month in Feed Additives conference, please share more details on the topic-Feed Additives and Feed Markets in India.
I would be discussing about the key developments in livestock industry in India, major consumer trends, as well as socio-economic, policy, and regulatory environments. I will also be focusing on the growth potential of India’s dairy, poultry and aqua sectors.I see a lot of opportunity in global feed sector. While on feed additives front,we are largely dependent on imports, this needs to be changed. To conclude, I feel that the evolving government regulations and socioeconomic factors would further support the overall livestock industry’s growth in India.