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CLARIN

The Economics Of Our Growing Appetite For Protein

For Argentina, and other Latin American countries, this is a golden opportunity.

Harvesting soybeans north of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Harvesting soybeans north of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sergio Persoglia

The world is hungry for proteins. For those of us monitoring the economy in Argentina, which is a leading producer of grains and soy, it is clear that this is a huge opportunity.

Population growth and changing eating habits are partly responsible for the demand increase, as speakers pointed out at a recent food conference organized by the firm Alltech and held in the U.S. city of in Lexington, Kentucky. China's ballooning middle class, for example, is consuming more meat and dairy and thus putting new pressures on suppliers.
But demand is also being driven by things like aquaculture (when farmed needs large doses of protein to grow), which is huge in China but is also big business in places like Chile right next door! For Argentina, which can and must be a top protein supplier, these trends represent real opportunities.
One of the participants at the gathering was former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who noted that the growing need for protein production comes at a delicate time, both in terms of geopolitics and the environment. One of the challenges protein producers face is water, which is in dwindling supply in many parts of the world.

Some Argentine producers are already looking toward the future. The food firm Molinos, for example, is considering building a protein plant to make concentrated soy protein, which is potentially of great use in fish farming.

The Molinos project would be a first for Argentina. Neighboring Brazil already has four such plants and supplies customers in Chile and Norway, another top aquaculture producer. Given our leading position in the soy sector, there's no reason Argentina shouldn't participate in the market as well. Ultimately our products could be even more competitive than Brazil's.

Concentrated soy protein can contribute to a balanced diet for fish and even halve the cost of their feed. Producing it would not just boost the profits of soy producers but create a new, elaborated and higher value-added item to their production chain.

This is just one area where plant and animal proteins are linked, and the economic potential of such demand-focused farming is already changing the profile of agriculture around the world. Ecuador, for example, earns more now from exporting farmed prawns than from bananas, one of its traditional products, Alltech's global head of aqua division, Jorge Arias, pointed out during the Lexington event.
What's being created right now is nothing less than a new food production chain, one that involves boosting the production of vegetable proteins, converting them into animal proteins (through feed), and producing more elaborate, animal-derived products sometimes termed "functional products," such as eggs enriched with vitamins or minerals. The changes are designed not just to increase productivity, but also as a response to limited resources that will force food production to be "sustainable."
Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, another participant in the conference, noted that food production consumes a whopping 70% of the world's freshwater supplies. It's both a huge practical problem and a moral issue, said Glickman. And it's something large-scale farmer can no longer ignore.

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