There are smart people and smart countries.
What do they have in common?
Fish, according to Alltech President and founder Dr Pearse Lyons.
Thanks to their country’s wise investment in an Oil Fund, virtually everyone in Norway is now a millionaire.
But with their oil production trending downward, the northern European nation of five million endowed with thousands of kilometres of pristine coastline is looking to harness the power of aquaculture in order to become the world’s second largest exporter of fish after China.
Norway currently produces 1.3 million tonnes of farmed salmon at a value of almost US$10 billion. With a cost of production at around $3, it sells for roughly $7/kg.
“Aquaculture is becoming a bigger export from Norway than oil. That’s incredible,” said Dr Lyons. “And they say that our industry isn’t exciting.”
You don’t have to be Norwegian to be smart and successful, but maybe the fish-rich diet of the Nordic country has something to do with it.
Scientists have recently traced a direct correlation between child brain development and docosahexaenoic acid, commonly known as DHA, commonly found in fish.
“There’s a critical developmental stage during the first two years of life and early childhood,”he said. “If you don’t get that development, you never catch up.”
For Norwegian salmon farmers, putting DHA in their products is a must, and now there has been a “power shift” in the relationship between them and their feed suppliers.
Marine Harvest, one of the largest operations in Norway, recently invested $200 million to build their own feed mill, which Dr Lyons called a “game changer.”
“Now the salmon producers send their recipe to the feed company and say, ‘Now you’ll do it our way,’” said Dr Lyons.
Alltech is positioned to benefit from the discovery of DHA’s role in child brain development with two algae-based DHA production plants in the United States and Brazil, and a third being planned in Asia.
“The fish eats the algae and we process the fish to make fish oil to get the DHA from the algae. So all we’re doing is skipping the fish step and going to the algae to get the DHA,” said Dr Lyons.
In Europe, dairy cattle were supplemented with fish oil in their diets for decades until a ban was slapped on the product due to concerns about overfishing. Since then, herd fertility has slumped, Dr Lyons noted.
That move, and others like it, represents a golden opportunity for Alltech’s algae business because it bypasses the need for fish to create Omega 3 oils such as DHA.
“We would need 10 factories to supply the DHA required for fertility,” he said.
“Functional” food has become a buzzword globally, with more and more people realizing that nutrition is more than simply meeting a daily quota of calories.”
“By connecting the dots between the role of vitamins and minerals, we see what function the food plays in your body,” he said.
Alltech for its part, is targeting the entire food production chain with a series of new, upcoming acquisitions that will cover the farmer who plants the seed all the way up to finished livestock leaving the farm gate.
Africa, although rife with problems, is an opportunity that companies like Alltech cannot ignore, simply because it is home to 60% of the world’s arable land.
Alltech has been in South Africa for 20 years, and also has interests in Ghana, Tanzania , where 80% of the dairy cattle use Alltech’s technology.
“Africa is a land of opportunity, but you’ve got to be a pioneer. Young people, in particular, see that,” he said. “We are heavily involved, but not so much as in Southeast Asia or North America or Europe.”
Thailand, as a major producer of meat, is critical for feeding the world, said Dr Lyons. But there is still room for improvement, mainly in terms of marketing the Kingdom’s harvests and the adoption of the latest technological innovations.
“You can improve feed efficiency. You can produce an egg so that every single child that gets an egg gets the relevant amount of DHA that will create smart kids for the future,” he said.