Rethinking Food Production

An idea generation workshop was hosted at MCAST focusing on sustainability and innovation in the food and beverage industry. This workshop was part of Climate-KIC, a public private partnership funded by the EU which brings together businesses, public entities, entrepreneurs and students. Paragon Europe has guided a local consortium based on the knowledge triangle of business, research and higher education, involving Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology and the Malta Life Sciences Park for Malta to participate in the Climate-KIC.

Mr. Edwin Zammit chaired and introduced the workshop by explaining the different courses being offered at MCAST in relation to food and climate change. Attendees joining the workshop came from various European countries including Malta, Spain, Netherlands and Italy.

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Mr. Edwin Zammit (MCAST) chairing the workshop

Local Produce and Climate Change

During the workshop I delivered a presentation about the role of locally produced food versus imports in terms of carbon footprint. Globalisation and dynamic consumer choices have a great impact on agriculture. The supermarket industry is growing, meaning there is an ever growing need for convenience and practicality.

A number of local case studies were featured to give a practical dimension to carbon footprint. Examples have been linked to principles of better farming, reduction of food waste, fairer distribution & diversification. The contribution of the catering industry, social enterprises and agri entrepreneurs is already a good step towards increased sustainability of the Maltese agri-food industry yet more needs to be done.

During the discussion, ideas in favour and against having a locally dominated food industry were brought forward by the attendees. It emerged that balance is the right approach. It was acknowledged that we cannot rely solely on locally produced food, but also that it would be a shame not to give it importance. I also shared the fact that local produce does not always mean more sustainable. Being an insular country, we rely on imported inputs, such as fertilisers, seeds & plastic materials. Whenever possible and profitable policy makers need to encourage solutions that make agriculture less dependant on inputs.

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Sustainability in Orange Juice Production

Ms. Jeanette Cameron from Elty Food contributed to this workshop by giving attendees an insight about global orange juice production. Here are some key points I learnt through her interesting presentation;

  • Brasil is the top producer of oranges which is mostly turned into concentrate and shipped all over the world.
  • Orange juice prices can be greatly affected by tornados and adverse weather conditions that happen in areas where huge plantations of oranges are located.
  • The knowledge of blending, juicing and processing is key in producing a product that needs to have uniform characteristics.
  • The extraction of natural flavours is very costly due to highly specialised technical expertise and equipment.
  • A wide array of by products are produced from oranges including fresh/concentrate juice, cattle feeds, beauty products, detergents.
  • Orange yield = 100%. The only waste produced from the processing of oranges is effluent water; the water used for the washing of the fruit. All of the fruit is utilised… none of it is wasted!
  • The plant condensate (water extracted from the natural juice during concentrate production) is used again to wash the oranges.

An interactive orange tasting session followed Ms. Cameron’s presentation. Several types of orange juices where tasted during this exercise to guess the value and other criteria of the juices. The results were surprising!

 

Supply chain management in view of Climate Change

Dr. Francisco Javier Edea Gonzales responsible for research in sustainable agriculture at the Andalucia Centre for the Assessment of Global Change, explained that local production can also scale up the sustainability index by improving technical knowledge, access funding, logistics and policy.

The cultivation of Papaya in Colombia and Cucumbers on Abu Dhabi were two case studies presented that enabled us to zoom in the issue of intelligent planning to make more profits and reduce impacts on the environment; a concept known as knowledge-based production.

After this, Dr. Gonzales focused on agriculture as the main economic driver of Almeria, Spain. More than 3 millions tons per year of fruits and vegetables are produced and the value generated is significant, to say the least. This value-chain has been established thanks to knowledge and innovation. The core of the production system is commercialisation but activities need to be supported by steady management as well as organisation.

Family farming is at the core of Almeria. A list of service providers support such families including food safety, packaging, marketing and certification. Average holding is of 1 – 2.4 hectares per family and entrepreneurs have a high level of education. Water saving technologies have made production more efficient. The success was only possible due to farmers working in tandem with policy makers. Seed innovation companies are also researching and contributing continuously to create new varieties to boost the growing sector.

This success story has its downsides too. The monitoring of pollution is a cost that farmers have to face. Gone are the days when profits was the only aim of agri enterprises. A massive change in production methods happened after a pesticide residue case from Almeria products was unveiled in Germany. More specific Integrated Pest Management (IPM) started being implemented. Without the action of highly qualified agronomists this change would not have been possible.

Farmers in Almeria have confidence in science and are pro to innovation. Production increased, so did sales, yet more challenges are being faced. Water resources and climate change are imminent issues that need to be dealt with. The waste generated from crop production is massive (plastic, plant residues containing high value compounds). Waste has a value and most of it is being dumped. Thousands of peat bags are annually disposed of. In fact, hydroponics is being seen as a solution to avoid such waste. In the future biorefineries could solve such problems and enhance the Bioeconomy. Financed through the European Union such refineries can enable the extraction of compounds such as proteins, carbohydrates and dyes from waste.

*****

Details of event as on the Agenda: IDEATION event, 19 December 2016

Rethinking Food Production! Integrating sustainability and innovation in the food and beverage industry. MCAST Main Campus, Students’ House Level 1 Conference Room (Room 103), Kordin Road, Paola, MALTA

Speakers: Mr. Edwin Zammit & myself from MCAST, Ms. Jeanette Cameron from Elty Foods, Dr. Francisco Javier Edea Gonzales from the Campus of International excellence ceiA3 in Spain.

 

References:

http://www.climate-kic.org/

http://www.paragoneurope.eu/

http://mcast.edu.mt/

 

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