Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The interview - Mr Clifford Spencer, Chairman of Aquaculture without Frontiers

Mr Clifford Spencer of the UK is the chairman of the newly-formed ‘Aquaculture without Frontiers’ charity which aims to promote sustainable aquaculture development for the benefit of the public by the relief of poverty and the improvement of the conditions of life in developing and Transition Countries

Currently Mr Spencer leads the Global Biotechnology Transfer Foundation (GBTF), which with support from global organisations, makes up a strong delivery mechanism for the Foundation’s aims. The GBTF was formed with the intervention of the United Nations and is dedicated to promoting the potential for biotechnology to support sustainable, long-term, socio-economic development. 


Why is aquaculture so important to an individual who has grown up in land-based agriculture?
When I studied agriculture at university in the UK, which was over 45 years ago, the UK farming industry was in the vanguard of livestock and crop production globally. My own tutors for example were the inventors of the barley beef system of red meat production and it was a time of quantum leaps in understanding of ruminant and single stomached animal farm production as well as the intensification of arable agronomy. I personally spent much time studying the area of linear programming of animal feed rations which was then the latest industry development and which ensured least cost balanced feed rations for pigs, poultry, sheep and cattle. Of particular importance was the feed conversion ratio of animal production, which is the relative efficiency with which the animals diet is converted into meat or milk production. This efficiency was lowest for intensively fed ruminants (which were in any case animals designed in nature to thrive on good quality grazing pasture) and highest in poultry with sheep and pigs falling between in performance. However at that time I knew absolutely nothing of fish production and in particular both the supreme efficiency of fish to convert feed to meat and I also knew even less of the incredibly high quality of fish protein particularly in oily fish in terms of omega oil quality vital to human health. This was because although aquaculture is a form of farming, it was kept separate (and still is in the UK) from mainstream land based farming. If I had known about aquaculture I think I might have fattened a few less beef cattle and had a look at fish much earlier in my farming career. The reason – well cattle have a conversion ratio of nearly 8:1 (that is 8 kgs of quality feed ration produces 1 kg of quality meat) whereas fish are nearer 1:1 and super-efficient converters of feed. When you come to considering bi-valves they are filter feeders and therefore scavenge the surrounding water for sustenance and at the same time clean up the environment – so what’s not to like?!

What challenges lie ahead in terms of our ever-growing population?
Well, consider that over 800 million people globally do not have adequate access to safe and nutritious food. Also the world faces a potentially even greater crisis in food security as expected global population growth to over 9 billion is coupled with increasing affluence and urbanisation. Indeed demand for food is forecast to grow by 40 percent to 2030 and 70 percent to 2050. So the farming community has the challenge to meet this demand in ways that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, and in the face of global climate change. Aquaculture fits this challenge of providing the world’s population with a sustainable, secure supply of good quality food from less land and with lower inputs. Also, I feel safe in the knowledge that the human race has evolved from collecting wild fruits, nuts, berries, vegetables and grains and hunting wild animals for food to successfully farming all of these things. So promoting aquaculture, the most efficient animal production known to mankind, for the benefit of future generations and those most in need has proven the next logical step.

What are the aims and objectives of the National Aquaculture Centre (NAC) in the UK and how will that benefit both domestic and foreign aquaculture?
By 2035 the UK population is forecast to be 71 million (people aged 75 and over will grow from 7.9 percent in 2012 to 13 percent in 2037). Increased aquaculture production can contribute to securing future supply, supporting local economies and delivering a carbon-efficient outcome as for instance aquaculture finfish production is “the most efficient animal production by quantity of feed to produced food”. The NAC will focus on the study and promotion of the “entire value chain of fish and shellfish farming from breeding and physical production techniques to transport and marketing,” The fish and shell fish value chain is subdivided into five principle categories being, Biology and genetics, Nutrition and husbandry, Production systems, Processing and Food product design and preparation. This will all be examined in terms of integration within the value chain, but we will also identify opportunities for developing research and educational programmes. We want to create the ‘keystone’ to all aquaculture activities in England/UK and enable organisations to engage through sharing knowledge, information, technology and operational know-how through demonstration. Also we want to study water & energy connected through science and industry and with creative and innovative research in food with all of this effort linked to the Seafood, Processing & Education Cluster in the Humber region and beyond. We also want to create a working development farm where the learning opportunities and other activities will be vast –domestically and internationally. Indeed perhaps the greatest scientific question today is the question of how to practice aquacultural research and innovation in ways that lead to development impact. By creating an efficient sustainable working farm facility which would produce and harvest fish for commercial sale we also secure:

• An aquaculture learning centre where skills and education will be shared through linkages to education partners – the main teaching areas are aquaculture, nutrition (human and animal), engineering, basic business, marketing and entrepreneurial skills relating to sustainable food production

• an aquaculture technology and innovation ‘science park’ which would encourage aquaculture and marine biotechnology research organisations to engage and connect to Humber region and beyond

• a strong conduit to the processing community in the Humber Cluster assisting in the improvement of product development, the value chain and logistics that help producers maximise their prospects

• a link to engage people from overseas in gaining working experience, knowledge and skills with the aim that we duplicate such a Centre in as many developing countries as possible.

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