Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Interview: Francisco Gomes, Novus

Francisco Gomes, Executive Manager Aqua Business Unit, Novus International, USA
Francisco Saraiva Gomes leads Aquaculture Business Unit at Novus International. After graduating in Marine Biology in Lisbon, he obtained his doctoral degree at Auburn University, USA and has worked in several positions related to aquaculture and marine biotechnology. 

Novus specialises in health and nutrition micro ingredients and functional technologies including antioxidants, amino acids, enzymes, probiotics, prebiotics and mycotoxin binders. The company focuses in four main platforms: Performance Nutrition; Therapeutic Nutrition; Feed Quality and; Consumer Values.

Why is the aqua market so important in the Novus Strategy?

Last year I had the privilege to address the plenary of the world aquaculture society in Natal, Brazil. There I expressed my view that the aquaculture forecasts are an underestimate. Currently, aquaculture is predicted to increase to 220 mmt of production by 2050, from our current 60 something level today.

These estimates fail to incorporate technology development. Actually they assume that the gains in efficiency in aquaculture will continue to occur at a slower rate than in more sophisticated industries such as poultry. This is a mistake, because aquaculture’s efficiency is increasing every day. 

Moreover, it is inaccurate to assume that aquaculture is comparable to poultry, aquaculture is a new platform for human development. Its applications go way beyond meat production per se. Algae is a good example. Algae culture is in many ways a spinoff of highly tech aquaculture sectors. If agriculture is the platform of land, aquaculture is the platform of water and it is essential for mankind to steer this new platform to fundamental sustainability, socially, environmentally and economically.
Aqua is important for Novus simply because we recognise how important it will be to feed the world.

What are the two majors issues Aquaculture is facing in the horizon 2050?

Aquaculture will face many issues all of them critical from here on to 2050. I say that the sustainability of nutrition and offshore farming are probably two of the biggest ones.

Sustainable nutrition will be a key issue affecting the development of the industry as a whole. To produce all this biomass we need to devise a sustainable sourcing for the raw materials that will be used for feed. 

The fishmeal an oil dependency is perhaps the most significant issue, but surely not the only one. We must not be deaf to the criticism invoked about transferring millions of mt of soy produced on land onto the water. Soy is certainly a solution but will it be the only solution in the long term. 

Alternative proteins must be investigated and algae, single cell protein or insect protein are no longer the science fiction cases they were 10 years ago. Not only, that but it seems more and more likely that feeds will be the preponderant vehicle to prevent disease in aquaculture. 

Without proper health management, there will be no industry. The importance of feed also relates to species and culture systems. We need to learn more about the nutritional requirements of our animals so that we can design feeds that are more efficient, so that they are better absorbed. Conversion of feed is something so paramount to the industry that it affects everything from offshore licensing, to design of recirculated systems, to financial profitability and so on.

Offshore farming is perhaps the other big topic. The potential of the oceans to provide us with food is enormous. I’m convinced that the sustainability of the human species depends on farming the oceans. But the oceans are an extremely sensitive ecological compartment of the planet. We now know that in spite of the gigantic size of the oceans, we have actually been able to change their chemical properties as whole! This is by all measures an incredible fact. 

So now we know how destructive we can really get if we do not pay attention. Should that prevent us from moving forward? I believe it should not. The only real alternative we have is not whether we should farm the oceans but how do we farm the oceans. 

And there again, feeds and sustainable nutrition will have a major role. Salmon farming is the largest marine cage industry in the world. The two main environmental criticisms are one related with feed waste accumulating in the bottom of the oceans and the other related with biosecurity. Aqua feeds are definitely the solution for the first and a major supporting pillar for the second.

Sometimes the industry still falls on the trap of defending its sustainability by engaging in the argument “what we’re doing is the best alternative available so…?”  . Actually, the world does not want to hear that, we are expected to give not the best available but the sustainable one. And if none of what we are using is the sustainable strategy, then we must recognise that somewhere in the world there will be growing voices of dissatisfaction. 

What role does Novus intend to play in the aquaculture strategy horizon 2050?
Our goal is to be the referential provider of health and nutrition technologies in the industry. Size, revenue and profit all matter of course and we do have ambitious goals well before 2050. But I believe our legacy will be complete if in 2050, we could be recognized as one of the silent partners of a truly sustainable industry that in the space of a century went from virtually nothing, to the largest provider of animal protein in the world.

Can you elaborate on the role of Novus in aquaculture as a water platform?
Aquaculture is the water platform. One of the functions of that platform is the production of animal protein. For that production to be efficient animals need health and nutrition. Not only in their feeds but also in their production systems directly. Novus provides the functionality of health and nutrition strategies used throughout the value chain. 

In summary, our role covers the entire value chain of aquaculture production from raw materials to harvest. We do not provide processing plant related technologies. And within that value chain, we focus on five key platforms: Feed Cost Reduction, Functional Feeds, Health through Nutrition, Optimised Raw Materials and Sustainable Practices. We do not provide the feed, the same way we do not provide raw materials or the culture systems. What we do is to optimise such raw materials or processes. 

This role allows us to be at the cornerstone of the development of the industry. Our technologies are hinging points from which the industry can support itself and adapt in one or the other direction. The five key areas we focus on are basically essential for the development of a sustainable industry.

Is this water platform an international strategy for the development of a sustainable aquaculture?

I surely would like to see it that way. Most of the human nutrition in the world is originated from plant and animal species domesticated 10,000 years ago. Very few species were actually added on to our “portfolio” after the agricultural revolution. Aqua is the big exception. 

But it is an exception occurring at a time where our technology and our knowledge of the processes allow us to develop it in a completely different way. Bottom line our technology gives us choices. We can in fact steer aquaculture the best way possible. But for that we need innovation, research and development. And for that we need resources: human, capital, organisational, managerial, social, environmental and many others. 

We do not know what Aqua 2050 will be but we have a pretty good idea that if it will be a sustainable one, it will come by knowledge creation and knowledge sharing.  So my question is what best way to capture resources, organise them and manage them for results, that to recognise a single, diversified yet coherent platform for human development. 

You see, most of our growth is still yet to come. And in order to tap on that richness, we need to have more ambitious innovation. Science requires repetition, but are we not repeating enough already. Could we not have higher compartmentalisation of R&D in aquaculture and have better and more defined strategies and policies of research in aquaculture. I keep getting surprised by how much overlap there is in R&D plans across the world. Not only amongst private companies but also amongst public institutions. I think the development of the Water Platform would allow us – all the members of the industry to organise ourselves better and to better leverage all of our resources better, and fundamentally to progress faster and more sustainably.

This year Novus is actively participating to the 2012 BioMarine summit in London. What are your expectations?

Simply put to learn about companies, technologies, executives priorities and concerns.

What do you expect or what do you see as a practical outcome for your aquaculture Think-tank?

I would like us to come out of that session with a structured document. One that could be published as a three to five year road map and could be considered as an agenda for a more in depth debate and discussion on how to drive marine Aquaculture towards sustainability.

What do you want to say to our BioMarine community and to the attendees of the October summit in London?

First of all, please come by our think tank. Aquaculture is an integrator and we surely benefit from everybody’s contribution, especially if outside the industry. Other than that, I’m really more interested in listening to what the attendees have to say themselves. One of the things I enjoyed about last year’s event was the opportunity to keep a tab on the latest technological and business developments. There is lots and lots of information available to us every day. The problem is not access to information but rather filtering, contextualising it and relating it to your needs. BioMarine is a very good tool for that.

Novus, USA is supporting the up-coming BioMarine Business Convention 2012 in London, UK, form October 24-25, 2012.

Read an extended version of this interview here 

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