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Together, India and New Zealand can feed the world

Not many are aware that India’s milkman, Verghese Kurien, learnt his dairy skills in New Zealand. Today, as the the world gets ready to tackle a food crisis, the two countries can collaborate not just to help each other but also other countries, says Grahame Morton, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to India, in an interview to Smart AgriPost


How does New Zealand’s agriculture sector compare with other countries?

Even though our population is 4.6 million, New Zealand produces enough food to feed 40 million people.  New Zealand produces 1% of world beef production, 3% of diary production and 6% of world sheep meat production.  It is because our domestic consumption is limited by our population that we are the largest exporter in the world of dairy products and lamb and that we can meet the international demand for our high quality beef, kiwifruit, apples and seafood.  New Zealand exports 95 percent of our agricultural production to more than 130 countries.  Primary industry export earnings for New Zealand in 2015 will be around NZ$ 35 billion.  This is projected to increase to around NZ$ 41.3 billion in 2019.

What are the technological innovations in dairy sector?

Our dairy companies use a wide range of technical products and services including electric fencing, milk meters, livestock-weighing equipment, electronic animal identification, specialised management software, milking machines and ICT-based animal genetics systems.  New Zealand’s dairy industry utilises cutting-edge technology, including information systems, biological systems, and automated hardware systems. Our tradition of innovation covers many firsts, including dairy science’s first genomically-selected bulls in 2013, the electric fence to restrict animals, and widespread use of milk meters.

What is the current status of Indo-New Zealand cooperation in agriculture?

New Zealand and India already enjoy a long history of sharing knowledge and experience.  Dr Verghese Kurien, known to many Indians as the leader of India’s “white revolution” and “operation Flood”, studied at Massey University in Palmerston North in 1953 where he learnt about New Zealand’s cooperative model.  He returned to India and started the Amul brand with knowledge gained in New Zealand.  Dr Kurien had enormous openness and capacity for using and adapting foreign ideas in ways that benefited India.

Over the next 35 years, global demand for food will nearly double. There will be another two billion global mouths to feed, as well as the expectation among those with growing incomes that they too can experience new products and tastes.  We believe we are well positioned to respond to that demand by being a niche, high quality food supplier. We are also aware that the future of New Zealand agriculture must include commercial partnerships with farmers around the world that are closer to local markets and who have knowledge of local weather conditions, soil and distribution networks.

New Zealand’s position as a successful primary sector producer has been enabled by continuous innovation in farmer education, technology and applied science. We have a good record in finding ways to develop and apply agricultural science to produce safe and higher value agricultural goods. Our expertise, products and systems can help improve Indian productivity in areas such as seeds and grains, animal genetics, quality control, cold chains, farm assurance systems and farm equipment.

Improving productivity in India’s important agricultural sector is a clear priority of the Indian government and an area in which we expect to see to further cooperation in future.  An example of how this can work is a current project to improve apple productivity in Himachal Pradesh being delivered by Pipfruit New Zealand, our pipfruit growers’ organisation, in partnership with the Centre, the Himachal Pradesh government and the World Bank.  Apple yields in Himachal Pradesh are declining as its ageing trees are vulnerable to pests and diseases.  Pipfuit NZ is developing a plan with the local growers and government to build local capacity in science and horticulture, and to support a plan to replant traditional and new varieties, reduce the spray requirements but improve pest and disease control, increase research and development and improve water storage and the cold store chain.  When this multi-year programme is complete the industry should be in a position to deliver higher incomes to growers, greater choice to consumers, and a more confident and competitive Indian industry.

What is the current status of agricultural trade between India and New Zealand?

It is important to remember that our trade in agricultural products is two-way.  New Zealand imports agricultural products from India including rice, sesame seeds, mangos and shrimps.  India imports New Zealand apples, kiwifruit and avocados, as well as some wine and sheep meat.  Much of this trade is counter-seasonal and represent no competitive threat to each other; New Zealand apples for example are only available during the India apple industry off season.  India is also an important market for New Zealand’s sustainable forestry products, importing logs, pulp and paper, and Indian companies are significant investors in this industry.

How did New Zealand kiwifruit industry become successful?

Kiwifruit have been grown in New Zealand since the early 1900s.  Selective breeding of the first plants greatly improved the first plants imported from China and allowed its development as a commercial crop.   It was renamed as kiwifruit in 1959, grew strongly in the 1970, and has developed in the international market since then with the rise of international competition.

We have invested heavily in environment-friendly production techniques and clever marketing strategies based around the Zespri brand, to create new international markets.  It earns more than NZ $ 1 billion annually and is our largest fruit export. The largest share of kiwifruit exports go Japan, the EU and China.

The tremendous success story that is our kiwifruit industry has been characterised by a push for constant innovation.  To deliver tastiest fruit possible in the place that is consumed requires unceasing efforts to make kiwifruit cultivation and export sustainable and efficient.  Measures include integrated pest management that encourages the use of natural weed and pest control and reduces pesticide use, environment-friendly packaging that utilises recyclables, carbon efficient shipping and constant research to improve fruit quality and to introduce new varieties.

The entry of kiwifruit into new markets has been facilitated by the development of new varieties such as SunGold.  Its yellow-fleshed fruit tastes sweeter and has a hint of mango – a quality that has been helpful in gaining a foothold in many markets in Asia.  It has taken years of innovation and research to develop kiwifruit’s popularity.  These have been mastered through a tradition of growing kiwifruit for more than 100 years in New Zealand, where excellent orchard management practices now consistently deliver the best and nutritious fruit possible.

What is the scope of investment in dairy sector in India?

The Indian dairy industry is the largest in the world, far bigger than New Zealand’s.  It is in the fortunate position of serving a fast growing domestic demand for dairy products in urban India.  There are opportunities among those in India who are seeking to improve the productivity and quality of Indian dairy production.  Opportunities include investment in higher yielding cattle, and cost-effective and top-quality dairy processing machinery. There are opportunities for production development and for introducing more technically advanced manufacturing units for dairy items and packaging.

New Zealand firms like the Livestock Improvement Company (LIC), which supplies high productivity genetics, or Tru Test, the world’s largest supplier of ICAR (International Committee for Animal Recording)-recognised meters, are among the leading dairy support companies in the world.  Other Kiwi firms like Gallagher Group, the inventors of the electric fence, or Waikato Milking Systems, the inventors of the world’s first rotary platform milking machines, illustrate the breadth of technologies that New Zealand has which are available to Indian investors interested in boosting productivity and returns.

India has the largest population of cattle in world but the per capita yield is low. How can New Zealand help to improve it?

In 2013-14, New Zealand dairy companies processed 20.7 billion litres of milk which was produced from 4.92 million cows.  Herd testing averages showed average production per New Zealand cow in 2013-14 was 371 kilograms of milk solids.  In terms of litres, the average yield was 4,196 litres per animal. The average yield in India, on the other hand, is less than 2 litres per cow per day.

New Zealand achieves high yields in the dairy sector as a result of selective breeding and record-keeping by farmers of their cows, quality pasture feed and clean water.  Almost all New Zealand dairy cows are pasture-fed in  clean and natural environment.  Low and high-tech dairy products are produced and exported under a world class food safety system.  A quarter of its merchandise exports are dairy products and New Zealand participates in approximately one third of international dairy trade each year.  Total dairy export revenue for 2015 will be around NZ$ 13 billion and future moderate growth is expected though industry growth in New Zealand is constrained by lack of availability of suitable land for its pasture-based systems.

What are the opportunities for New Zealand companies in dairy processing industries in India?

For New Zealand companies building a trading relationship under the auspices of an FTA with a partner would be the biggest step that would lead to future deeper trade and investment relationship. There are already some collaborations between New Zealand and India in dairy.  Amul sells its products internationally on the Global Dairy Platform created by New Zealand company Fonterra.  Fonterra has also invested in a DPF Pharma in India, which produces very specialised lactose ingredients that are used in India’s growing pharmaceutical industry.



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