“We will either overcome the climate crisis together or we will not overcome it at all”, said Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo at the Glasgow climate summit. At the World Exhibition in Dubai, two Belgian companies showed the way forward in demonstrating how they are able to produce food using fewer raw materials, through innovation and by working shoulder to shoulder with other partners. To achieve that goal, they are prepared to go a long way … all the way to Mars!
Innovation as a unique strong suit
The Belgian food industry is very much an export champion. Our food producers are winning over consumers in every corner of the globe on the sheer strength of their delicious products, especially in countries that place a premium on quality. The Gulf Region being a prime case in point. Over the past five years, our exports to the countries in the Gulf Region went up by 57%. But is it fair to say that these successful exports are at odds with the commitment to putting in place a sustainable food system? In other words, is our food companies’ “licence to operate” under pressure?
Not necessarily, if Fevia Flanders, Flanders Investment & Trade and Flanders’ FOOD have anything to do with it! At the ‘From Flanders to Mars’ seminar, held at the Belgian pavilion at the World Exhibition in Dubai, they showed how innovation and cooperation across the food eco system combine to lend our businesses a unique strength. By continuing to invest in innovation and partnerships, Flemish companies are able to produce with such efficiency that they amply offset the environmental impact of transport.
Focus on water reuse, from the Antarctic to Flanders
Exactly how innovation is the key to sustainable exports became clear from the testimonials of two companies at the ‘From Flanders to Mars’ event: chocolate, bakery and pastry producer Puratos and water technology business BOSAQ. Their stories had a remarkable element in common: research conducted in extreme and harsh conditions yields know-how and technology that enables us to operate more efficiently under normal production conditions and allows us to produce food with greatly reduced water consumption for instance.
BOSAQ is a water technology company which, in amongst other things, set up a water treatment system in the Antarctic. CEO Jacob Bossaer’s vision is univocal: “If it is possible to sustainably manage water in extreme settings, then we can do so anywhere”. Another apt example is the business relationship with Sanorice Belgium, Europe’s largest producer of rice and corn waffles, which unfolded after a large quantity of flushing oil ended up in Sanorice’s waste water. BOSAQ advised removing the flushing oil from the production process, isolating it and then reusing that same oil. This resulted in an annual saving in excess of 10,000 euros.
Will we ever bake bread on Mars?
As environments go, the Antarctic is anything but plain sailing, but how about Mars? Under the moniker of the Space Bakery project, a consortium of industrial and knowledge partners headed up by Fevia member Puratos, the challenge the project set itself was to find an answer to the question “Will we ever bake bread on Mars?”. Mars hardly holds any water, the soil is toxic and there is barely any oxygen. For now, growing crops on Mars - never mind baking bread – may still seem like mission impossible, but who is to say where we will be in a few years from now?
At its home base in Groot-Bijgaarden, Puratos is investigating how it could grow wheat in sealed containers, using just a fraction of the amount of raw materials it uses today as well as using as little as 5% of the amount of water used under regular farming conditions. R&D Director Filip Arnaut: “The insights to emerge from this research will also apply to planet Earth in times to come, for example in territories where large tracts of land are just arid desert, with limited raw materials, such as the Gulf Region”. Working in tandem with technology pioneer Magics Instruments, Puratos is also deploying nano drones to fertilise plants and flowers. Are drones set to take the place of bees in the future? The “Robot Bee” is certainly in the making.
Yes, we we are able to export our products on a sustainable basis
As you can tell, our food companies are nothing if not ambitious. Needless to say we will not be saving the climate just by cutting down on our energy and water consumption or by introducing environmental measures. We need to tackle the entire food system if we mean to continue to produce delicious, diverse, innovative, affordable and sustainable food and drink, today and tomorrow. We are confident that exports too have their rightful place in a sustainable food system by way of an unrelenting focus on innovation.