By 2030, Asia will be home to over 65% of the world’s middle class, and the increasing food demand will require approximately US$1.55 trillion of investment in food production. With much of this demand-driven by the rapidly-growing emerging markets in ASEAN, Canadian agricultural products and innovations will become increasingly important in ensuring a diverse and efficient food supply in the region, and its long-term food security. The COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues have exacerbated food insecurity in Southeast Asia, with many countries such as Indonesia witnessing vital food imports reduced and increasing pressures on food supply.

The agriculture and agri-food sector presents one of the most compelling opportunities for Canada-ASEAN collaboration. Canadian exports can provide the necessary nutritious staples and value-added products needed in Southeast Asia, as well as the quality inputs necessary for growing product lines, such as plant-based protein. Canadian AgTech and best practices can also help ensure food security by helping Southeast Asian countries transition towards more sustainable food value chains (FVCs). At the same time, ASEAN-based food companies, now some of the most innovative in the world, can leverage experienced Canadian partners to seize large markets in North America and beyond. 

Outlined below are two key areas where Canada is primed to become a key partner to ASEAN in alleviating food inequality and ensuring a sustainable food system. 

Plant-based Protein: How Canadian Farms and Labs can Fuel Asia’s Meatless Movement 

A dietary change to incorporate more plant-based food is necessary in ensuring Southeast Asia’s long-term food security. This realization has given rise to a massive proliferation of plant-based products across the region. According to Bloomberg, the plant-based protein market in the Asia-Pacific region will reach up to US$64.8 billion in 2030, up from $13.5 billion in 2020. The answer to having more affordable, nutritious, and appetizing meat substitutes starts in Canada: home to some of the world’s most innovative labs.

Protein Industries Canada (PIC), which was created by the Canadian Government to catalyze the plant-protein industry, is driving innovation across the value chain. PIC has partnered with companies to produce 200 new products and 77 new processes, which has transformed the availability and quality of plant-based protein in the market. PIC invests largely into research and development (R&D) to make products that can be exported to consumers all over the world, through the help of organizations such as Export Development Canada, which facilitates Canadian exports to target markets. For example, PIC, in partnership with Benson Farms, Mera Development Corp, and Mera Food Inc., is running a project to develop new plant protein products for Asian markets (based on market trials and research), by leveraging soy processing tech.

The rising demand for plant-protein also creates many opportunities for Canadian exporters – given that Canada is one of the largest global producers of cereals, oilseeds, and pulses. Western Canada in particular is a top exporter of products such as soybeans, and produces more than a million hectares of peas. It is well-positioned to provide the inputs and expertise necessary for quality meatless products. This provides an alternative to the traditional soy protein, as pea protein has emerged as superior in terms of nutritious content. 

Foreign companies such as Roquette, which has invested in a facility in Canada that expects to process 125,000 metric tons of peas starting in 2022, will see more opportunities for their products in the Southeast Asian markets. Other foreign companies may consider Canada’s plant protein ecosystem as an ideal location to expand their supply capacity, and as a complement to existing global facilities. 

A demonstration of the powerful synergies between Canada and ASEAN is Singapore’s Agrocorp, which owns a brand called HerbyVore. HerbyVore produces vegan-friendly cheese, such as the world’s first ‘pea paneer’, using pea protein sourced from Agrocorp’s facilities in Canada, where it has invested over CAD 50M. HerbyVore is just one of many plant-based companies making waves in the Singapore market, which is emblematic of the country’s increased emphasis on diversifying the protein supply to ensure food security.  

Singapore has demonstrated its aim to become a ‘FoodTech hub’ by its launch of the region’s first Protein Innovation Centre, and the Singapore Government’s “30 by 30” goal (as in 30% self-reliant by 2030 for food self-sufficiency). Given these developments, it is high time for Canada to assert its competitive advantage in the alternative protein industry. 

*Hear more from Vishal Vijay, the Founder of HerbyVore, from the ‘CABC’s Canada-ASEAN Collaboration in Agriculture and Food Security’ event.

Leveraging AgTech for More Sustainable and Diversified Farming

Canada is also a global AgTech hub with leading R&D that is making agri-food production more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable

As governments may respond to the increasing food demand by ramping up domestic production, the expertise from Canada can help agri-food producers in ASEAN grow and process the food more efficiently and sustainably.

The nature of food demand in Asia is also changing. There will be less pressure on basic staples, and more production of resource-intensive animal-based products, which puts an even bigger strain on resources and poses more of a threat to the environment. For example, the growth of livestock production in Vietnam has proliferated an agricultural waste problem. Improved technologies and practices to help farmers increase productivity, reduce water usage and chemical inputs, are more necessary than ever. 

Canada’s Agricultural Clean Technology (ACT) Program is driving the development of clean technology that will help the country transition towards a low-carbon economy and promote sustainability in the sector. Recently, 60 projects valued at CAD$17.9 million have been approved under the program for projects across Canada, allowing farmers to remain competitive by leveraging the latest technologies.  

Canada is also home to many world-leading agricultural research institutes, such as the Global Institute of Food Security (GIFS), which is a partnership between global fertilizer supplier Nutrien, the Government of Saskatchewan and the University of Saskatchewan (USask). The GIFS works with a diverse range of partners to discover, develop and deliver innovative solutions for the production of globally sustainable food. The GIFS recently announced a training and development partnership with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) of its Ministry of Agriculture, designed to help promote sustainable food security in the country. Partnerships such as these may be replicated with Southeast Asian governments, to work towards mitigating and preventing some of the biggest issues in agriculture.  

*Hear more from Steven Webb, the Executive Director of the Global Institute of Food Security at the GIFS, from the CABC’s ‘Canada-ASEAN Collaboration in Agriculture and Food Security’ event.

The Way Forward: Increasing Canada’s Agricultural Footprint in ASEAN

While Canada has long taken the backseat to other agricultural and agri-food competitors in the region, such as Australian and European countries, now is the time for ‘Brand Canada’ to make its name known widely throughout Southeast Asia. 

According to a report by the C.D. Howe Institute, agricultural exports could have been $482 million higher from actual levels from 2017 to 2019 with the existence of a Canada-ASEAN free trade agreement (FTA). The implementation of a FTA, which will dramatically increase the ease of cross-border trade, will provide even more opportunities in ASEAN countries as a crucial destination for Canadian agricultural products and technology. 

In order to maximize the potential for Canada-ASEAN collaboration and economic integration in this sector, a multi-faceted approach is needed. This includes a collective and cohesive effort, with a clear roadmap and targets, from the Canadian government, private sector, academia, and business councils in forging stronger partnerships with ASEAN and the Member States. The CABC’s new Agriculture & Agri-food Committee will drive this effort, by fostering a platform to bring together Canadian and ASEAN stakeholders in the agriculture, agri-food, and agri-tech space for deeper dialogues and exchange. 

To hear more about the CABC’s Agriculture & Agri-food Committee or to get involved, please contact the CABC team.