How the chemicals industry is combatting world hunger

According to the 2013 Global Hunger Index, around 842 million people in the world are starving. The figure may have declined by approximately 160 million since the early 1990s, but one person in eight still goes hungry. Every year, more people die of starvation than of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis put together.

In the face of such dramatic evidence, every single one of us has a responsibility to do what we can. The reasons for hunger are as diverse as the solutions need to be. The chemical industry, for example, can help reconcile the conflict that sometimes exists between food and bio-fuel production, and better protect food in transit by developing smart packaging and shipment solutions. Specialty chemicals can play a key role in minimizing crop loss and maximizing crop yield. Let me highlight a few examples.
Lost crops present a very real threat to world food supplies. Did you know that without pesticides, just 32 percent of harvested produce would be viable? But with the help of crop-protection products, this rises to 68 percent? On the flip side, however, these chemicals impact our environment – so we need to deploy them as efficiently as possible. Specialty chemicals can help. For example, our highly-effective, sustainable adjuvant Synergen® OS, made from renewable resources, is biodegradable and highly eco-friendly. It is extremely effective at combatting drift, even when used in low dosages. As a result, less of the pesticide reaches the surrounding area, and the distance to neighboring fields and bodies of water can be significantly reduced, improving land utilization. Moreover, the product’s active penetrates leaves faster, meaning less pesticide is required. So farmers can conserve actives, water and energy, and also reduce effort.

A further example is food transportation. To help people at risk of starvation, large quantities of food must reach their destination intact. In 2011 alone, more than 5.3 million tons of grain were distributed to 76 developing countries. Typically, these commodities are shipped in containers by sea, rail and road, and take several weeks to arrive. During the long journey, the goods are often subjected to extreme environmental conditions. Condensation forms easily in the steel containers, rendering contents susceptible to mold, decay and decomposition. According to the Save Food Initiative, up to 40 percent of the total volume of food produced in the world is rendered inedible during transportation and distribution in developing countries. Our product Container DRI® II provides a solution. This granulated desiccant is highly absorbent, and can be effectively deployed at all temperatures and humidity levels. It can absorb three times its weight in moisture from ambient air, and ensures foodstuffs arrive undamaged where they are so urgently needed.

No discussion of world hunger would be complete without mentioning fertilizers – which brings me to my final example. Of all the plant nutrients, nitrogen is the most effective, and is considered to be a real driver of growth. Annual global demand for fertilizers is around 180 million tons. By 2008, around half of the world’s population was eating produce grown using nitrogen-based mineral fertilizers. Ammonia is an essential component of nitrogen production – in fact, 80 percent of industrially produced ammonia is destined for nitrogen fertilizers. For the past 100 years, the key large-scale production process for ammonia has been the Haber-Bosch method. Its downside is that it is extremely energy-intensive. In fact, this process is responsible for almost two percent of global energy consumption. To save energy and improve the efficiency of the process, we developed AmoMax®-10, a highly reactive catalyst. Its unique design is based on the mineral wustite, which contains iron oxide, and enhanced promoters meaning it increases efficiency by 40 percent compared to magnetite-based catalysts. Thanks to faster activation times and higher efficiency at lower temperature and pressure, AmoMax®-10 delivers significant energy savings and simplifies ammonia production.

These examples underline the key role of the chemical industry in combatting world hunger. Of course, this is not the only problem facing humanity, and in social discourse, we have defined a multitude of megatrends currently affecting the planet. I am absolutely certain that without the chemical industry, mankind would not be able to even scratch the surface of these challenges.

About the author:

Flims Event CLARIANT 2012Dr. Hariolf Kottmann is Chief Executive Officer of the Swiss speciality chemicals company Clariant International Ltd. and a member of EC and Board at the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) since 2012. more…


PS: Dr Kottmann will gladly answer all questions you might have. However, due to time constraints, he cannot do so regularly. We will collect your questions and comments that have been submitted until and including October 27, 2014, and will pass them on to him. For all questions submitted after that, we cannot guarantee an answer.