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Food Valley NL piques Thai interest

Published: 21-01-2014

Competitively priced and highly successful in the global market, the Thai food industry’s major contribution to the national GDP has prompted the Bangkok government to initiate a ‘Kitchen of the World’ policy. Aimed at increasing Thailand’s global market share, the policy will bring food production up to par with global standards and promote customized food production for various markets. This requires scientific research, technological know-how and a concerted effort by stakeholders. The policy’s success will depend on how well it is implemented.

Thaise ministerie bij FC

Inspired by the Dutch
As part of their Kitchen of the World policy, the government set up the ‘Thailand Food Valley program’ in 2012. Directly inspired by the structure and organization of Food Valley NL, the program focuses on developing food processing technologies and creating added value for agro-food products by fostering links between technology, innovation and the food industry.

The Thailand Food Valley program is being implemented by three government ministries: Industry, Science and Technology, and Agriculture and Cooperatives. “Food Valley NL is a world-class showcase of how to engage the agro-food industry in demand-driven innovation. The organization acts as a dynamic agro-food center that pairs business sense with knowledge and innovation in order to boost the food cluster and create products with added value. And it’s working like a charm,” Minister of Industry Prasert Boonchaisuk said while visiting the Netherlands in March 2013. “We are very interested in this model since we aim to turn Thailand into the center of food processing for the wider Asian region.”

According to the minister, existing Thai research institutes are neither consumer-oriented enough nor responsive to business demands. “So there is lots of room for better cooperation in order to foster innovation,” Boonchaisuk says. “At home, we are not used to doing research in the way it’s organized in the Netherlands – with research institutes, commercial businesses and government cooperating so closely. We want to encourage this more in our country.”

Implementation
The Thai Food Valley program had an operational budget of €121 million for 2013. These funds will be used by implementing agencies that cover both upstream and downstream activities of food industry development. Boonchaisuk: “We have identified four target regions for rolling out this program. In two of these regions – important food producing areas in the north and northeast – the program is already underway. We are also going to implement many other activities, ranging from creating a common understanding of what the Thailand Food Valley program is about, to promoting and encouraging commercialization of research results in the food industry. We want to reach our initial goals within 3-5 years. Our focus will be on strengthening the links between the private sector and research institutes, increasing the number of products with added value on the market, improving productivity and achieving 10% annual growth in exports.”

Boonchaisuk expects the program to give the food industry in neighboring countries a boost as well: “We’re confident the program will stimulate the growth of the Thai food industry, which in turn will stimulate agricultural growth in the wider Asian region in order to supply Thai food manufacturers. The program will also serve as a model so other countries can see, up close, how conducive R&D and innovation investments are to economic development.”

Benefit for the Netherlands
Although Thailand Food Valley is meant to stimulate the Thai food industry, it will also offer business opportunities to Dutch companies. For example, the demand for research services will increase as SMEs start to invest more in R&D to develop innovative products. In general, the demand for specialist services, which specialized Dutch businesses are well-qualified to deliver, is predicted to climb. Managing Director Roger van Hoesel of Food Valley NL welcomes Thai Food Valley: “Having a sister organization in Thailand creates opportunities for Dutch companies to do more business in the ASEAN area.”

The Thai industry minister says his country is eager to step up cooperation with the Dutch. “We need more technological know-how and we could certainly use the expertise and experience the Dutch have to offer. This could lead to direct business for agro-food companies in the Netherlands,” says Boonchaisuk.

An agreement is already in place for the Dutch to assist in rolling out the Thai version of Food Valley. Food Valley NL will act as a consultant to help get the program firmly established. Van Hoesel: “What exactly our role is going to be will crystallize in the next few months. We already know that we’re going to help set up the organizational structure and devise ways to persuade companies to participate in the Thai Food Valley program. We will also help our counterparts develop tailor-made services for their members. We’re extremely proud that our Thai colleagues have asked us to assist them and we’re happy to help.”

Betagro Group’s ambitious plans
The Thai Betagro Group was founded in 1967 and annually produces 1.5 million tons of animal feed, 120 million broilers and 120,000 fattening pigs. The group employs nearly 6,000 staff in Thailand and neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. In 2012, sales amounted to €1.68 billion, 80% of which came from the domestic market and 20% from exports. “Last March, we visited Food Valley NL to hear about the trends in food production and research from leading food companies in the Netherlands and from Wageningen UR. We’re very interested in using food for other benefits besides nutrition”, says Rutjawate Taharnklaew, director of the Betagro Science Center. “Our R&D projects focus mainly on bioactive peptides in chicken and pork and on offal, which is usually sold very cheaply or even thrown out. We’re exploring whether we can add value to the meat and its possible uses in cosmetics or medical nutrition. Currently, we’re working with two hospitals in Thailand on projects involving medical nutrition for specific target groups.” Taharnklaew welcomes the new Thailand Food Valley program: “Getting it off the ground is one thing, but the real challenge lies in keeping such a cluster alive long enough to start seeing real benefits.”

International membership Food Valley Society
Thai companies are among several international members of Food Valley NL’s network. In 2013, Mitr Pohl (a large sugar-producing company) and Betagro Group joined the Food Valley Society. International members are kept up-to-date about the latest trends in food technology, have access to Food Valley NL’s extensive network and are welcomed with a tailor-made program when they visit the Netherlands.
For more information on international membership in the Food Valley Society, please contact Saskia van Erkelens at saskia.vanerkelens@foodvalley.nl, or call +31 317 427095.