The interview: Niels Lundgaard, Commercial Director for Africa, Aller Aqua
Niels Lundgaard graduated from Aalborg University with a Graduate Degree/HD in Marketing Management. For more than four years he has worked in Aler Aqua, originally serving as their International Relationship Manager, before progressing onto being the Commercial Director for Aller Aqua Africa.
What is your current role with Aller Aqua?
My role as Commercial Director for Africa at Aller Aqua has many aspects, and my days are therefore very different. My tasks span from development and implementation of overall commercial strategies, through establishing and developing our market cultivation, and to the important aspect of staying in continuous contact with local farmers, partners and employees.
We focus on our slogan 'Let's grow together', which basically means that we help ensure that the individual fish farmer can achieve the best possible output, and thereby profitability. We work consistently hard at providing the best conditions for our customers to achieve this. We want to be more than a supplier; we want to be a trusted partner.
Having a diverse job means that I am constantly challenged, and my markets are very interesting. My African colleagues are highly skilled and motivated, and we have found a good connection and way of cooperating, despite the physical distances. At the same time, I do travel to Africa a great deal to ensure closeness to the market.
What do you like about working in aquaculture?
At Aller Aqua we seek to create a positive difference in the markets we operate in. Working in a sector with the potential we see in aquaculture, and a company with this many capable and dedicated employees, as well as customers who are passionate about creating a profitable and sustainable business, it is impossible not to feel positive about this business.
Aquaculture has the possibility of having a huge impact on many of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 2: Zero Hunger, Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth, Goal 13: Climate Action and Goal 14: Life below water are all obvious, and very applicable to Aller Aqua. However, the aquaculture sector has the potential of a wider reach.
I find it motivating to see our customers' businesses prosper, whilst we can supply them with feed which deliver a better result and a minimal environmental impact compared to traditional feeds. Aquaculture is seen as the solution to delivering food to the growing world population, and I am proud to be a part of the solution to this complex problem.
What are some of the unique challenges to operating in this region?
African aquaculture is constantly growing and, thus, the need for product optimisation is increased throughout the value chain. Addressing the main challenges in the individual markets is fundamental in the company's strategy and business structure in Africa.
Through dedicated effort from our colleagues in Africa, Germany and Denmark we ensure reliable availability. Our R&D department helps achieve the optimum feed conversion ratio, whilst Quality Assurance ensures a high and consistent quality. Locally, we arrange training and seminars in order to ensure that fish farmers have the right tools to help their business grow.
Can you tell us a little about Aller Aqua's CSR activities?
Aller Aqua has been working with CSR for many years but are more actively communicating it now. We are participating in several projects to improve conditions for people around the world. At the same time, we have employee schemes in our factories which, in many countries, are better than national standards.
We cooperate with educational institutes and WorldFish for an increase in education in different areas. We support several good causes, and I am part of our own cycling team, Aller Aqua Cycling. We participate in cycling races to raise money for a charity called Bylling Foundation.
It feels motivating that my daily work makes a difference on many levels.
What are the major challenges to sustainable aquaculture that must be addressed in the coming years?
There are a few that are important. Transparency in the value chain needs to be improved. A few initiatives are tackling this in different ways, but it needs to be more widespread. The public opinion needs to be considered.
An increased understanding of the benefits of aquaculture would be beneficial to everyone. Furthermore, the sectors dependency on marine resources must be lowered – both in terms of potential overfishing, and in terms of the cost of the feeds. A great deal of research is going into this, but so far, fish meal-free diets cannot effectively match the output of feeds for carnivorous fish with fishmeal.
What unique challenges does African aquaculture face?
Africa is a big continent, and the various countries and regions each have their own challenges and positive sides.
Aquaculture in Africa is high on the agenda for many politicians and has been deemed of very high importance to help feed the growing population on the continent. Practically, it is harder to find support for aquaculture and bureaucracy can be limiting. We have become founding gold sponsors of the African Chapter of World Aquaculture Society. Their finest task is to promote the growth of aquaculture in Africa.
It is important for us to continue to have a positive impact on aquaculture globally. Aquaculture is experiencing significant growth, and it is vital to support initiatives which help ensure that growth of aquaculture is facilitated all over Africa. This is done through research, as well as sharing knowledge.
Besides our own activities, we can help achieve this through our support of the WAS African Chapter and their efforts. I am pleased that WAS has chosen to focus on aquaculture in Africa and, through the African Chapter, recognise the large diversity on the continent. We experience it when meeting with customers from the various African countries
Another challenge for African aquaculture is the fast growth coupled with traditional feeding methods, which creates pollution. Part of the solution is education, to show how using professional extruded feed increases the yield and improves other important parameters such as growth and water quality.
One of our initiatives in Africa is our seminars, which are attended by many fish farmers each year. Last year, in Nigeria alone, we had more than 2,000 participants. The idea of the seminars is to provide tools and information to give the farmers better prerequisites for growing their businesses. We are positively surprised by the large extent of interest we see in upcoming seminars.
Many regulatory agencies around the globe want to restrict the use of antibiotics in feed. How is Aller Aqua responding to this?
In the day-to-day running of fish farms, our high-quality extruded fish feed promotes both health and growth of fish. In addition to our fry and grower feeds, we have a range of functional feeds which are composed to enhance the natural immune system of fish and help them prepare for stressful situations such as grading, transport, decreased water quality, vaccination, temperature changes and disease pressure. Functional feeds are preventative rather than reactive.