Solution Cluster 7.1.1

Innovation for Protein Diversification

To create a broad-based multistakeholder coalition for innovation and action, that will scale alternative protein production and corresponding consumption in critical geographies. This solution is critical to alleviate further pressure on planetary boundaries and the health system driven by population growth and consumption patterns, while supporting positive nutrition outcomes and economic development.

Alternative proteins are a complementary food systems solution to solution clusters such as Sustainable Livestock, DCF Supply Chains, Blue Food, and Agroecology & Regenerative Agriculture.

About this Solution Cluster

The provision of universally accessible and affordable, healthy and sustainable protein is critical to human nutritional needs and meeting the SDGs and the Paris Agreements. By 2050, the FAO projects a doubling in the production of meat, driven by population and demand growth. Yet, livestock production currently accounts for 14.5% of GHG emissions, uses 80% of global agricultural land, and is a leading cause of tropical forest clearing and biodiversity loss, and many wild fisheries already harvested at maximum capacity; it will be therefore be impossible to keep within planetary boundaries using available land, water and today’s production systems. Additionally, new paradigms for food security are emergently critical as supply chains dependent on industrial animal production increasingly demonstrate their vulnerability to disease outbreaks, as well as contributions to antibiotic resistance. In order to counterbalance further pressure driven by the forthcoming demand (overall population growth, 1.8 billion new middle class consumers this decade alone), innovation is critical for food categories with some of the highest environmental impact, and – when consumed in excess or produced with antibiotic – negative health consequences, to ensure the health of people, the planet and the economy, in a locally relevant way. This solutions cluster will help advance SDGs # 2, 3, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14, and 15; seeks to deliver on the Paris Agreement targets and contributes in support of the Convention on Biodiversity, amongst others.

A wide range of protein alternatives can have important environmental and health benefits, according to the Oxford Martin School. Initial studies suggest significant potential advantages via savings in land-use, water, and energy use for alternative proteins compared to conventional animal protein sources.

Cultivation of certain high-protein crops such pulses can also have a positive impact on soil health and climate adaptation due to the nitrogen fixing properties of such crops. Furthermore, alternative proteins can help alleviate key social and health challenges such as animal welfare, antimicrobial resistance, and zoonotic disease spread.

Despite these positive indications, innovation for alternative proteins is at its nascent stage with untapped potential. Alternative protein categories include:

  • Plant-based and aquatic crop-based protein can mimic the taste and texture of their animal-based analogues. This makes it easy to integrate into daily life without the need to acquire new skills or change cooking behaviour, as they can readily be used in traditional cuisines.
  • Fermentation-derived proteins created via yeast, bacteria and fungi, used as a means to produce different types of proteins from various and diversified substrates such as agricultural side streams, CO2, or sugar.
  • Cultivated meat, from animal cells, can be recognizable to the consumer with minimal land needs.
  • High protein vegetable and fruit varieties, such as pulses, nuts, peas, jackfruit, etc., provide high levels of protein and can be consumed without transformative processing.
  • Other ‘future foods’ may have potential for multiple benefits across human health, environmental sustainability, food system resilience and democratization of the food system.
To increase the diversity, availability, accessibility, and affordability of alternative proteins while ensuring that they are healthy, relevant to a broad range of distinct food cultures, and contribute to mitigation and adaptation of climate change and biodiversity loss, this solution cluster aims to focus on innovation to:
  1. Build knowledge and evidence on alternative proteins, holistic science-based targets and pathways;
  2. Drive innovation around culture-, socioeconomic-, gender-, and age- sensitive strategies to scale alternative protein production and consumption; and
  3. Mobilize cross-sector alliances to deploy these strategies, at global and regional/local levels.
Build knowledge and evidence, holistic science- and evidence-based targets and pathways Ongoing and scaled investment in knowledge is critical, given the early stage of development of many alternative proteins. ‘Transforming Agricultural Innovation for People, Nature and Climate’ is a global campaign that calls for half of all public investment in agricultural research to focus on innovations that provide new solutions across our food systems. In addition to scientific knowledge, deep structural changes are needed to transition food systems, and research can identify mechanisms that are most effective in specific contexts for alternative proteins, e.g. business models, taxes, subsidies, labelling, awareness campaigns, etc. Science-and evidence-based, agile guidance such as in the form of an ESG scorecard for all types of proteins, is needed to facilitate decision-making by investors, food value chain companies & civil society. Protein diversification will vary based on local contexts and current consumption profiles, therefore ‘Protein Pathways’ need to be developed that include specific targets and suitable product portfolios taking into consideration the local culture and environment (global, regional, country), and to address the regulatory and social barriers and solutions, and the need for a just transition. These pathways will need to take into consideration food and nutrition security, nutritional quality, environmental sustainability, availability of product inputs, differentiated needs and preferences of consumers, existing food cultures and agrarian systems, and economic development and livelihoods. Drive innovation around culture-, socioeconomic-, gender-, and age- sensitive strategies for scale   Key stakeholder groups will need to develop strategies, including the creation of the relevant incentives for change, to adapt and tailor their efforts towards various alternative protein solutions, such as:
  • Develop regional and global innovation ecosystems and platform-to-platform collaboration to unlock barriers to scale. These innovation ecosystems, platform connections and crowd-sourced solutions will play a critical role in bringing together the different stakeholders across the value chain from farmers to consumers in support of regionally relevant innovation, including diversified value chain development, creation of new markets and business models for entrepreneurs and farmers, technology adaptation, etc.
  • Design and deploy enabling policy incentives and investments in inclusive and scalable technology solutions and public finance (e.g. infrastructure finance, workforce development grants and loans, purchasing guarantees) to unlock institutional bottlenecks, in support of systemic change.
  • Develop science-driven behavioural consumer-facing approaches regarding education, information provision and motivation to nudge people towards alternative proteins (e.g. dietary guideline changes, multi-channel labelling, consumer education campaigns).
Mobilize cross-sector alliances to deploy these strategies, at global and regional/local levels Cross-sector alliances will need to be mobilized at the global, regional and local levels, to deploy the strategies described above.
Currently efforts are fragmented and have not reached scale given the early stage of development of alternative proteins. Further alignment and co-creation is needed across the three focus areas identified above. Efforts supporting knowledge and evidence include Horizon Europe’s strategic plan, WBCSD’s FReSH program, WRI’s Cool Food Pledge, and WWF’s Planet Based Diets. Efforts supporting innovation strategies for scale include EIT Food’s Alternative Proteins Focus Area, The India – Netherlands Smart Protein Corridor, and The UpLink platform for alternative proteins. On the mobilization of cross-sector alliances to deploy these strategies some examples include The GFI Brazil’s collaboration with the Amazonas State bioeconomy agenda and the Regional Food Innovation Hubs.

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