We need a protein revolution
In order to supply a growing world population with high-grade protein, pulses, algae, and insects will soon play a key role. Bühler is developing solutions to process them.Text: Boris Schneider - Pictures: Ralph Richter
Meat substitutes made of peas, pasta containing Chlorella protein, black soldier fly meal as feed for aquacultures: In order to supply a growing world population with protein, new and innovative approaches are required today. Each adult needs about 60 grams of high-grade protein per day. To feed the global population, agriculture produces some 525 million tonnes a year of plant protein as found in corn, rice, wheat, or soybeans. “Our calculations show that by 2050 an additional 265 million tonnes of protein will be required annually to feed the growing population,” says Andreas Baumann, expert protein value chain at Bühler. To avoid a gap, global production must therefore increase by 50 % over today’s level.
Closing the protein gap
The looming protein gap is a serious challenge for human nutrition. For even today, in spite of intensive farming, mass animal breeding and fishing, our protein supplies are not sustainable: “Two-thirds of all vegetable proteins produced end up in the stomachs of livestock such as cattle, pigs, poultry, or fish. And the transformation from plant protein into animal protein is not very efficient,” explains Baumann. Cattle need up to 20 kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of body mass. The yield in edible meat is even smaller.
Enough protein for 18 billion vegans
Up to 50 % of the extra protein needed by 2050 could be obtained by eliminating waste. Today, some 30 % of raw materials is lost, either because foods spoil, for example due to improper storage, or because consumers throw them away. The shortfall could also be reduced by a stronger focus on a vegetable-based diet. “If we were all to become vegans, we could provide food for 18 billion people with the protein volume produced today,” says Baumann. However, this is unlikely to happen: As the emerging countries become more prosperous, meat consumption is set to rise by as much as 44 % by the year 2050.
There is no way around the increased use of vegetable proteins. High hopes are pinned, among other things, on pulses. “These gluten-free sources of protein and fiber are appreciated by health-conscious consumers,” explains Baumann. In Asia and Africa chickpeas, lentils and beans have long been prominent staples. In Europe and North America they have somewhat sunk into oblivion. Thus, production volumes are rather small: Worldwide production today is just 77 million tonnes per year – 15 times less than corn and ten times less than rice or wheat.
The potential of pulses is still far from exhausted. And the processing technologies are available today: Bühler offers solutions for all major process steps such as cleaning, hulling, splitting, and sorting. With the Pulsroll Pulse Huller, for instance, the hull of different pulses can be removed in an efficient, gentle and hygienic way. “Our processing technologies are tailored to different requirements with regard to capacity and safety. They easily meet the demand of highly regulated EU and US pulse processors,” explains Baumann.