Scattered protein initiatives Unite for Impact

Bio-Economy experts call for an entity to bridge the gap between research and the market and facilitate the development and growth of a Nordic protein industry based on aquaculture, algae, microbes and insects.

On Monday and Tuesday November 26th and 27thThe Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), the partners of the Regional Nordic Hub and EIT Climate-KIC Nordic gathered researchers, funders and industry partners representing all angles of the system around alternative proteins in a systems mapping workshop. “The aim of the workshop was to set a common direction for the Nordic efforts and initiatives within the field of alternative proteins to help aligning interests between national focus areas of research and funding” says Jesica Murcia Lopez from IFRO.

With its extensive aquaculture industry and some of the world´s leading research institutions along with strong support systems for entrepreneurship, the Nordic region holds a huge, untapped potential to develop sustainable alternatives to soy as a sustainable source of protein for food and feed.  

 

Potentials and Barriers

Currently we use the majority of our arable land to produce feed for our meat and dairy production. To supplement that, we depend on imported soy from Argentina, Brazil and USA. This dependence on the soy market means that money flow out of the Nordic region and it entails a high level of CO2 emissions mainly due to deforestation.  Therefore, it is interesting to find alternative, local sources of protein. But we are short of land. – “If we want to replace the emissions-heavy soy with sustainable, local alternatives, we need to look beyond arable land to find reliable sources for protein production. The great potentials lie in grassland, aquaculture, algae, seaweed , microbes grown on side-streams and insect farming” says Henrik Kruse-Rasmussen who is a Project Consultant at Agrovi Knowledge Centre. According to him challenges exists, because “These relatively new areas, however, have not yet gained political acceptance and locally produced alternatives are still quite costly. The main hinderances for moving form research to product development and marketability lies within legislation, price and scale”. Kruse-Rasmussen is interested in the potential in combining a variety of protein sources in order to reach scale, because “There is an overarching risk, that a higher price on the product due to more expensive input to the production, will lead to loss of market share for Nordic meat and dairy. The challenge therefore remains to find alternatives to soy, which can be produced at a competitive price and at a scale, that is sufficient to cover the demand from the industry”.

Bridging the Gap

To bridge the gaps between research,  policy and legislation, the participants recommended to strengthen collaboration across sectors “We need to create a hub or secretariat to facilitate the collaboration between research and industry as well as to amass the scientific evidence that is required for policy making” says Afton Halloran who is an External Consultant at the Nordic Food Policy Lab of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Afton indicates that the Nordic region has the potential to become a global leader the sustainable production of alternative proteins: “Now, it’s time to create a roadmap that will lead us there.”  

Innovating throughout the Entire Value Chain

The workshop participants acknowledge the importance of breaking down the traditional barriers between research and the market – “Innovation needs to be stretched beyond the R&D phase and continue outside of the lab” says Daniel Stender Nørgaard, a Researcher at the DTU Food Institute, who continues by stating that -“Innovation should be a continuous process reaching all the way from concept to traded product. In order to achieve maximum impact, the results of our research must be carried onto the market to work at large scale”.

The Systems Approach

The system mapping process was facilitated by Forum for the Future – a not-for-profit consultancy aiming to accelerate a sustainable future. “We believe that in order to create a sustainable future, we need to transform whole systems using a systems change approach. We are specialists in applying systemic approaches including diagnostics and system mapping to drive practical action” says Stephanie Draper, who is the Chief Change Officer at Forum for the Future. Stephanie is especially invested in the protein question. – “We have been working on accelerating a sustainable protein system for the last four years, mapping the overall protein system and working on key leverage points such as alternative proteins in animal feed and more plant-based diets”. In their work Forum for the Future are looking at multiple levels of within a system, where especially the combination of global trends with several new upcoming initiatives might lead to disruption and change in established value chains of business as usual.   

Following the Trend

Henrik Nørby Søndergaard, Nordic Innovation Lead at Climate KIC is acknowledging this approach and highlights that “We are currently seeing many signals on megatrends a need for locally produced sustainable food and feed systems as well social behavioural changes away from meat consumption and technical initiatives regarding new protein sources. The Nordics are by many recognized as leaders regarding Sustainability and building on initiatives, such as the EU Plant Protein Strategy as well as the Danish National Protein Action Plan, a pattern of systemic movement emerges”.

 
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