Plant-based Proteins to Feed the World

plant-based proteins-proteines-vegetales-fondation-bonduelle© Shutterstock

What if pulses, grains, nuts, and seeds had a major role to play in the future of the planet and of humankind? These foods are more important than we think. They meet all of the nutritional and environmental challenges of the planet.

Feeding the planet: a major challenge for the future

According to the UN, in order to be able to feed a population of 9 billion by 2050, agricultural production will need to increase by 70%. By 2030, the demand for protein is estimated to rise by 40% (FAO estimate). Therefore, producing quality proteins to feed the populations represents a major challenge. Plant-based proteins (pulses, grains, seeds, and nuts) are the solution at the forefront of the upcoming agroecological transition which combines demographical, environmental and economic issues. Among these sources of proteins, pulses lead the way in ensuring a good balance in sustainable agricultural and nutritional systems.

Pulses: popular everywhere except in Europe

Pulses are consumed where they are grown. Asia is the biggest producer of pulses in the world and the third biggest consumer, while South America is the biggest consumer (10.3 kg/person/year), followed by Africa and North America. As a region, Europe is the smallest producer and consumer (less than 4 kg/person/year).  In France, consumption has dropped from 7.3 kg/person/year in 1960 to 1.4 kg in 2006.

Pulses are making a comeback which will benefit humankind and the planet.

They are seen as old-fashioned and unattractive, especially in France…For now!  They have a number of nutritional, environmental, and economic advantages. International agricultural policies and scientific innovations are changing people’s mindsets and orienting us toward more sustainable farming methods and newer, better-adapted modes of consumption. Change is on the way, but the word needs to be spread!

Cultivating pulses has many environmental benefits:

  • They contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (because they assimilate and fix the nitrogen they produce in the soil).
  • They improve the fertility of the soils (which maintains biodiversity) and reduce the intensity of phytosanitary treatment (thanks to the diversification brought by rotations and cropping patterns, and to the cultivation of different varieties of legumes).
  • They reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizers and the related greenhouse gas emissions.
  • They reduce production costs (fertilizers, fuel, machines, etc.)

A dietary transition is underway

Agricultural policies reflect an increasing will to promote plant-based proteins. On an international level, the FAO launched a three-year work program (2014-2017) on agroecology (sustainable agriculture and better balanced diets) in which plant-based proteins play an important part. In Europe, the European Commission recommends introducing pulses into crops. Technological innovations will contribute to the evolution of consumption habits. Large-scale scientific projects on plant-based proteins are being carried out throughout the world: LEGATO, Légumes-futur, IMPROVE, PROFETAS, and other projects led by a number of startups. The aim is to better meet consumer needs in terms of nutrition and ethics.

Coming soon to our plates: plant-based proteins will form part of many culinary preparations and recipes, such as semolina pudding, bread, biscuits, and even sauces and drinks.

Linked articles

Plant-based proteins

2016: International Year of Pulses

2016 is the International Year of Pulses. In this short video, the FAO shows the general public how ...

Read more
Plant-based proteins

A Whole New Book on Pulses

This book released in September 2014 shows pulses under a different light than ever before, and thei...

Read more
Plant-based proteins

Epicurium Showcases Pulses

Epicurium, the European museum dedicated to fruits and vegetables in Avignon, France, is launching ...

Read more