It’s estimated there will be 9.7 billion people on the planet by 2050.
With significantly more mouths to feed, demand for protein will increase by about 50 per cent compared to current annual consumption. We can’t grow our farmland. So how do we make more with what we have?
Our new Future Protein Mission lead, Dr Crispin Howitt, is spearheading our effort to tackle this challenge using innovative science and technology.
“We know we need to produce more protein, sustainably and from more sources to satisfy this growing demand. We also need to provide more nutritious options for consumers here and overseas," Crispin said.
It’s an opportunity worth $13 billion according to our protein roadmap.
Harnessing knowledge on crop breeding for quality and nutrition
The roadmap outlines a pathway to capturing this opportunity, leveraging areas where Australia has a competitive advantage.
For example, Australia is a leader in wheat breeding for quality and nutrition. Crispin worked in this area for 16 years before taking on leadership roles in the Future Protein Mission.
"I previously looked at wheat and barley quality from a functional perspective. For example, is this flour going to make good bread or quality noodles? We were developing tools to help better predict wheat quality," Crispin said.
As well as functionality, Crispin had a strong focus on increasing the nutritional profile of cereals. This included developing Kebari® barley, a grain that’s ultra low in gluten.This grain can be used in a range of foods and beverages, such as beer.
"We looked ahead to the next market opportunities. We saw huge potential to apply these skills to legumes and pulses which are high protein plant foods," he said.
Shifting the science focus from wheat to legumes and pulses
In plant proteins, the Mission focuses on soybeans, chickpeas and lupins. They're the areas where we believe we can add the most value for Australia.
"We export most of our legume production, and there’s an opportunity to add value onshore by turning these into ingredients like flours," Crispin said.
Australia contributed 17 per cent of global chickpea exports in 2019. Interestingly, most chickpea crops in Australia are exported for use in traditional dishes such as daal and hummus. But there are many other end products to consider.
"We’re looking into the ideal qualities of chickpeas for making flour. These are things like protein content, taste and texture," he said.
Driving growth opportunities for all types of future protein
However, the scope of the Future Protein Mission is much wider. Crispin is driving opportunities to add value to all types of protein, including animal, plant and non-traditional forms.
“It’s not a case of one or the other, we’re going to need all kinds of protein in future,” Crispin said.
“As an example, we’re working with the red meat industry to innovate with new products that target the wellness industry, such as protein powders.
“We’re also helping to create brand new companies and industries, based on deep science in areas of precision fermentation and the circular economy.”
Big opportunities like this require bringing all the key players to the table.
Part of this effort has seen the Mission recently recruit 13 early career researchers to work on specific opportunities. These range from proteomics (the study of proteins) to gene editing and food processing.
"We know that to capture this opportunity, we can’t go it alone," he said.
"We’re building an ecosystem with industry, government and the research sector to get as many people together, working towards the same goal."
Crispin is a connector, bringing the right ingredients together – including people and investments – to achieve greater things, faster. Helping the Mission deliver on its goal to create a suite of new and value-added protein products for Australia by 2030.
We can’t wait to see what’s on the future menu.