February 28, 2023

Alternative Proteins: Can the power of fermentation challenge traditional farming?

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Nature and humanity have been intertwined for centuries, shaping each other in a dynamic dance of cause and effect. As our population grows and technology advances, we are discovering new ways to feed the world; two prominent examples are fermentation and farming. Through these methods, people can access protein-rich foods that benefit both humans health and their environment.


Fermentation is a process that uses microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi to convert organic compounds into other compounds, often with beneficial effects on taste, texture, or nutrition. Fermentation has been used centuries to make products like bread, beer, cheese, or kimchi. Recently, fermentation has gained attention as a new game-changer for alternative proteins that can replace or complement animal-based proteins without requiring land, water, or feed inputs at the scale of traditional farming. One example of fermented protein is precision fermentation, which involves using microbes such as yeast cells engineered with specific DNA sequences to produce complex proteins found in animal products like milk or eggs without using animals. While fermentation offers many advantages over farming regarding sustainability and scalability, it also faces challenges regarding consumer acceptance and regulatory approval. For example, some people may be wary of eating foods made from fungi or engineered yeast cells due to concerns about safety or naturalness. Moreover, some countries may have different regulations regarding novel foods requiring additional testing or labeling before being marketed.


Farming is another way of producing proteins from plants or animals through traditional methods such as grazing livestock on pastures, raising chickens in coops, growing soybeans on fields, etc. Farming has been the dominant way of producing food for thousands of years but has also contributed significantly to climate change through deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock digestion and manure management practices, etc. However, there are also ways of farming that can reduce its negative impacts while still providing nutritious protein sources for humans. For example, regenerative agriculture seeks to restore soil health by mimicking natural ecosystems through practices such as crop rotation cover, cropping, no-till planting, etc., which can enhance soil carbon sequestration, biodiversity, water retention, etc., while reducing inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides antibiotics, etc.


The farming industry has been monopolized by four titans in trading – Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus. These giants are collectively known as ABCD traders, who command a massive 90% presence of global grain trade. Some emerging market players such as Olam, Sinar Mas, and Wilmar have also gained traction to compete with these legendary firms internationally.


All the choice between fermentation-based proteins vs. farming-based ones depends on multiple factors such as ecological footprint, nutritional value, cost-effectiveness, availability, consumer preferences, etc. As we strive toward a more sustainable food system, it is essential for consumers, producers, policymakers, etc., to consider all options available while prioritizing regenerative practices over extractive ones. By doing so, we can ensure a healthier planet & healthier people!


The fermentation food industry is surging in popularity, giving rise to a thriving marketplace of both established companies and innovative startups. As the demand for this type of product continues growing, competition between these players ensures that every entity has yet to be able to establish a monopoly over it. It may be time to explore how a tech-driven approach could lead us away from monopoly and into a delicious future.

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