In recent years, due to growing concerns about the environmental impact of animal agriculture, as well as health and ethical concerns, plant-based and alternative protein options have become increasingly popular. These proteins have a lower environmental impact compared to animal-based proteins, as animal agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, water pollution, and soil degradation. In contrast, plant-based protein production requires fewer resources and generates less waste and pollution. Additionally, the cultivation of crops for plant-based protein uses less land than producing meat from animals, which can help preserve natural habitats and biodiversity.
Health and environmental benefits
Alternative proteins also offer numerous health and environmental benefits. Many plant-based protein options are low in saturated fat and high in fibre, making them an excellent source of nutrition for those looking to maintain a healthy diet. Alternative proteins also tend to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly compared to animal-based proteins, as they require fewer resources to produce and generate less waste and pollution.
Some studies have also shown that a diet rich in plant-based protein may help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer (Joshi., 2019). Alternative plant-based protein options are becoming increasingly popular as consumers seek out more sustainable and healthier food options. There are also forest-based protein options, such as mushrooms and microalgae. Mushrooms are a rich source of protein, fibre, and vitamins and can be used in a variety of dishes. Microalgae, such as spirulina, are a highly-nutritious source of protein, containing all essential amino acids, as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (Qin., 2022). Other forest-based protein options include wild herbs, nuts, and seeds, which can be incorporated into a range of dishes to add flavour and nutrition.
Entrepreneurship in plant-based protein options
Entrepreneurs in the alternative protein sector now have the opportunity to tap into a rapidly-growing market. As consumers become more health conscious and environmentally aware, there has been a growing demand for plant-based and alternative protein options. This has created a significant market opportunity for entrepreneurs to introduce new and innovative plant-based protein products. For example, alternative protein start-ups are exploring new production methods and ingredient sources. Additionally, with advancements in food technology, alternative protein start-ups are able to create products that mimic the taste, texture, and nutrition of animal-based protein, which has helped to expand the market for alternative protein options (Vandenbroeck., 2021).
However, establishing an alternative protein start-up or managing an alternative protein enterprise are not without difficulties. One major challenge is the high cost of production, as alternative protein components and manufacturing procedures often cost more than traditional animal-based protein (Aschemann-Witzel., 2021). Alternative protein products may also have regulatory challenges because they might not be subject to the same standards or labelling requirements as conventional food products. Since both established food companies and fresh start-ups are joining the market, entrepreneurs in the alternative protein sector also face strong competition (Vandenbroeck., 2021)
Research and building capacities
As plant-based and alternative protein options have become increasingly popular in recent years, SLYCAN Trust has initiated research on promoting plant-based and alternative protein options in Sri Lanka. SLYCAN Trust aims to identify and promote alternative plant-based protein sources that are accessible in Sri Lanka and contribute to developing livelihoods and economic empowerment through plant-based entrepreneurship. Furthermore, this research aims to identify alternative plant-based protein options, including those which are forest based, in Sri Lanka, create awareness of alternative protein options among key stakeholders and the general public and support livelihoods, building on entrepreneurship focused on plant-based alternative protein options in the country.
As part of the research effort, our research team recently conducted field visits to identify alternative plant-based protein options, including those which are forest based in Sri Lanka. During the field visit, the SLYCAN Trust research team conducted structured interviews with people in the selected areas about the focus areas of the study. During these conversations, respondents shared their experiences and knowledge of plant-based protein sources available in the forest, which indicate the unique attributes of these options, the season in which they are harvested, the techniques employed by the villagers to gather the crops, and the methods used to prepare them as food.
The participants also shared their perceptions of the qualities and drawbacks of these species and the stories and legends associated with them.SLYCAN Trust plans to collect further data on the ground from a wide sample representing different areas in Sri Lanka focusing on promoting alternative plant-based protein sources that are accessible in Sri Lanka. Capacity-building and awareness sessions will be conducted at the local level to promote plant-based protein options and support plant-based entrepreneurship. In addition, knowledge products and a list will be developed on the plant-based protein options available in Sri Lanka.