Bridging the Protein Gap with Soyabean in India

Jaison John, Managing Committee Member of CLFMA, Country Team Lead – India US Soybean Export Council

India, with its vast population and diverse dietary preferences, is confronted with a significant protein gap, creating an urgent need for a versatile and accessible food source. Recent findings from the Indian National Family Health Survey reveal that approximately 75 per cent of Indians follow a non-vegetarian diet. Paradoxically, other studies indicate that a similar majority of Indians suffer from protein deficiency. This discrepancy highlights the pressing challenges of sustainability – meeting the protein needs of today while ensuring that those tomorrow will have equivalent,  if not more protein, all in a growing population of almost 1.5 billion people in India. 

In this context, soyabeans emerge as a promising solution due to their exceptional nutritional profile, diverse product range, and adaptability to different cultivation conditions. Exploring how soya can address India’s protein gap becomes paramount, as it not only caters to the nutritional needs of the population but also promotes sustainable agriculture practices and contributes to food security.

Enhanced Nutrition and Complete Protein Profile

Soyabeans are a rich source of protein and are widely used in the production of various food products. The protein content in soyabeans can vary depending on factors such as the variety of soybean, growing conditions, and processing methods. On average, soyabeans contain approximately 36-56 per cent protein Soya protein is considered a complete protein as it provides all the essential amino acids required by the human body. It is also low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol, making it a popular choice for individuals seeking plant-based protein sources. By incorporating soya as an important protein source, India can ensure access to a complete protein profile and enhance the overall nutritional intake of its population.

In addition to their protein content, soya products offer numerous health benefits. They are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, making them heart-healthy alternatives. Soya is rich in dietary fibre, which aids in digestion and promotes gut health. It is also a good source of essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, providing a well-rounded nutritional profile. Individuals can improve their overall health by incorporating soya into their diets while meeting their protein requirements.

Vital Contributor to Animal Protein Production  

As the demand for animal-source food increases, it is important to recognise the crucial role of soyabean meal, a by-product of soyabean processing, in providing high-quality animal protein. The most well-known is the digestible indispensable amino acid score of soya which has been widely used in the animal feed industry and has received the most support. With its rich nutritional composition, abundant essential amino acids, and suitability as a feed ingredient for livestock, poultry, and aquaculture, soyabean meal enhances animal health and productivity while ensuring the production of safe and nutritious food for human consumption. 

Revolutionising Indian Agriculture

Additionally, soyabean cultivation promotes sustainable agricultural practices by reducing soil erosion, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and land use change when it comes to carbon footprint, enhancing nitrogen fixation, and minimising reliance on synthetic fertilisers. Overall, the cultivation and utilisation of soyabean and its by-products, such as soya feed, hold great potential for India’s agricultural sector, fostering food security and environmental sustainability.

‘Soy Fed’ Label

While soya feed plays a significant role in the growth and development of animals and helps define the quality of protein consumed by humans, awareness about it remains limited. To address this, Right to Protein, a USSEC campaign, introduced the ‘Soy Fed’ label in 2021. This voluntary feed label, the first of its kind in India, aims to increase awareness about the crucial role of animal feed in determining protein quality. The Soy Fed label helps consumers differentiate between packaged poultry, meat, and fish that have been fed with soya, highlighting soy as a high-quality protein source. By empowering consumers to make informed decisions, this initiative promotes the recognition and utilisation of soya feed in enhancing the nutritional value of animal products.

Unleashing India’s Agricultural Potential

Apart from this, soyabeans offer immense potential for crop diversification in India, as they can be successfully cultivated in a wide range of agro-climatic conditions across different regions of the country. This adaptability presents a valuable opportunity to enhance food security and reduce India’s reliance on imported protein sources while also decreasing dependence on traditional crops and bolstering agricultural resilience. By encouraging and supporting soyabean farming, India can leverage its diverse landscapes and optimise land use for sustainable protein production.

Fortifying India’s Staple Foods

One effective strategy to enhance protein content and nutritional value in staple foods is through fortification. Soya protein can be easily incorporated into existing food products, such as wheat flour, to boost their protein content. This fortification strategy holds particular significance for staple foods in India, such as bread, biscuits, and other processed items. By fortifying these widely consumed products with soya protein, the population can access additional protein without altering their dietary habits significantly.

Promoting Food Security

This is a wonderful opportunity to grow the Indian soya industry as soya-based products have gained significant popularity in recent years. With advancements in food processing techniques and product development, the taste, texture, and nutritional profile of soya-based foods have improved significantly. This has led to a broader acceptance and adoption of these products among consumers.

Protein deficiency can lead to malnutrition, which affects a significant number of children in India. The Global Hunger Index of 2022 score also reveals that 16.3 per cent of the population in India suffers from undernourishment while 19.3 per cent and 35 per cent of children under 5 suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. With India’s growing population and diverse dietary practices, we are facing significant challenges in achieving nutrition security for our citizens. Soya, with its versatility, can emerge as a sustainable solution that can address key nutritional gaps in the diet of Indians. From catering to the vegetarian population, with soya-based foods such as soyabeans, tofu, tempeh, and soya milk to improving protein content on animal-based foods through soya feed, soyabeans can play a crucial role in meeting any protein gaps. 

With their exceptional nutritional value, wide range of soya-based products, adaptability to diverse agricultural conditions, and numerous health benefits, soya offers a sustainable and nutritious solution. By promoting soyabean cultivation, incorporating soya protein into staple foods, and educating the population about its benefits, India can enhance food security, improve public health, and reduce the country’s dependence on imported protein sources. Embracing soya as a protein source presents an opportunity for businesses to cater to the growing demand for sustainable and nutritious alternatives in the market.

Being a versatile and protein-rich crop, soya has the potential to bridge India’s protein gap and address the nutritional needs of its population. With a rapidly growing population and increasing urbanisation, India faces significant challenges in meeting the dietary requirements of its people. By promoting the cultivation and consumption of soya-based products, India can enhance its protein availability and help reduce malnutrition. Additionally, soya is highly adaptable and can be incorporated into various traditional Indian recipes, making it culturally relevant and acceptable.

Economic and Nutritional Potential 

The market access value of soya in India extends far beyond its nutritional benefits. It can contribute to economic growth, trade opportunities, employment generation, and sustainable agriculture in India. Harnessing the full potential of soya will require policy support, infrastructure development, and market linkages to enable farmers and businesses to access domestic and international markets effectively. By embracing the market access value of soya, India can drive economic growth, ensure nutritional security, and promote sustainable development, establishing itself as a key player in the global soya market and contributing to food security and protecting farmers against climate change-induced challenges and crop failures. By embracing soya as a viable protein source, India can take a significant step towards closing its protein gap and improving the overall health and well-being of its population.

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