On December 5th, World Soil Day reminds us of the pivotal role of soil health in our ecosystem, underscoring its significance in sustainable development. Healthy soil contributes to growing food, preserving biodiversity, including plant proteins, and mitigating climate change.

The Link Between Soil and Plant Proteins

The role of soil in the growth of crops, especially those rich in plant proteins, is truly significant. Ensuring that the soil is in optimal condition becomes essential to guarantee that the plants it nurtures end up packed with protein – the essential goodness our bodies crave. When we talk about the benefits of plant proteins, it all starts with the soil being in excellent condition. The healthier the soil, the better the chances that the plants will become our primary source for proteins that keep us energized.

Soil Health and Plant proteins

According to the blog post of the Good Food Institute crop diversity and nitrogen-fixing power of legumes can make our soil even healthier. Surprisingly, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that one-third of the Earth’s soil is currently degraded, and there’s a looming risk that 90 percent of the planet’s topsoil could be compromised by 2050. This poses a significant threat to our future ability to feed ourselves. If the soil doesn’t work well, growing crops is expected to become considerably more difficult. Serving as a natural reservoir of vital nutrients, soil significantly influences the nutritional profile of crops. Optimal levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients within the soil foster the cultivation of robust plants boasting an ideal protein content.

How embracing alternative proteins safeguards soil

World Soil Day champions the cause of sustainable soil management practices. Techniques such as organic farming, crop rotation, and agroforestry emerge as pivotal contributors to soil health, reducing dependence on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These sustainable practices not only bolster soil health but also foster the growth of crops endowed with superior nutritional quality, enriched in plant proteins. The expanding realm of alternative protein product development opens doors to incorporate a variety of crops, such as legumes like chickpeas, mung beans, or soybeans, into crop rotations. Different plants have varying nutrient needs and root structures, preventing the depletion of specific nutrients, and promoting overall soil balance. Legumes play a big role in enhancing soil health through nitrogen fixation. Bacteria residing in nodules along the plant’s roots have the capability to convert atmospheric nitrogen into the organic form essential for plant growth. The proficiency of legumes in this process is why they boast high protein content. Additionally, nitrogen fixation can reduce dependence on chemical nitrogen fertilizers, a major contributor to nitrogen pollution in surface and groundwater.

Climate Change Mitigation

Beyond its role in crop development, healthy soil plays a crucial part in mitigating climate change by sequestering carbon. Sustainable agricultural practices, geared towards maintaining soil health, contribute significantly to carbon sequestration. This, in turn, aids in offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Opting for plant-based protein sources and endorsing sustainable agriculture aligns seamlessly with broader efforts to combat climate change and promote environmental sustainability.

For example, some plant proteins, like those from drought-tolerant crops such as chickpeas or lentils, require less water for cultivation. They can thrive in conditions of water scarcity, preserving soil moisture and minimizing the impact of drought on soil health. The growth of plants, especially cover crops rich in proteins, helps prevent soil erosion. Their root systems stabilize the soil structure, reducing erosion caused by wind or water and maintaining soil integrity.

How VALPRO Path helps? 

VALPRO Path is on a mission to revolutionize plant protein production for food and feed in the EU, employing a comprehensive approach from on-farm processes to business models. Through strategically positioned Innovation Production Systems (IPSs) in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Denmark, the project focuses on high-value protein crops such as pea, lupin, chickpea, faba bean, soybean, and lentils. By pioneering innovative production and processing systems, VALPRO Path aims to usher in a new era of sustainable plant protein production, contributing to the preservation and enhancement of soil health. The project seeks to validate and showcase methods that not only benefit the environment but also align with economic viability, fostering a paradigm shift towards sustainable practices across the entire food chain.

Co-funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Research Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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