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Good Protein for Bengaluru

We want all Bengaluru to have access to nutritious & affordable protein by making it the world headquarters of cellular protein production

Photo of Rajesh Kasturirangan
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Socratus

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Good Food Institute, India

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.socratus.space

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Bengaluru

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

India

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Greater Bengaluru, a metropolitan region in Southern India covering an area of 741 km^2

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We live, work and play here. Our children go to school here. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Bengaluru is a city of twelve million plus, often dubbed India’s ‘Silicon Valley’. With an average annual growth of 8.5%, Bengaluru is predicted to be the third fastest growing city in the world during the period 2019-35. 

Founded in the 16th century by Kempe Gowda, who also established a system of human-made lakes that watered the city, Bengaluru was a major military town for the British and then became the most important centre for scientific research in independent India with the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science followed by many research institutions of national and international importance. Over the last three decades, it has become the home to about 35 to 40% of India’s startup ecosystem, aerospace technology and software and bio technology exports. It is one of the only two cities in the world where one can hire a few thousand Hadoop coders in a week.  It's also the most open, cosmopolitan and dynamic city in the country with some of the best academic institutions and the strongest civic participation of any city in India. 

These developments have attracted people from across India and the world to Bengaluru, making it a melting pot of food traditions. A short walk from our office offers a Vietnamese restaurant (Phobidden Fruit), an excellent cafe (Third Wave Coffee Roasters), a lovely ice cream parlour (Corner House) and any number of restaurants offering every major Indian cuisine. At the same time, Bengaluru is a quintessentially South Indian city with Darshinis (small eateries selling dosas and idlis and other South Indian dishes) selling cheap nutritious food on most major streets. 

There's some tension between the local and the global, erupting into sporadic strife but for the most part Bangaloreans have embraced the world while retaining their South Indian heritage. However, the tremendous influx has created pressure on the resources of land and water. The city is bursting at its seams. It is expected to run out of groundwater by 2022. Its historical lakes now regularly make the headlines for frothing with fire. Its famous weather hides the steadily deteriorating air quality - predominantly due to vehicles plying on its roads that make it the worst traffic in the world. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

750

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

12500000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Bengaluru had 750,000 people in 1950. It has over 12 million people today and will likely have over 25 million people in 2050. If Bengaluru continues to grow the way it has in the last two decades, it will be a rich megapolis in 2050, except that it will have run out of water, land and (perhaps) breathable air. Bangaloreans taste for the familiar and the exotic will have exploded. Bengaluru’s challenge in 2050 will be a dramatic intensification of its challenge today: feeding twenty or twenty five million people. With rising inequality, the small minority with money to burn and majority of others will be at the edge of destitution. 

80% of Indians are deficient in proteins. Surprisingly, 73% of urban rich Indians are protein deficient as well. There are many reasons for protein deficiency. One, protein rich food such as meat, nuts, dairy is expensive: the poor simply cannot afford the protein they need. Second, most people have poor dietary habits. Their diets are rich in carbohydrates but not in proteins and micro-nutrients. The usual sources of proteins in a regular diet—one cup of lentils, 1 glass of milk, or 1 cup (200 g) of yoghurt—contain <20% of the daily recommended protein. This is exacerbated by the large shift towards processed food that has little nutritional value. India is registering the fastest growth in diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. Third, many Indians don’t eat meat due to religious and cultural reasons. Compensating for that through non-meat alternatives means an overhaul of current dietary patterns (To get to the daily requirement of 60g protein every day, it would be necessary to eat eight bowls of lentils or drink 7-8 glasses of milk). Fourth, climate change and pollution are leading to nutrient depletion and yield reduction. Between 1993-94 and 2011-12, protein levels in beans/ legumes dropped approximately 60 percent. 4 out of 5 Bangaloreans are already protein deficient; how will we meet Bengaluru’s protein needs in 2050? 

Already, Bengaluru can’t depend on its hinterland to supply the food it needs. Further, India is a highly water stressed country. Agriculture accounts for 85% of freshwater consumption in India. Farmers also use excessive fertilizers and pesticides. India spends $15 billion on subsidizing fertilizer that cause carbon emissions, degrade soil and pollute water. Every kilo of produce that comes from far away increases the city’s carbon footprint and uses precious water and consumes fertilizers. In addition, farmers elsewhere who supply grains, milk, eggs and meat for Bengaluru (which is in South Karnataka) can easily be trapped in a food system that privileges urban demands over their family’s nutritional needs. 

How can we feed this exploding city in the era of climate change and major transformations of the food system? How can we insure adequate nutrition while using as few resources as possible? We need to imagine a future Bengaluru that builds upon its strengths in science and technology, its open culture and its rich culinary traditions to create a new food system that delivers nutrition, taste and diversity in an affordable, sustainable and just manner.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Bengaluru’s food system needs to be completely reimagined. Instead of today’s city that depends on places close by and far away for its food, Bengaluru needs to produce its own food. Local self-sufficiency was the norm in pre-industrial agrarian societies but in the 21st century we need to re-envision the nature of self-sufficiency. It’s a particularly important challenge in India with its Gandhian ideal of village republics; can we make Bengaluru into a 21st century self-sufficient urban republic? Can we do so without succumbing to a romantic vision of the past? After all, there’s no converting valuable real estate into agricultural land; instead, we need to reimagine how food is produced and by whom. 

Rapid advances in precision biology that have allowed us to make huge strides in precision fermentation, a process that allows us to program microorganisms to produce almost any complex organic molecule. These advances are now being combined with an entirely new model of production we call Food-as-Software, in which individual molecules engineered by scientists are uploaded to databases – molecular cookbooks that food engineers anywhere in the world can use to design products in the same. way that software developers design apps. This model ensures a production system that is completely decentralized and much more stable and resilient than industrial animal agriculture, with fermentation farms located in or close to towns and cities. 

Fortunately, Bengaluru already has the scientific and technical base for a deep transformation of the food system - to give just one example, the biochemical reactors that are currently being deployed for pharmaceutical purposes can become the crucible of a new local food economy, one which is technically advanced and resource efficient; offers a dignified livelihood for the children of today’s farmers and delivers high quality protein at an affordable price. 

In short, we need a massive expansion of cellular agriculture but not by creating monolithic corporations but by decentralizing and distributing the ability to grow, package, cook and serve lab grown protein. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

If our plan is successful, the Bengaluru of 2050 will be the ideal combination of a protein rich populace that's also ecological sustainable, technically and scientifically innovative with expanding culinary diversity. 

Proteins sold through cellular production will be cheaper than existing animal protein. It will also be more nutritious, healthier, better tasting, and more convenient, with almost unimaginable variety. These proteins can be embedded in existing foods or can be used to create new ones. We can imagine vegetarians being able to get all their proteins in their usual diet of rice, lentils and vegetables. The poor will also be able to afford more protein. With adequate nutrition, people can move away from ultra-processed foods with lots of empty calories and minimal nutrition which leads to increased risk of non-communicable diseases. 

These modern alternatives will be many times more land efficient, more feedstock efficient, more fertilizer and chemical efficient, more time efficient, and more water efficient. They will also produce an order of magnitude less waste. 

Reimagining megapolis' as food producers will also lead to a deeper integration between urban life and the natural processes that sustain it; we can barely imagine the architectural and aesthetic possibilities of an urban landscape that is regenerative rather than extractive. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Microbreweries have become popular across the world - including in Bengaluru - as techies and others create a demand for scientifically challenging and yet visceral occupations on the supply side and unique flavours on the demand side. Distributed cellular agriculture is quite close to the microbrewery both in the means of production and the possibilities for innovative culinary experiences. A future in which all food is grown that way will create new sensory and aesthetic possibilities while also satisfying our nutrional demands and using far fewer resources.  

At the same time, widely available cellular protein will also be an instrument of justice: it will mean that Bengaluru’s citizens moving from a current state of high protein deficiency to adequate consumption of protein in their lives in the form that aligns with their dietary preferences with cost not being a barrier. Child stunting, poor birth outcomes and maternal deaths during child-birth - due to protein deficiency - will be a thing of the past. Children show a much higher level of cognitive development and grow up to be healthy and productive citizens of this nation. 

Health shocks are the biggest driver of poverty in India. With proper nutrition, the incidence of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease reduce and people live a healthier life, thus saving billions of rupees for the government and the families. We also imagine the pharmaceutical industry moves away from building curative medicine towards investing in healthy and nutritious food. A distributed industry that combines the technical complexities of pharmaceuticals with the variety and innovation of restaurants will lead to a new industry that realizes Gandhi's vision of self-sufficient urban republics and opens new possibilities for how service, manufacturing and aesthetic economies can overlap and intertwine. 

The environmental benefits of this will cause a dramatic reduction in greenhouse emissions around Bengaluru. The vehicular traffic around animal, dairy and protein transportation will decrease. Water consumption will reduce and allow for more water availability for the general population. Land being used for livestock and feed production can be freed up for other uses such as solar electricity, infrastructure, industrialization or reforestation. 

The money saved from fertilizer subsidy can be used to provide more welfare to citizens. Wider economic benefits will accrue from the reduction in the cost of food in the form of increased disposable incomes and from the wealth, jobs, and taxes that come from leading the way in modern food technologies.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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