PROTEINLEG, an innovation project which seeks alternatives to soybean through the sustainable cultivation of legumes


With a grant of more than half a million euros, 80% co-funded by EAFRD funds, and two years of duration, PROTEINLEG is launched, an Operational Group that will provide solutions to the current national situation of the cultivation and production of legumes, aiming to obtain products rich in vegetable proteins as alternatives to soybean.

The European deficit of vegetables protein is estimated at 70% and it is one of the main problems faced by the livestock sector, with a high dependence on soybean for the balanced design of feed. Likewise, we are witnessing a growing demand for nutritious foods rich in plant proteins that are affordable and environmentally sustainable, due to the search by a large part of the population for alternatives to meat and dairy. These situations set out some environmental and economic problems. To base the whole vegetable protein on the cultivation of soybean means to be exposed to environmental, economic and cultural consequences, such as the loss of genetic diversity and increased dependence on imports.

Legumes are crucial for sustainable agriculture and nutrition, both for human consumption and for animal feed, being a fundamental source of plant protein. In addition, they contribute to sustainability and improvement of the environment when grown in agricultural rotations thanks to their nitrogen fixation capacity and weed control. However, the production of protein legumes in Spain is on a downward trend due to price competition from imported raw material proteins, the availability of cheap sources of animal protein from fish, cattle, pigs and poultry and the simplification of agricultural systems.

In this context, the PROTEINLEG initiative arises. The objective of the project is to implement an innovative strategy for the production of protein legumes through the recovery and enhancement of traditional varieties in order to diversify crops and obtain high-quality grains / seeds with which to develop new ranges of products rich in protein and of differentiated quality, both for animal and human food.

To carry out this initiative, a multidisciplinary team has been created. Coordinated by the Fundación Empresa Universidad Gallega (FEUGA), it is comprised by the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), through the Misión Biológica de Galicia (MBG), the Fundación Centro Tecnolóxico da Carne (CTC), Ramiro Arnedo SA, Almacenes Gamallo SL and MIMIC SeaFood SLU.

The innovation project will be developed in different stages. In first place, agronomic trials will be carried out in micro-plots and in extensive, under different environmental and stress conditions, to select potential crops and varieties. Likewise, studies will be carried out to improve the productivity of new varieties in less fertile soils applying sustainable improvement approaches.

Next, the design of formulations of protein-rich products for human and animal nutrition will be carried out from the selected varieties. The nutritional components of these varieties will be evaluated and the good nutritional and organoleptic characteristics of the formulations developed for feed and human food will be guaranteed.

Finally, the viability at the productive and industrial level of the new protein formulations and new products will be validated. Those intended for human consumption, such as a product rich in vegetable protein as an alternative to tuna, will be analyzed for sensory and nutritional properties, and shelf-life tests will be carried out. For the new formulations for animal feed, trials will be carried out in both pig and poultry farming, monitoring animal welfare and the quality of the resulting meat.

PROTEINLEG is an innovation project 80% co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) of the European Union and 20% by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, within the framework of the National Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. The General Directorate of Rural Development, Innovation and Agrifood Training (GDRDIAT) is the authority in charge of the application of this aids. Total project budget: €556.947,36; total grant: €552.147,36.

The Operational Group PROTEINLEG is responsible of this content.