Innovating food systems to provide nutritional security to the nation while saving the planet

May 12, 2023


In 2020, a whopping 2.4 billion people – more than 30% of the global population – remained severely or moderately food insecure because of irregular access to adequate food. Globally, 149.2 million children below 5 years suffered from stunting (low height for specific age-group) and 45.4 million from wasting (low weight vis-à-vis height) in this period.

Global Hunger Crisis & National Nutrition Security

Global hunger and malnutrition are showing an upward trend from 2019 after a decade of decline. The COVID-19 pandemic, international geopolitics, climate change and socioeconomic challenges have only exacerbated the crisis. India especially faces a major challenge, being ranked 101st of 116 countries in 2021 Global Hunger Index.

The country has a prevalence of 16.3% undernutrition as per the Global Food Security Index 2022. With rising cost of food reflecting on people’s plates, the situation calls for developing low cost high nutrition food products to fulfil the nutritional needs of the underserved.

Counter Measures

The Central Government launched the Poshan Abhiyaan programme in 2018 to address low birth weight, undernutrition, anaemia and stunting in children, adolescent girls and women. Additionally, considering millets to be a healthier dietary option and a viable solution for universal malnutrition due to its rich fibre and essential mineral content, the Government announced its ‘Millet Mission’ with the UN’s World Food Programme in 2021.

Along with the essential steps undertaken by the Government, food innovation needs to accelerate in the country to provide cost-effective, rich dietary products. Food like eggs, meat, fish, etc. do offer enough proteins and other essential nutrients but for the majority of vegetarian Indian population, animal protein sources aren’t a dietary option. Conversely, animal agriculture, which includes poultry farming, is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Rising Popularity of Veganism

Against this backdrop, with rising global focus on health and environment, veganism is gaining popularity. Vegan diets, which includes the consumption of vegan eggs and mock meats, are known to reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney ailments, stroke and cancer. A study among 15,000 vegans noted they had healthier weight, blood sugar and cholesterol levels than omnivores, along with a 15% reduced cancer risk.

The development of protein-rich food with egg and meat-like textures can be explored in India with a high probability of success in launching a whole new segment of plant-based protein food. India’s food grain biodiversity is very high. Therefore, scientists, technology developers, startups, allied industries, value-chain stakeholders, consumers, etc. need to enter this innovative segment to offer potential solutions that can be available locally while being economically viable and nutritionally feasible for bridging nutrient deficiencies.

The creation of such products and further making them viable for the markets is a tough challenge. The products and their makers need the requisite spotlight and support from stakeholders across Government to private institutions. Since coming into being, UNDP Accelerator Lab India has been playing an important role in identifying impact makers and accelerating innovation in domains across SDGs. In one such initiative, a team at Centre of Rural Development & Technology, at IIT Delhi, won the Innovate4SDG organized by UNDP Accelerator Lab India for pioneering innovation in food systems by developing a new sustainable, dietary option, which can potentially benefit the masses.

The New Food Option for Our Plates

Making strong advances in the domain of developing nutritious dietary options, in 2019, researchers from IIT, Delhi created a vegan or plant-based egg with nearly the same protein levels, taste, texture and appearance as real eggs. Leveraging the age-old kitchen pulses as a source of proteins for vegetarians, the extraction was done using protein-isolation technology. These eggs contain lentils, legumes, chickpeas, peas and other plant sources. The natural colour of the lentils and permissible kitchen-coloured condiments were used to give the exact poultry egg-like look.

These eggs are a handy option for addressing both urban and rural malnourishment through their easy availability, non-animal source, ease of cooking, environment-friendly feature, storability, etc. Omelettes, scrambled eggs, rolls and other conventional types of egg dishes are all made from the vegan version. Devoid of cholesterol and antibiotics and having less calorific value than normal eggs but with added vitamins such as B12 and D3, vegan eggs can be a more sustainable, healthier alternative to chicken eggs and a rich source of protein.

Such innovation in food systems has tremendous potential to ensure nutritional security sustainably while providing an impetus to food economy and livelihood. The US Foreign Agricultural Service expects India’s market for meat substitutes to touch $47.57 million (approx. Rs315 crore) by 2026. For ecologically-conscious consumers, vegan eggs and mock meats are an excellent way to consume wholesome, nutritious meals. Besides a minimal carbon footprint, such products can undoubtedly mitigate the malnutrition problem in India, achieving its nutrition security objectives.


Dr. Krishnan S. Raghavan, Head of Exploration, Accelerator Lab, UNDP India

Dr. Kavya Dashora, Associate Professor, Centre of Rural Development & Technology, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi

Ms. Rozita Singh, Head of Solutions Mapping, Accelerator Lab, UNDP India

Ms. Swetha Kolluri, Head of Experimentation, Accelerator Lab, UNDP India

Mr. Nilanjan Dey, Independent Researcher & Media Professional, New Delhi