What is the future of protein in Southeast Asia? And how can financial actors enable transformative change to a just and regenerative protein system in a rapidly changing region?

These questions are central to Forum's work. We know that protein is critical for human health, but the way we produce and consume it has significant impacts on our climate, biodiversity and human health.

Protein sits at the nexus of multiple sustainability issues in the region - from the climate crisis to feeding a rapidly growing population. Furthermore, the decade ahead brings with it the potential for significant systemic disruptions, such as the risk of Mekong Delta rice harvest failures and coral reef collapse. 

We have a key window of opportunity to reconfigure how the protein system might work for the better.

We're already seeing wide-ranging shifts and dynamism in and around protein in the region:

  • Changes in consumer preferences: New plant-based options are starting to scale, with a 440% increase in vegetarian and vegan product launches in Southeast Asia since 2016

  • New protein innovation has piqued the attention of investors, with tech start-ups rapidly emerging, many of which focus on cultured seafood

  • Shocks to protein production are becoming more frequent, with significant consequences - as seen with the African Swine Fever outbreaks, which created immense difficulties for pork producers and resulted in high pork prices, significantly affecting demand

  • COVID-19 has highlighted the inequalities throughout food systems and value chains, including workers'; rights. Shifts in consumption patterns due to the pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown are also predicted to significantly impact demand for meat and fish products

  • The climate crisis has highlighted the global livestock industry's role in contributing to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. It is likely that policy measures will be in place to mitigate this impact, while obligations to manage ecological and social impacts will be placed upon those within the plant-based and alternative proteins sector.

The Challenge: widening a narrow focus 

At first glance, global and local innovations focused on risk mitigation and supply security promise a more sustainable future, with a lower carbon footprint.

Yet, the current focus of financial actors is too narrow. It remains absolutely critical to mitigate environmental impacts and secure the supply of protein to meet growing demand in a way that can still produce affordable food, at scale. The question is ‘how’ can we do that in a way that better supports a transition to a future-fit protein system in Southeast Asia that is just and regenerative. This will be key for achieving meaningful, sustained and resilient change in the decade ahead.

So how can we achieve a future-fit protein system?

To realise the full potential of financial actors as transformative change agents, we must broaden our understanding of the challenges we face.

We must also gain a deeper understanding of the mindsets and actions that are needed to achieve a just and regenerative system.

Driving change in a way that delivers a ‘just transition’ begins with addressing the underlying ecological fragility of the food system, along with the social inequities within it. It requires adaptability in the face of uncertainty. It also calls for a diverse range of solutions and protein sources, as well as business models that more equitably distribute value and deliver a more decentralised approach.

Join Us

The decisions key financial actors make today will shape the food landscape for decades to come. The way investors and financiers engage right now will have major implications not just for financial success, but for the very way the region produces and consumes its food.

Forum believes six strategic actions are needed to ensure a just and regenerative food system:

  1. Set a collective vision for a just and regenerative protein system
  2. Embrace your agency to actively shape a future-fit system
  3. Incorporate a more holistic approach to screening and managing protein impacts
  4. Recognise and boost additional value in the protein system, beyond financial value
  5. Shape a ‘just’ protein transition
  6. Support a collaborative approach to the evolution of the protein system

Achieving this cannot be achieved by any one investor or business acting alone.  Each of these six strategic approaches is a significant shift from business as usual. It requires a community of actors to refocus time, energy and resources to inquiry and exploration.

That’s why we’re launching  a collective inquiry process set to explore what these five strategic actions might mean in practice.

Together we can explore the future for the protein visionary to enable a just and regenerative protein system in Southeast Asia - one that generates environmental, social and economic value and is future-fit.

Will you join us?

To learn more about the Protein Challenge Southeast Asia initiative, please contact Cynthia Morel at [email protected]