Report from Davos: ‘Tackling the Protein Dilemma’ Panel Discussion

On 18 January 2023, dsm-firmenich hosted a high-level discussion on the future of animal farming, coinciding with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Here’s a recap of the discussion that took place in the SDG Tent.


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  • Ivo Lansbergen, President, Animal Nutrition & Health, dsm-firmenich
  • Mariana Vasconcelos, CEO, AgroSmart
  • Arnold Puech d’Alissac, President, World Farmers Organization
  • Juan Lavista Ferres, VP Chief Data Scientist, Microsoft


  • Jenny Davis Peccoud, Head of Sustainability and Responsibility, Bain & Company

Demand for protein is increasing

The world is planning to eat more animal protein. Predictions indicate growth of 70% over the coming 10 years fuelled by a growing global population and increased wealth. Alternative proteins are expected to make up 20-25% of intake, which is not enough to meet the growing demand for protein.

The protein dilemma brings a number of challenges, including minimizing the environmental impact of production. During a panel discussion hosted by dsm-firmenich during the World Economic Forum 2023 meeting in Davos, Switzerland, potential strategies for tackling the protein dilemma were grouped into three areas:

  1. Transformation
  2. Transparency
  3. Coalitions

Ivo Lansbergen, President Animal Nutrition & Health at dsm-firmenich highlighted the transformational work being done. “Bovaer®, the methane inhibitor, reduces methane emissions by up to 80% in beef animals. Our work on methane began in 2009 so it is great to see so many people now recognising methane as a big topic.”

Lansbergen pointed out that feed additives alone are not enough, and that on-farm precision is now taking a big step forward. “If we can assess environmental footprint at an individual farm level, you can then differentiate between farms, identifying which exceed and which are below standards. That is a critical element to creating a race to the top.”

When asked about the economics of sustainability in agriculture, Lansbergen commented “in contrast to other industries, environmental gains in agriculture might go hand in glove with financial gains, making it attractive for farmers to improve their processes and minimize their impact on the environment.”

Time for change

Research shows that simple new practices typically take 5-7 years to be adopted by 60% of farmers compared to 20 years for adoption of more complex changes. But we don’t have that much time given the current climate crisis. So how can adoption be sped up?

World Farmer Organization (WFO) President, Arnold Puech pointed out that “regulations can be used to accelerate things, but they are not always helpful for everyone.” His experience with farmers globally shows that change occurs at different speeds in different countries. But throughout the world, economics always plays a vital role.

It's all in the detail

Collecting data and reporting the results directly to farmers is what underpins work at AgroSmart. Mariana Vasconcelos, CEO explained how AgroSmart has built an operating system that supports the whole food production industry. The platform shows farmers how they can improve their processes to save energy and resources which makes their businesses both more efficient and economical. But adoption is slow and there are infrastructure limitations. For example, in Brazil only 27% of farms have the internet. AgroSmart is working with 100,000 farmers, covering 48 million hectares which is a start, but further work is needed. The next 3-5 years will help reach saturation.

Juan Lavista Ferres, VP Chief Data Scientist for Microsoft joined the discussion by pointing out that “data for the sake of data is not useful. There needs to be a ‘so what’.” Transparency can only be achieved when data is easy to collect and easy to consume. Sustell™, a new sustainability service from dsm-firmenich, provides a platform for both. Lansbergen reports that “adoption has been faster in the US and Latin America than in Europe because of more financial incentives available to farmers outside of Europe.”

Puech reminded the audience that “data transparency does not mean exhibition.” While farmers might be reluctant to share information with others, data only becomes useful when it is put into context against other data sources.

Working together to solve the problem

In a coalition, each party brings their own strengths, meaning improved efficiency for everyone. Coalitions need to exist along the whole chain including financial institutions. “It is not only about partnering with feed millers anymore,” highlighted Lansbergen.

Financing the solution

Finance needs to be an integral part of any solution. But this is complicated due to the industry being very fragmented. In developed countries, the costs of production are increasing but farmers are earning more than ever. In developing countries, it is another story. In India for example, farmers only receive 14% of what the consumer pays for a tomato.

Consumers are more aware, and studies show they are willing to pay a premium for alternatives. Data and transparency are key. The farmer must not be squeezed.

Demand as the driving force?

A number of questions remain.

  • How can we stimulate demand for protein around the world?
  • How can we reduce malnutrition in developing countries?
  • Where does the money come from?
  • What impact can policymakers have?
  • How can we speed up adoption of new products and tools?
  • What role do consumers play?
  • Are consumers willing to pay more for protein? Will this translate into action?
  • What about the farmers themselves and their access to adequate nutrition, education?

What does the future hold?

To conclude the meeting, Lansbergen revealed that the value chain is investigating the production of protein from microorganisms. While this might not be used for human consumption, it could be used in animal feed applications which would be a ground-breaking step towards solving the protein dilemma.