Eslam Salah studied Agricultural Science at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and Project Management at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) before founding the Skåne Food Entrepreneurs Network in 2017. Having realised the huge potential of lupin beans as a sustainable protein source, in 2018 he founded Lupinta, a company producing lupin-based products.
Last year, Eslam was named as a Super Talent in Swedish business Magazine VA’s Social Change of the Year category, just one of many awards he and his company have won for entrepreneurship and sustainability.
Tell me about how you started Lupinta?
Eslam Salah: I wanted to work with lupin as a snack and then while I was researching lupin, I discovered that lupin has a really good functionality; it’s high in protein, high in fibre, low in fat and we can grow it easily across the entire EU. So I thought to myself, why is Europe is the second-largest importer of soy in the world? Why do we import 34 million tonnes of soy when we have a local alternative available right here in Europe?
If we reduce 20% of European animal farming and replace it with farming lupin, we will have enough plant-based protein for human consumption and animal fodder, and still have extra to share with the rest of the world. So based on the calculations we’ve made, by replacing 20% of animal farming with lupin would mean that we would no longer need to import any soy from outside the EU. And if we stop soy importation, we will also free up farmland in the rainforest—making enough space to plant 30 billion trees.
That’s a lot of trees!
Eslam Salah: Yes, a lot of trees. So I think with lupin, we have health value and environmental value, and that’s why I realised this is an amazing crop to work with.
What are some of the other advantages of localising the supply chain?
Eslam Salah: Food security. Most Europeans have lived in safety since the Second World War, so you find the new generation rarely think about what food security means. You’ll find that the term is not commonly used, but if you go to the political level or the European Commission, they actually talk about this kind of stuff. When you are relying on importation for animal fodder and human consumption needs—your basic protein needs–it’s something you need to consider. But now coronavirus has revealed that we are so vulnerable, food security is once again on the agenda.
Another aspect to the environmental impact is improving the soil quality. When you farm lupin, it improves soil quality. It leaves some binding nitrogen in the soil, so for farmers who farm organically; they are left with some of the nitrogen for the second crop. And also, lupin itself doesn’t require synthetic nitrogen or chemical fertilisers when it’s farmed, so that means we are going to use less chemical fertilisers, reducing water pollution and water waste, and we will be keeping our soil healthy by preserving the microbiome.
To sum it up: improving the soil quality, less use of chemical fertilisers and encouraging eco-farming.
You know, I’ve worked with lupin now for over two years, and even though I’ve learnt a lot about it, there’s still much, much more to learn.
I suppose this is the beauty of knowledge. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know!
Eslam Salah: Yes, exactly!
Lupin has been receiving a great deal of attention lately as a gluten-free vegan superfood with a whole range of health benefits, including fighting heart disease and diabetes. Can you tell us about the properties of this wonder bean and what makes it so special?
Eslam Salah: Lupin beans are known to have a very high protein content. They’re also high in amino acids and fibre, and if you eat 100 grammes of our product, Lupinta, it will give you 43% of your daily fibre requirement and 32% of your daily protein requirement. Also, our lupin product is really low in fat, with less than 3%, compared to soy which has up to 20% fat content.
So we know that lupin is great for the planet, great for agriculture and great for human health, but in what other ways are you accelerating the sustainability mission specifically with your brand?
Eslam Salah: As a company, we are not focusing on building our brand. We are focused instead on building industry in the EU. We are trying to connect researchers, producers, farmers, politicians; we’re trying to connect everyone because we know Lupinta by itself will not be able to replace 34 million tonnes of soy.
That’s why we need everyone to help us, so that in 10 years time, we can see a really radical change in our self-sufficiency in providing one of our basic needs, which is food.
I think the coronavirus issue is alarming. What is going to happen if we have a complete shutdown of borders? How can we survive without any food? What if things got even more serious with a future virus and we weren’t able to continue importing about 50% of all the total food consumption from outside Sweden? If we have complete shutdown, how will the farmers import all the beans to even feed their cows and chickens?
So we are clear, we are talking about reality and I am not in any way supporting or condoning the animal industry. And whilst we are on the subject of reality, statistics show that of the total meat consumed in Europe, 30% of it is made up of soy. Soy is always present in meat.
I should clarify that I don’t have a problem with soy per se, I have a problem with the way the system has been put in place. If we could farm soy in Europe and do so successfully across the whole of the EU, and we farmed it in a sustainable manner, I wouldn’t have a problem. My problem is with rainforests being cut down to plant soy and then the soy being imported using transportation that uses the dirtiest fuel ever. We don’t pay the price for the damage, but somebody else does.
I’ve talked to a CEO of one of the world’s biggest food companies, and he said, “If we cut down on soy importation it will harm the local farmers in these areas which farm soy.”
But if you go there, you will find the indigenous people are not involved in soy farming because it is on an uber scale and relies mostly on machines; relatively few people are working within the industry. The local farmers are actually suffering because of the big soy farms. Not only are they unable to find much employment, but the big farms also use chemical herbicides and pesticides which drive the insects to the local farmers’ own micro-farms, leaving them without an adequate harvest. So we find the indigenous people are effectively getting displaced and are not left in a very good position.
This is so sad to hear. What are some of the main ways you feel that the food choices we make can help reduce climate impact?
Eslam Salah: It is not an option. We must reduce our CO2 emissions and food is one the highest emitters.
Around 30% I believe.
Eslam Salah: Yes. And if you look, you will find that those emissions are mostly from animal farming. Did you know we are using over 70% of our total farmland in the EU for animal farming?
No, I didn’t. Over 70%? That’s shocking!
Eslam Salah: Basically, we have 173 million hectares of farmland in the EU and 125 million hectares are used for animal farming. So imagine: if we reduce animal farming from 125 million hectares to only 100 million hectares and use the surplus 25 million hectares for farming lupin, then we would be self-sufficient on plant-based protein, which is enough for consumption and for animal fodder.
These really are incredible numbers, and numbers that can make a real difference to health and life on the planet.
Eslam Salah: Yes. That reduction would make us self-sufficient; we wouldn’t be importing any soy from outside the EU and it would leave space for us to plant 30 billion trees.
How has being located in Malmö contributed to Lupinta’s success?
Eslam Salah: That’s an interesting question. I think Malmö is a really interesting and progressive city. It is really diverse, with so many groups represented. For example, you can find many vegans and vegetarians, and when you are around this kind of environment and you produce something that challenges the status quo, then you will find you have the support of the community. Malmö is literally one of the most progressive cities you can find in Europe.
I came from Egypt seven or eight years ago, so I was not born here, but I came to a city where I felt accepted. My experience is that I felt accepted in Malmö and I now feel like I am part of the community. I also feel like I am adding something to the place I’ve moved to, in contrast to the stereotype of the troublesome immigrant. First, I feel that Malmö accepted me and then next, feel that it also encouraged me to be effective and to give more than I take. I think Malmö has a great sense of community.
I believe you’re also working closely with academia. Is being located in Malmö helping with that?
Eslam Salah: Actually, my idea got its kick-start from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, which is only 10 km away in a small village outside Malmö. The first grant I got to help me realise my project was from the SLU. I studied there and once I’d done some research about lupin protein, I got a grant from the university to start my project. So being located here was very helpful in that respect, I think!
I am sitting here in my office based in the incubator talking to you via video link at the incubator and start-up house called Minc. This is where I got coaching as an entrepreneur. The innovation system here in Malmö is really good and supportive, and part of the wider Swedish Innovation System.
What is next for Lupinta?
Eslam Salah: I think next we will be developing more products. We want to first establish ourselves in the entire Swedish market, and then we are looking to expand to the entire EU. As I said, we see expansion not only from a brand point of view but also from an entire industry point of view. We want to invite other actors to join us in the movement because we are offering something really good for the food industry and the entire agricultural industry. Actually, if you wouldn’t mind me making a call to action: if anyone reading this interview is interested, then we welcome them to contact us at Lupinta! They can talk to us and collaborate to help build an industry which can drive change for the entire food industry in Europe.
What a great note to end on. Thank you for your time, Eslam. It’s been great to speak to you today and I wish you lots of success with Lupinta.
Eslam Salah: Thank you.
Originally published on Sustaineurope.com