In 2017 we exceeded our 2020 target of ensuring that 20% of our food-relevant R&D projects would focus on improving nutrition by 3%. This is just the beginning.
With an estimated 840 million people suffering from hunger and one-third of the developing world's population experiencing micronutrient deficiencies, it has never been more obvious that our global nutrition system has become unsustainable. At the same time, obesity is placing a huge burden on the health systems of the industrialized - and, increasingly, the developing - world, while population growth means that by 2050 we'll need an additional 265 million tonnes of protein to feed more than 9 billion people. No single company can fully address these issues; however, we are in a unique position to make a real difference, because food produced using our technologies serves more than 2 billion people every day.
Bühler takes a collaborative approach to developing innovations, pushing research to new levels, and investigating new methods and materials research further with our in-house experts, customers, and partners. To address the need for alternative, sustainable protein sources, solutions will need to be found, and we are exploring alternatives to turn these significant challenges into business opportunities.
Food fortification is a vital tool in the fight against malnutrition. In 2017 Bühler supplied more than 1,000 microfeeders to local mills and food factories in Pakistan under the lead of the UK-based Food Fortification Programme. This is helping to tackle the high levels of child stunting and malnutrition in the region by adding vitamins and minerals to foods. Around half of Pakistan's mills will soon be equipped with these solutions.
With its 2017 partnership with Protix, one of the world's leading insect production companies, Bühler will drive the industrial production of animal feed from insects. Insects are reared on food waste, which they efficiently turn into protein. It's a sustainable, virtuous cycle, as they are the preferred food source for many animals and their by-products become plant fertilizer. The company has already achieved a milestone with the first order for the largest industrial-scale insect processing plant in Europe, which is expected to be fully operational and leading the way in this rapidly developing field by the second half of 2018. Longer-term, Bühler is looking at algae as another potential protein solution and is also collaborating with its partners to help cut sugar and fat content, enabling producers to bring the safest, most nutritious foods to the market, whether rice, wheat, or pulses.
The latter are one of the increasingly popular alternatives used by our customers to provide high-protein, high-fiber meat substitutes, while texturized vegetable proteins are becoming increasingly important alternatives for consumers looking to reduce their meat intake. Known as textrudates, these are made from vegetable raw materials using a cooking extrusion process. Bühler has long been at the forefront of producing dry - and now wet - textrudates as meat alternatives and is expanding its research. Through collaboration with ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Techology), a study has shown that bean isolate, wheat gluten, and sunflower seeds are also promising alternatives.