Climate Change

Just a fad or a new economic model?

Recent webinars look at how a sustainable and circular bioeconomy can transform food systems


29/10/2020

Have you ever thought that lemon peel and almond shells could be blended and used in a bio-based material for the 3D printing of car parts, or that vegetable residues could be turned into alternative proteins? Is this a world we are moving into, a world which achieves sustainable wellbeing for all, in harmony with nature?

These innovative systems and solutions have been at the heart of discussions during the 2020-2021 webinar series ‘Circular bioeconomy for food systems transformation’, led by FAO and the International Bioeconomy Working Group (ISBWG).

Our biological resources are fundamental

A sustainable and circular bioeconomy presents a framework for using renewable natural capital to transform and manage food systems – in layman’s terms renewable natural capital refers to living species and ecosystems. ‘Circularity’ is all about resource use efficiency, it refers to the mimicking of natural systems of regeneration, so that food loss and waste does not exist but is instead feedstock for another cycle. To function effectively, a sustainable and circular bioeconomy needs advanced technology as well as traditional knowledge.

Interactive discussions in a virtual space

Through the webinars, representatives from government ministries, research institutes, civil society, the private sector and international organizations shared examples of bio-innovations, to make fruit and vegetable value chains more circular globally.  

Bio-innovation itself is a relatively new term. It recognizes that innovation is shaped by both technological, institutional and social factors and refers to advances in the production, use and conservation of biological resources coupled with evolving economic and governance models – alternative proteins are a great example of this” explained Anne Bogdanski, a Natural Resources Officer leading FAO’s Sustainable and Circular Bioeconomy team.

With business as usual no longer an option, FAO has started to look at the sustainable and circular bioeconomy as a new economic model.  Since 2017, the project Towards Sustainable Bioeconomy Guidelines’, funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, has been supporting countries in the development of sustainable and circular bioeconomy strategies, programmes and action plans in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

The webinars have coincided with International events to which FAO is contributing. These include the lecture on bioeconomy by Prof Dr Joachim Von Braun, Chair of the Scientific Group for the 2021 UN Food System Summit, at FAO's World Food Day ceremony, International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste 2020, EU Green week, with a dedicated session on Protecting biodiversity and nature through a circular economy, and next month’s Global Bioeconomy Summit (GBS) 2020.

These events have been an opportunity to gather information, discuss and reflect on the benefits and tradeoffs of biological innovations to increase circularity in food systems, and the policies that could support sustainable bio-innovations in the food and agriculture sectors.

Bioeconomy – a business opportunity for the private sector   

Nick Jeffries, Project Manager with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and a key speaker in the first webinar, works with a group of scientists, engineers, and other technical specialists who strive to provide evidence on the benefits of a circular economy and insights into transition pathways. 

As he flapped a leather-like strip in front of our screens, he emphasized that the private sector has a very important role to play in the sustainable and circular bioeconomy. The product he was trying to show the viewers was bio-innovative mushroom leather, grown from agricultural by-products. Its exceptional quality led to collaboration with the fashion designer Stella McCartney who is creating handbags made from this fungal mycelium.

Sustainable and circular bioeconomy not only has the potential to expand value chains and reduce socio-economic inequalities, stressed Mr Jeffries, it also has the potential to address many of our largest and most pressing environmental global challenges, not least climate change and the reversing of catastrophic biodiversity loss. 

Nothing is destroyed, everything is transformed

Special guest Lorenzo Valtieri from Enomondo and Caviro Extra presented a success story during the second webinar about the use of thousands of tons of by-products from an Italian wine cooperative. The cooperative, working with 12 400 farmers and 29 wineries is 100% energy efficient, using crop residues to produce biogas through digesters, fertilizers, disinfectants and even renewable CO2 for fizzy drink companies.

“We are saving something like 82 000 tons of CO2 every year” claimed Valtieri who added that his company focuses on future sustainability. 

“Italy doesn't have a lot of land or raw materials, so we are looking at extracting as much as possible from what we have without wasting anything”. 

Representatives from the government of Uruguay as well as the European Commission referred specifically to the inclusion of similar fruit and vegetable bio-innovations in their respective bioeconomy strategy action plans, which are also considered as a building block in their national COVID-19 recovery plans. 

With bioeconomy fully recognised in the workstreams of FAO’s new office of Climate, Biodiversity and the Environment, and reference to it in FAO’s new publication commemorating its 75 years, FAO looks to exciting times ahead, foreseeing new and innovative ways of perceiving and managing agriculture, crops, forests, fisheries and aquaculture.

 

Global Bioeconomy Summit

Join us virtually: 16-20 November 

17 November, 16:00-18:30 CET: Follow the FAO workshop on strategy development: Moving towards a sustainable and circular economy: Bioeconomy Strategy Development

19-20 November: Ministerial level segment during which FAO Director-General QU Dongyu will give a keynote speech on 20 November, 08:30 CET