Agrifood Economics

Empowering tomorrow's leaders: unleashing youth potential in the bioeconomy 


Youth will play an important role in shaping the future of sustainable bioeconomy, and this notion took centre stage during a compelling session held on Tuesday, 17 October 2023 during the Global Youth Forum. The event, which took place at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) headquarters in Rome, aimed at showcasing the pivotal role of young leaders in driving sustainable solutions within the bioeconomy sector. It also sought to inspire the next generation to explore careers and entrepreneurial opportunities in this burgeoning field.

Youth ambassadors leading the way

Isabella Garcia Caffaro, a distinguished youth ambassador of the International Advisory Council on Global Bioeconomy (IACGB), kicked off the event with an inspiring opening speech. Isabella passionately emphasized the need for bioeconomy concepts to become an integral part of educational curricula. Isabella's words resonated deeply as she underscored the importance of mentorship programs to nurture youthful talent and the transformative potential that young individuals possess in shaping the bioeconomy's trajectory. She highlighted that “youth involvement in bioeconomy is highly important. It is in that youth that we will find our future bioeconomy leaders and decision makers.”

FAO's research insights

Jana Dietershagen, economist at FAO, unveiled the findings of FAO’s technical study Opportunities for youth in the bioeconomy on youth employment and entrepreneurship within the emerging bioeconomy sectors. Her insights illuminated the urgent need to support the youth, who will be a key player in achieving the ambitious climate goals, particularly the objective of net zero emissions by 2050. The study unearthed a plethora of challenges, such as a shortage of gender and age disaggregated data and lack of youth involvement in bioeconomy policymaking. It also called attention to the shortcomings of the current education system in adequately developing bioeconomy-related skills required for this knowledge-based economy.

Dietershagen's presentation also delved into the global bioeconomy employment trends that will shape the landscape stating that “a decline in fossil fuel jobs but a substantial rise in renewable energy opportunities can be anticipated. The biomanufacturing sector emerges as a significant source of employment and value addition, compared to the energy sector due to longer more complex chains. There are promising employment trends in bio-based chemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics, rubber and engineered wood products.”

The presentation also reinforced the significance of rural areas in bioeconomy transformation. In response to youth migration to urban centres and an aging rural population, rural areas are positioned as potential bioeconomy hubs. Proximity of production and processing sites, along with decentralized models, could invigorate rural regions and generate employment opportunities. These areas are seen as promising grounds for sustainable, thriving communities.

Youth voices

The session provided a platform for youth entrepreneurs and innovators in the bioeconomy to share their experiences. Renata Rossetto Lopes, a Nuffield International Scholar, discussed her work in reducing food waste and the challenges faced by fruit farmers. Emiliano Barbero, a 25-year-old agrobiotechnology engineer and Co-founder of Microvex, shared his journey as a young entrepreneur in the agrobiotechnology sector. He underlined the difficulties faced by young people in entering the bioeconomy job market and the need for policies tailored to their needs. Cristina Cruz, Co-Founder and CEO of Spora Studio, a Colombian company specializing in mycelium-based materials, shed light on their innovative approach. She also pointed out the gender gap in the bioeconomy sector and the importance of recognizing female-led initiatives.

Closing thoughts

Yvonne van Laarhoven, agricultural attaché at the Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rome, delivered the closing remarks. Her message underscored the importance of youth involvement in shaping the bioeconomy's future. In sum, the session provided a glimpse into the remarkable innovations and challenges faced by youth in the bioeconomy. It served as a powerful reminder that the future of sustainable bioeconomy hinges on nurturing youthful talent and empowering them to drive transformative change.