Sustainable and circular bioeconomy for food systems transformation

Uruguay – a model in its work to establish a sustainable bioeconomy 13/12/2019


The fifth annual meeting of the International Working Group on Sustainable Bioeconomy (ISBWG) was held in Montevideo, Uruguay from 26 - 27 November 2019. Experts representing nine countries, including delegates from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the European Union attended the FAO-led event.

Focusing on Uruguay as the first pilot country to implement the sustainable bioeconomy guidelines project with the support of the ISBWG, the meeting was an opportunity to exchange experiences and to learn about how each country is progressing in its bioeconomy work towards a sustainable and circular bioeconomy.

These are early days but exciting times as more than 50 countries and regions embark on this alternative path to generate employment, promote social inclusion and address environmental problems and climate change. Countries are making a stance and moving away from an economy based on fossil fuels to one  based on the production and conservation of goods and services from the direct use or sustainable transformation of biological resources.

But as FAO’s Anne Bogdanski, Natural Resources Officer, who was coordinating the meeting with her team explained “Bioeconomy activities are not automatically sustainable. The development of an economy that is based on biological resources faces several trade-offs. It is crucial that bioeconomy development is explicitly steered towards sustainability in order to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“The development of the bioeconomy must promote and not undermine long-term food security, nutrition and health, especially in areas with already high levels of poverty and malnutrition, and this is of paramount concern”, she added.

Adrián Rodríguez, Chief of the Agricultural Development Unit of ECLAC, presented a regional overview of bioeconomics, proposing a strategic framework for action based on the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the commitments expressed by countries in their Nationally Determined Contributions. Rodríguez also identified basic factors to be considered in individual countries; available biological resources, related scientific and technological capacities, market potential, and consumer acceptance of new products.

Roman Brenne, representative of the General Directorate of Research and Innovation and policy officer of the European Commission, who also attended the meeting explained,

“There are different bioeconomies for different countries and for this reason it is necessary to adapt the strategy to the national or regional contexts.”

He went on to describe, “To implement sustainable bioeconomy strategies in each country, it is necessary to work in partnership with ministries or other government offices; to define an action plan and a monitoring system with clear indicators; and to guarantee the inclusion of local and regional actors and civil society.”

Taking the example of Uruguay, FAO’s Lucía Pittaluga presented the pillars of the country strategy and assured that work is being carried out based on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Uruguay 2050 National Development Strategy.  One of the five thematic areas of this Strategy is the "transformation of the productive matrix" in which the bioeconomy and the digital economy are the main drivers.

FAO's bioeconomy team will continue to support Uruguay in the implementation of its National Bioeconomy Strategy. A national workshop was held on 29 November.

It was at the 2015 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture that FAO received the mandate to coordinate international work on ‘Food First’ bioeconomy. Following this mandate, through a project supported by the German Government, FAO has been developing guidelines for sustainable bioeconomy. The project facilitates sharing knowledge and experience which can be seen through the ISBWG and its support for Global South countries.

The crosscutting nature of bioeconomy offers a unique opportunity to address interconnected societal challenges such as food and nutrition security, climate change and health. Aagriculture and food systems alone hold almost half of the solutions to stay within agreed climate goals through multisectoral approaches and action on forests, soils, water, livestock, oceans, and food systems all of which fall within the wider bioeconomy.

The sixth annual meeting of the ISBWG in 2020 will take place in Berlin, within the framework of the Global Bioeconomy Summit, a key event in the field of bioeconomy at global level.