Sustainable and circular bioeconomy for food systems transformation

International experts urge closer cooperation on global bioeconomy development


Call comes during two-day meeting of FAO-led bioeconomy working group

Experts from all global regions met in Rome on 19-20 October to take stock of the latest bioeconomy developments and to discuss how FAO could best focus its expanding bioeconomy work. Those gathered spoke about the potential of the sustainable and circular bioeconomy to deliver numerous benefits: from food security, nutrition and sustainable livelihoods, to climate action and ecosystem restoration, to bio-innovations and biotechnological breakthroughs. The message emerging from the meeting was that although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, an evergrowing number of countries and regions is recognizing that bioeconomy can be an overarching framework to achieve common goals. What is needed to deliver lasting transformation is greater cooperation at national, regional and global levels.


The experts were gathering for the eighth meeting of the International Sustainable Bioeconomy Working Group (ISBWG), a multi-stakeholder expert group that FAO has been convening since 2016. The ISBWG serves as an informal platform for knowledge and experience sharing on sustainable and circular bioeconomy and, inter alia, acts as an advisory body to FAO's bioeconomy programme. This was the first time the group had met in person since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with old members and new taking part in the sort of animated discussions that generate creative ideas and concrete, actionable proposals. More than 40 people attended in total over the two days, including Carina Pimenta, National Bioeconomy Secretary in Brazil’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change; Professor Joachim von Braun, Chair of the Scientific Group of the United Nations Food Systems Summit; Christine Lang, co-chair of the International Advisory Council on Global Bioeconomy (IACGB); and Kaveh Zahedi, Director of FAO’s Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment.

Looking at bioeconomy from different perspectives, with agriculture to the fore

Agrifood systems, which are built on the production and regeneration of biological resources, are an ideal entry point for bioeconomy discussions. FAO used the ISBWG meeting to reaffirm how bioeconomy and agriculture go hand in hand, while also outlining how bioeconomy can branch out from an agricultural base to provide the raw materials for myriad sectors including construction, energy, pharmaceuticals, plastics and textiles.

The meeting presented the opportunity to update those present on the FAO programme priority area (PPA) on bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture; ongoing FAO projects in Côte d’Ivoire and Pakistan; an upcoming bioeconomy toolbox for designing, implementing and revising bioeconomy strategies; an open source bioeconomy dashboard linking actions foreseen in national bioeconomy strategies to climate, biodiversity and food system transformation commitments; communications and outreach materials; and next steps for FAO as we move into the second biennium of a ten-year Strategic Framework.

Through a series of regional presentations from ISBWG members, public and private sector perspectives, and different thematic focuses, the gathering also allowed participants to reflect on the varied experiences of and expectations associated with bioeconomy. As Kaveh Zahedi observed, we are increasingly seeing a “globalization of bioeconomy”, but “there is no one bioeconomy to speak of, rather there are many distinct bioeconomies”.

Discussions covered a broad range of subjects from indigenous rights and social and economic equity, to inclusion of youth and women, to generating green jobs and fostering innovations that will help us replace a fossil fuel-powered economy with one that relies on the responsible use of biological resources and the elimination of wasteful and polluting practices.

Participants from Brazil and Ireland outlined how multiple objectives could be achieved by embedding a bioeconomy framework within many different national ministries instead of having it centralized in one single ministry. This also stimulated broader debate as to how the ISBWG itself could develop closer synergies with other bioeconomy networks such as the IACGB, International Bioeconomy Forum, etc.; and whether FAO, as the first UN agency to elevate bioeconomy to the level of strategic priority, could take on the lead role as a coordinating force on bioeconomy knowledge transfer at a global level.

As the meeting drew to a close, Lev Neretin, who leads FAO’s bioeconomy PPA, thanked ISBWG members for their incredible support and tangible outputs over the years, and urged members to continue collaborating on the development of knowledge products that could be global public goods to help mainstream sustainable and circular bioeconomy.

“We rely on your expertise and advice to ensure that FAO continues to excel as a leading global body in bioeconomy policy development and in the application of bioeconomy projects that deliver increased food security and improved livelihoods, especially for smallholders, fisherfolk and forest folk in developing countries,” concluded Neretin.

A week to remember

In all, nine separate bioeconomy events took place in Rome during a milestone week covering the ISBWG meeting, the World Food Forum, and FAO Science and Innovation Forum. Other highlights included events on Bioeconomy: the catalyst for agrifood systems transformation, unleashing the potential of the Amazon bioeconomy, wearable food waste, and opportunities for youth in the bioeconomy.

You can find more information on recent bioeconomy events at the FAO bioeconomy website.


Photo credit: Matteo Zandonella Bolco