Sustainable and circular bioeconomy for food systems transformation

Introducing Bioeconomy for Sustainable Food and Agriculture


Bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture

What does that mean?

It means using biological resources, processes and innovations to help transform agrifood systems so that they are more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable, while supporting the development of a fair and green economy and ensuring all global citizens have access to enough nutritious food. In short, bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture is a leapfrog approach that goes far beyond the incremental greening of agrifood systems.

Sorry, you lost me there – a "leapfrogging" approach?

Leapfrogging is a term used in sustainable development and innovation that refers to skipping less efficient and more polluting stages of development and moving directly to more advanced ones. Through the biosciences, bio-innovations and biotechnology, bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture offers myriad opportunities for doing this, while feeding a growing global population projected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050.

Kind of a big deal then!

You can say that again, which is why “Bioeconomy for Sustainable Food and Agriculture” has been endorsed by FAO Members as one of the Organization’s new strategic priorities from 2022 to 2031.

So should we all be excited about bioeconomy?

Well yes, but it’s important to say that bioeconomy needs to be underpinned by principles of sustainability and circularity to unlock universal benefits. Biological resources in food and agriculture offer us some wonderful opportunities to make game-changing improvements in people’s lives in areas such as microbiome sciencealternative proteinsagricultural plastics management and ecosystem restoration, to name just a few. However, like all innovations, there are also challenges and risks involved, so we need some clear reference points to ensure that we are moving in the right direction.

Ok, slow down a little – what are the challenges and risks?

Specifically for innovations related to biological products and processes, there are some fundamental questions that need to be asked, including: Are they safe? Are they environmentally and carbon friendly? Are they effective? Are they scalable? Will consumers want them and be able to afford them? Do we have good data and scientific evidence to back up the claims around specific bio-innovations? Who regulates this whole area and under what mechanisms?

Wow, that answer raised even more questions!

Don’t worry, that’s part of the journey! And FAO, with a global mandate to lead on bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture, is working to build and disseminate knowledge precisely on such issues through global networks such as the International Sustainable Bioeconomy Working GroupInternational Bioeconomy ForumInternational Advisory Council on Global Bioeconomy (see here for a more comprehensive list of networks).

Going back a little, you also mentioned reference points – can you be more specific?

In terms of meeting FAO’s specific mandate that means following the “four betters” model in agrifood systems: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind. More generally, the major global reference point is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets. Bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture has a key role to play in the achievement of the SDGs in the next ten years.

Which SDGs in particular?

In reality, FAO’s strategic approach to bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture touches on all 17 SDGs, from combating poverty (SDG 1) and hunger and malnutrition (SDG 2) and providing opportunities for women (SDG 5), to supporting climate action (SDG 13), life below water (SDG 14) and life on land (SDG 15), and building international partnerships for the goals (SDG 17). The core focus of FAO’s bioeconomy programme though is on SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production, in particular: Target 12.2 Sustainably manage and use natural resources; Target 12.4 Responsibly manage chemicals and waste; and Target 12.5 Substantially reduce waste generation.

Sounds like you have a busy decade ahead!

We wouldn’t have it any other way! When you consider the potential role bioeconomy has to play in supporting food security and nutrition, climate action, ecosystem restoration, biodiversity preservation, rural development, gender mainstreaming, youth employment opportunities and many other objectives, we certainly won’t run out of things to do. With so many innovations coming out and the resource-efficient circular bioeconomy set to reach a value of USD 7.7 trillion in 2030 according to one projection, this is exactly where FAO needs to be.

Cool, see you around so.


*Biomass, which refers to the mass of living organisms, is an important element of the world’s biological resources and the basis of global agrifood systems. Biomass is used in the production of food, feed, agricultural products, chemicals, textiles, energy and a range of different bio-based services.


Photo credit:

©Patrick Zachmann/Magnum Photos for FAO

Web links:

FAO Sustainable and Circularly Bioeconomy

UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

Sustainable Development Goal 12