Paris, France | 3 April 2019
Decades of increasing productivity and efficiency in the agricultural sector have led to pressure on the living environment at the expense of water and soil quality, biodiversity, ecosystem services and the climate ‒ among others. To prevent further depletion and over‒exploitation of the earth’s resources, a system change is necessary. Instead of focussing solely on reducing the cost of production, we need to shift our mind set to reducing the use of raw materials through more efficient use within cycles. The question is, how can we transform the current linear supply chains into closed loops, with minimal unnecessary losses? How do we make the transition to a sustainable and circular agro-food system?
In the workshop ‘Circular Approach and the Sustainability of the Agro-food System’, policy makers, researchers and representatives from the agro-food sector explored the potential contribution of circular approaches to sustainable production and productivity growth in the agro-food system. The context and the challenges of this transition were discussed, organised around the following themes.
The Workshop started by setting the scene with a discussion on the underlying concepts of circular agro-food systems in order to get a better understanding of what this entails and to what it adds per se to the sustainability of the agro-food system. It examined the different policy measures that governments are taking to promote circularity, and learned from approaches and business-models used to make the transition towards economically viable circular agro-food systems. Empirical evidence on the actual benefits of a circular economy was also be presented.
Furthermore, the question was addressed of what is preventing or delaying the transition to circular agro-food systems, seeing that the knowledge and technologies are readily available. Is the market a limiting factor? How can we reduce regulatory barriers to the transition and promote innovation? How can we make better use of existing technologies in closing loops and optimising ecological processes? How can we minimise trade-offs? And what knowledge is still missing?
The international (trade) implications of circular agro-food systems was another topic that was discussed during the Workshop. Participants considered the opportunities and barriers for circular agro-food systems in an international context, including the effects the transition may have on import and export streams, the main challenges of closing loops across borders, and scaling‒up the circularity of the agro-food system at international level.
The workshop concluded with a roundtable discussion on what policies and other concrete actions are needed to create an environment that fosters the transition towards circular agro-food systems.
For further information on this workshop, please contact the Trade and Agriculture Directorate (OECD).