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2021-11-04

The Bioeconomy and Food Systems Transformation

The concept of the bioeconomy as a development approach is driven by advances in science and technology (S&T) and the need to address new problems and concerns. Recently, this approach has been driven by advances in life science research and development, as well as complementarity and convergence with materials and information technology, artificial intelligence (AI), digitization, information and communication technologies (ICT), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Technological convergence is a trend that is contributing to a renewed and modernized vision of agricultural and food systems, value chains, and international trade, especially as young people's technological skills surpass those of previous generations and the migration of young people from rural to urban areas needs to be halted. These new technological scenarios are already beginning to be reflected in agriculture, agribusiness, and rural areas, and are increasingly perceived as the basis for the development of "sustainable intensification."

From an environmental and social perspective, the bioeconomy makes important contributions to sustainable economic growth, especially in rural areas. For example, the bioeconomy employed ~17.5 million people in the European Union (EU) (in post-Brexit composition) and generated €614 billion in value added in 2017 (Ronzon et al. 2020). 

Furthermore, employment generated by the biofuels sector is highly concentrated globally: Latin America and the Caribbean account for 50% of liquid biofuels jobs worldwide, while North America accounts for 16%. 
The bioeconomy improves resource utilization in the food chain by fractionating biomass, leading to an industry classified as a "multi-product industry" in which the production of by-products allows for a better distribution of feedstock production costs and makes the system more efficient. 
The bioeconomy is improving nutrition and health through the development of biofortified genetically modified crops that have improved the nutritional value of food.

Investments in the bioeconomy and biotechnology have led to significant environmental improvements that have the potential to be a leading strategy in efforts to mitigate climate change. It is estimated that biomass could save 1.3 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually by 2050 by providing 3,000 terawatt hours of electricity (Zihare et al. 2020). 

Another sustainable contribution of the bioeconomy is the reduction and use of food waste. An emerging and important area of innovative bioeconomy research is the use of innovative breeding technologies, including gene editing, to improve the ability of plants to sequester greater amounts of carbon dioxide so that agricultural food production can make a significant contribution to reducing the impacts of climate change.

Humanity faces major challenges, including climate change, food security, and rural development. The bioeconomy is positioned to play a central role in addressing these challenges. New technologies in life and information sciences, combined with practical knowledge of production processes and ecosystems, can unlock the potential of the bioeconomy. This requires considerable investment in basic and applied research, the training of highly qualified specialists, and a fluid relationship between science and industry.