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A bio-based, reuse economy can feed the world, save the planet

Transforming pineapple skins into packaging or fashioning t-shirts out of ocean refuse may sound far-fetched, but these innovations are gaining traction, and it is becoming clearer that an economy based on biomass can help tackle food waste, pollution and climate change, the United Nations agriculture agency said.

A sustainable bioeconomy, which uses biomass – organic materials, such as plants and animals and fish – as opposed to fossil resources to produce food and non-food goods “is foremost about nature and the people who take care of and produce biomass,” a senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official said at the 2018 Global Bioeconomy Summit in Berlin, Germany.

“We must foster internationally-coordinated efforts and ensure multi-stakeholder engagement at local, national and global levels,” Maria Helena Semedo, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Deputy Director-General for Climate and Natural Resources said.

Although there is enough food being produced to feed the planet, often due to a lack of access, estimates show that some 815 million people globally are chronically undernourished.

“Bioeconomy can improve access to food, such as through additional income from the sale of bio-products,” said Semedo.

She also noted its potential contribution to addressing climate change, albeit with a warning against oversimplification.

“Just because a product is bio does not mean it is good for climate change, it depends on how it is produced, and in particular on much and what type of energy is used in the process,” she pointed out.

FAO has a longstanding and wide experience in supporting family farmers and other small-scale biomass producers and businesses.

Semedo informed the summit that with the support of Germany, FAO, together with a multistakeholder international sustainable bioeconomy working group, is currently developing sustainable bioeconomy guidelines.

Some 25 cases from around the world have already been identified to serve as successful bioeconomy examples to develop good practices.

Right now, there is a already a group of women fishers in Zanzibar that are producing cosmetics from algae – opening up a whole new market with sought-after niche products, while in Malaysia, a government program supports community-based bioeconomy.

In Colombia, a community is transforming pineapple skins into biodegradable packaging and honey into royal jelly – and these are just a few examples of a bioeconomy in action, according to UN.


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