Circular (bio)economy: a promising pathway for sustainable farming and development in rural areas?

The circular economy and bioeconomy are recognised as potential solutions for achieving sustainable development. Although they are different concepts, they both have an inter-sectoral and transdisciplinary nature, offering a recipe for achieving economic, social, and ecological goals. 

On 12 June 2024 the European Economic and Social Committee organised a public hearing “Aligning the circular economy and the bioeconomy at EU and national level” organised by the Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment Section (NAT). The Opinion under preparation aims to enhance the synergies between bioeconomy, circularity and sustainability by promoting a more integrated and systemic approach to the circular bioeconomy. The rapporteur for this initiative is Cillian Lohan.

Discussions at the session highlighted several key points, including the need to integrate and expand the bioeconomy through better management of natural resources and protected areas. Creating more value and resources by boosting innovation and reducing overproduction by favoring circular business models were also emphasised. Additionally, there is a call for common indicators and a single access point for all EU funds related to the bioeconomy.

Blanca Casares, policy expert at AEIDL (European Association for Innovation in Local Development), was invited to present AEIDL’s work on this topic in the “Views from the civil society on the circular bioeconomy” section.

The AEIDL’s colleague gave a presentation titled Circular (bio)economy: a promising pathway for sustainable farming and development in rural areas?

Blanca highlighted significant political momentum, such as the communication of the long-term vision for rural areas, which includes a flagship initiative for prosperous rural areas with actions aimed at  developing a sustainable bioeconomy. Furthermore, the Council Conclusions in 2023 stressed the need to focus on rural areas in developing a bioeconomy.

Blanca presented some findings of the BEATLES Horizon Europe project, where AEIDL leads the co-creation of policy recommendations and tools.

AEIDL has conducted a policy analysis and identified multiple connections in 23 selected pieces of the European policy framework between policy objectives, targets, and the Climate-Smart Agriculture principles: agricultural productivity, climate change adaptation and mitigation. It shows that to facilitate a shift towards fair, inclusive, and sustainable climate-smart practices and behaviours, it is essential to integrate a systemic approach into both current and future sectoral policies, ensuring coherence.

In addition, for BEATLES, AEIDL carried out an analysis of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plans to better understand what public support producers can receive and the financial incentive to carry out concrete farming practice (precision farming, slurry management, no-tillage, organic, etc). This analysis has identified priority needs in certain strategic plans and suggests the types of interventions (direct payments, sectoral or rural development) thath could support them.

Blanca highlighted that for AEIDL, smart circular farming and circular approach are crucial for rural development, for increasing self-sufficiency and enhancing cooperation at both farm and local level. Further definition of terms such as sustainable bio- and circular economy is needed.

She also spoke about some challenges such as the lack of funds for investment in circular technologies and products, particularly for small-medium farms and rural businesses; and the need for further development of carbon removal technology or specific advisory services.

Blanca concluded by highlighting the opportunities within rural areas, noting that the circular (bio)economy can drive innovative business solutions. This can be supported through initiatives such as Startup Villages and support for SMEs, as well as lead to an improvement of the provision of infrastructure and services.

Video recording here (minutes where you can view the presentation 1:43:40 – 1:55:30)

Presentation, here .