Circular agriculture or circular farming, as the Dutch scientists define it, “is a way of agricultural production with inputs from recycling or renewable sources, applied with the highest precision, efficient use of resources, and without negative external impact.” The scientists of Wageningen University of the Netherlands, further elaborate it and said “We keep residuals of agricultural biomass and food processing within the food system as renewable resources. By being much more sparing with scarce resources and wasting less biomass, fewer imports are needed for such chemical based fertilizers and remote livestock feedstocks”; and it is “a collective search by farmers, interested citizens, businesses, scientists and researchers for the optimum combination of ecological principles with modern technology, with new partnerships, new economic models, and credible social services.” It uses a holistic approach to convert agricultural wastes or residuals from plants and animals into renewable resources without putting so much stress on the environment, nature and climate. It is in effect recycling agricultural wastes or residuals using the combination of modern agricultural technologies and environmentally friendly practices. Furthermore, agricultural wastes or residuals are recycled to create other byproducts or even value-added products that can even preserve more energy and resources. Circular agriculture keeps the cycles as closed as possible, not only because this is more efficient, but also because a loss of nutrients causes air, water and soil pollution and a loss of biodiversity. A central principle of circular agriculture is that no more acreage or resources are used than are strictly necessary. Through the use of precision agricultural technologies, like Global Positioning Systems (GPS), sensors, robotics, drip irrigation, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile devices, etc., maximization of production efficiency with an amount of input such as water, nutrients, energy, etc. which is no more than needed can be achieved.
The practice and discipline involved in the operation of circular agriculture involves not only a sound knowledge of agricultural waste management but also practical techniques, strategies for food waste reduction, resources management, maintenance of healthy soils, etc. It is in this light that a two-day international symposium was held to gather experts on the field of circular agriculture and share knowledge and experiences on the various aspects of the said topic.
The two-day symposium invited experts from the Asian and Pacific Region to share experiences on: 1) decreasing food wastes; 2) reusing and putting added value into agricultural, forestry, fishery, and livestock wastes or residuals; 3) getting economic profits for farmers; and 4) saving water, fertilizers, chemical pesticides and reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) emission. An exhibition was held outside the symposium venue, to show the R&D achievements and their commercial application of the six themes, including agriculture, forestry, fishery, livestock, technologies promotion, and biochar. In addition, a one-day pre-meeting field trip was arranged prior to the Symposium. By pre-visiting Taiwan’s actual sites which demonstrate some circular agriculture management models in action and make them into a video presentation, Taiwan’s technology development status has been shared to participating countries and provided the participants a chance to build up partnerships in the field of circular agriculture in the Asian and Pacific Region, and to cooperate and look for circular agricultural management models which are suitable for the participating partner countries.
The symposium aimed to share current knowledge and experiences on: 1) decreasing food wastes; 2) reusing and putting added value into agricultural, forestry, fishery, and livestock wastes or residuals; 3) getting economic profits for farmers; and 4) saving water, fertilizers, chemical pesticides and reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) emission. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and local/ international travel restrictions, the symposium format was changed to an online-onsite event using the Webex virtual meeting room and venue at Nangang Exhibition Center in Taipei. The two-day symposium consisted of an opening ceremony, two keynote presentations, three thematic sessions with 4 presentations followed by a panel discussion in each session, and 1 small forum which discussed about the Small Farmers’ Material Matching, Basic Education, and Policy Promotion.
The first keynote speech mentioned how circular agriculture, based on the Netherlands experience, can succeed under three conditions: First is how the managers of supermarkets can help in regulating fair prices, second is the linkage of circular agriculture to consumers’ appreciation and respect for farmers, and third is the level of playing field where the international dimension also plays a major role in the development of circular agriculture. 10 successful business models on circular agriculture in the Netherlands were also presented by the keynote speaker.
Session 1: “New Challenges and Opportunities to Minimize Agricultural and Food Wastes and Residuals” were presented by researchers from Taiwan Livestock Research Institute (TLRI), Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), National Taiwan University (NTU), and Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS). In those presentations, they mentioned four examples, including (1) ensiling as an economic way to preserve locally produced agricultural and food processing by-products as feeds for ruminants. Also, improving the feed values of some fibrous but high quantity residues is also an effective way to expand feed sources; (2) using compost, biogas, feeds, improving nutritive food, planting media are part of the holistic approach in managing food wastes along the value chain that can be diverted into more valuable products; (3) collaboration along the supply chain as well as with government agencies or NGOs, like Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs), can result in successful reduction of food loss and wastes and create incentives for each supply chain members to reach the SDG goal of reducing global food loss and wastes, and (4) recycling agricultural wastes and residuals in crops and livestock and adapting practices like mulching, composting and barn padding, all of which can help promote circular agriculture.
Session 2: “Modern Technologies of Agricultural Waste and Residual Recycling and ‘Low External Input Farming’” was addressed by researchers from the University of Miyazaki (Japan), Wageningen University Research Center (Netherlands), TLRI, and Kasetsart University (KU). Two speakers mentioned that for livestock industry, the international price of feed grains affected its expansion, and that consumer awareness can further promote the development of eco-feeds; and new technology: small-scale grass biorefinery technology can contribute to solving three major issues, such as agricultural nitrogen emissions, the need for more agricultural land, and the import of soybean. The other two speakers provided a larger scale of circular agriculture, including the technology development of circular agriculture in Taiwan, particularly the policy-based project called “Agricultural Resource Recycling and Industry innovation” which has five major categories –agriculture, forestry, fishery, livestock, and biochar; and the supply chain of the cassava and starch factory in Thailand which can provide electricity generation and biofuel produced from biogas.
The second keynote speech introduced how GRA collaborates with other institutions by using the circular agriculture concept and technologies to mitigate the effect of GHGs emissions from agriculture activities. GRA (Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases) has 3,000 scientists who participated in four research groups: Paddy Rice Research Group, Livestock Research Group, Croplands Research Group, and Integrative Research Group. In the research part of the Integrative Research Group, they expected to build up the circular food systems for increasing cultivar efficiency and decreasing the loading to the environment and reach the co-benefit result, which can achieve their goals of food security, resource utilization efficiency, and climate change mitigation.
In Session 3: “New Aspects on ‘Optimization of the Use of All Resources and Value-adding,’” four speakers from KREI, Taiwan Sugar Cooperation, IPB University, and TARI presented four good examples of by-products utilization, including (1) emerging integrated crop-livestock farming system, by-products can be used as a substitute for chemical fertilizers; (2) the practice of recycling using oyster shells to produce a powder which is the basic material used for making feeds and fertilizers; (3) the implementation of material technology to engineer the palm oil products that is expected to give added value and contribute to the achievement of a zero-waste industry, and (4) the use of spent mushroom substrates or SMS could substitute the fresh sawdust for mushroom cultivation, reusing spent agricultural substrates can promote environmental protection and agricultural sustainability.
In the video-sharing of Circular Agriculture Implementation in Taiwan, the video showed the best examples of circular agriculture in agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, and livestock, and the field trip record of November 4, 2020.
Session 4 “Small Farmers’ Material Matching, Basic Education, and Policy Promotion (Forum)” discussed about the case presented by Mr. Ian Humpherys, Director of Operation, the British company International Synergy, which use to held workshops on matchmaking and sharing resources among British industries for win-win results, and Dr. Huu-Sheng Lur, Professor and Dean of the National Taiwan University, who shared his insights on circular agriculture and inclusive economy which can help in economic sharing and enhancing connections between farmers and new technology industries. The Fwusow Industry provided examples of combining the oil seed crops under contract and wastes of poultry industry for recycling and reuse. The other example is from Dong Hai Feng Agricultural Circulation Park, Taiwan Sugar Cooperation, who shared experiences on combining waste water from pig farms with local agricultural wastes for biogas production from anaerobic digestion and use it for generating electric power.