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Circular Agriculture for Sustainable Healthy Diets - Perspectives and Policy Implications in the Asian and Pacific Region



Food is fundamental to human nutrition, health and social interactions. The current food system is generally wasteful. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, one-third of the food produced is either lost or wasted along the value chain from production to consumption. Food losses and wastes not only means less food available to people, but also is a waste of resources, and generates more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and environmental stresses.  Meanwhile, more than 10% of people worldwide do not have enough food to eat and 50% of global population are not able to consume balanced and healthy diets, leading to serious public health problems. These include micronutrient deficiency disorders, low immunity prone to infectious diseases, and non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and cancers. 

Decades of increasing productivity and efficiency in the agri-food production with a linear approach of inputs-production-consumption-waste have led to pressure on the living environment at the expense of water and soil quality, biodiversity, among others. To prevent further overexploitation and consumption of resources and negative discharges to the environment, there is a need to develop and undertake circular approaches to close the loop of production and consumption of agri-food through modern and innovative technologies and environmentally friendly practices including more efficient production and utilization of microbes and biomass within cycles, and integration among different agri-food sectors. By so doing, we will be able to produce more with less resources, to reduce food loss and wastes, avoid or reduce environmental stresses, and at the same time create more added-values to agri-food products. 

Therefore, human beings should not only consider healthy diets with nutritional and health benefits; sustainable food production and utilization should also be an integral part of it. Sustainable healthy diets are healthy to both people and the planet. These are the kinds of diets which are plant-forward and plant-based, containing a greater proportion of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes with significantly smaller proportions of animal source protein. 

Circular economy (CE) is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, reusing and recycling of existing materials and products in various industries. CE in the agri-food systems or circular agriculture implies that agri-food products are generated in ways that regenerate nature, food is not lost and wasted, and all the resources are used productively (PACE – Platform for Accelerating Circular Economy).

Over the past few years, the CE concept has captured considerable attention as a potential solution for social, environmental, and economic challenges in various aspects including food security. CE implementation to reduce and manage waste effectively and efficiently has become critical among emerging economies. The agri-food sector through practicing circular agriculture approaches has significant potential in the transition to low carbon and climate-friendly economy. In Asia, despite the surge in interest from academics and practitioners to CE, there is scarcity in research and critical reviews related to circularity in the agri-food system. It is crucial to identify drivers and barriers in transition from linear agri-food systems towards circular agri-food systems addressing planetary healthy diets.

In the proposed forum, policy makers, researchers and representatives from the agri-food sector in Asia will explore the contribution of circular agriculture approaches and nutritional communication approaches to sustainable agri-food production and consumption in the Asian and Pacific region. Participants will also exchange information on the models, technologies, challenges and support policies used to transit and scale-up the circular agriculture towards planetary healthy diets at the regional level.  It will conclude with a roundtable discussion on what policies and other concrete actions are needed to create an enabling environment fostering the transition.


The purpose of the forum is to bring together relevant actors to explore the opportunities of the agri-food sector in the circular agriculture in Asia addressing sustainable healthy diets, with objectives to:

  • discuss the role and potential contribution of circular agriculture for healthy diets;
  • identify challenges and opportunities in the transition of the agri-food sector towards circular agriculture for sustainable healthy diets in Asia;
  • exchange promising and existing technologies that are readily applied in the transition and scaling-up of circular agriculture;
  • identify supportive policies and concrete actions to boost innovation in the transition of circular agriculture for healthy diets; and
  • develop collaborative research network/activities and strengthen the partnership among the national agricultural, food and health systems partners in fostering circular agri-food systems in the ASPAC region.
  • Session 1 – Circular approaches to sustainable production and growth in the agri-food systems in Asia
  • Session 2 – Nutrition and health communication approaches to enhance public awareness and consumption of sustainable healthy diets
  • Session 3 – Practical innovation and policy action to boost transition and scaling-up process of viable circular agri-food systems for sustainable healthy diets in Asia
Workshop highlights

Twelve speakers from nine countries (Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, U.S.A, and Vietnam) were invited to explore the contribution of circular agriculture approaches and nutritional communication approaches to sustainable agri-food production and consumption in the Asian and Pacific region. The presentation materials include 12 PPTs, 11 papers, and 8 videos. Key takeaways were summarized by presentation:

Keynote Session

Dr. Dennis Wang, COA, Taiwan (K1): Dr. Wang explained the concept and goals of circular agriculture in connection with the SDGs and GHGs with the examples of the development goals and action strategies for sustainable food systems applied in the Netherlands, Finland, and Canada. He then emphasized the blueprint and operation mechanism of agricultural circular economy in Taiwan and introduced the waste recycling models of crops, livestock, fisheries, and forestry sectors, as well as the development of innovative low carbon technologies and its integration into the agriculture industry. As the scientific research and policy direction for the agricultural circulating system in Taiwan, he highlighted three directions including: (1) finding the innovative value of agricultural wastes with low-carbon technologies; (2) building low-carbon agricultural circulating system; and (3) integrating agriculture wastes and reaching the net-zero carbon emission goal.

Dr. Matias Vanotti, USDA-ARS, U.S.A (K2): He raised the need for a circular economy approach in the livestock residues sector, taking the case of the negative effects of a linear economy in the United States. He introduced technologies developed at the USDA-ARS addressing recovery and reuse of valuable materials from livestock wastes. They include: (1) enhanced solids-liquid separation technology which allows recovery of the organic compounds that can be used for manufacturing of high-quality compost materials, peat substitutes, and biochars; (2) value-adding facility/process to proteins and composts from manure solids that produce a high-quality product focused on specific agricultural markets; (3) ammonia recovery systems that use gas-permeable membranes to recover significant amounts of ammonia; (4) phosphorus recovery technologies; and (5) Biorefinery cascade processing. He emphasized that the recycle and reuse of plant nutrients contained in agricultural residues and livestock wastes and their concentrated products could make the most efficient use of natural sources, close the loop in nutrient cycling, minimize negative agricultural impacts to the environment, and bring new income to farmers.

Session 1: Circular approaches to sustainable production and growth in the agri-food systems in Asia

Dr. Mai Van Trinh, IAE, Vietnam (S1-1): The total waste and residues from both crops and livestock sectors in Vietnam contain an equivalent of 85.4 million tons of organic matter, 3.06 million tons of urea, 4.78 million tons of single super phosphate and 4.63 million tons of potassium sulfate. However, the current use of these wastes and residues are very low, not taking advantage of resources, causing emissions, and polluting the environment. The circulation of these wastes and residues must be combined with crops, livestock, and aquaculture aspects as well as other aspects of production. Some current practices of circular systems in Vietnam are production of organic fertilizers from animal wastes and crop residues, incorporating rice straw into the soil, stove gasification and carbonization for renewable energy and biochar.

Mr. Martin Lin, Power Great Biotechnology Co., Taiwan (S1-2): He reported how his company’s Haibin-LonSen livestock farms, are moving towards green energy and nutrient recycling which is part of circular agriculture approaches that integrates animal husbandry, crop production and aquaculture systems through a wholistic approach. The farms turn pig manure and urine into biogas for energy and fertilizer for crops, and fermented crops and agricultural wastes as pig feeds. In addition, the effluent from the sedimentation tank is fermented into nutrient solution and applied to seaweed culture. The seaweed is used as a feed source for pigs, fish and shellfish, and shrimps. In the process, various energy saving, and waste reduction technologies are applied. In their business model, they do a lot of cooperation work on counseling vulnerable families, replanting of abandoned farmlands, carbon footprint verification, etc.

Mr. Kyaw Swe Lin, MOALI, Myanmar (S1-3): Rice Bio Park (RBP) is a demonstration project aimed for the biological conservation of entire biomass of the rice plants to increase income by producing market driven value-added products that lead to helping smallholder rice farmers to get more on job opportunities aside from conventional rice production. It applies circular approaches in rice production like using biofertilizers, vermicompost, rice straw compost for mushroom culture, etc. RBP is a successful modality of circular agricultural activities that consist of all components; take, make, use, reuse, remake, recycle of circular development. All results and outcomes are significant from the environmental aspects.

Session 2 – Nutrition and health communication approaches to enhance public awareness and consumption of sustainable healthy diets

Dr. Sadao Eguchi, NARO, Japan (S2-1): A large reduction in the "new" reactive nitrogen (Nr: nitrogen (N) in all bioavailable N compounds except N2) input to the food system while meeting the increasing global food demand has become an urgent issue worldwide. In order not to increase the global Nr pool anymore, circular agriculture which promotes the recycle of "old" Nr such as livestock excreta, food waste, crop residue N, etc., instead of "new" Nr such as chemical fertilizer N should become the mainstream of food production system. However, such fundamental transformation cannot be achieved sufficiently with farmers alone; thus, it should be proceeded with the help and understanding of consumers. The sum of Nr losses to the environment from the food system may be called as dietary nitrogen footprint (NFP) which has been developed as a communication tool to help consumers understand their role in Nr losses to the environment due to various human activities. NFP approach can be a helpful tool for public awareness on the close relationship between sustainable healthy diets (low NFP & healthy diet) and circular agriculture (low NFP & healthy products).

Dr. Umi Karomah Yaumidin, BRIN, Indonesia (S2-2):  The prevalence of malnourished children under five years remains high for Indonesia compared to some ASEAN countries. Therefore, some initiatives/programs to increase nutritional food production through the adaptation of circular approach are being implemented. “Brewing a better world” is an initiative of a multinational company working with a group of farmers in Yogyakarta and East Java to recycle rice husks for composting materials and supporting poultry farms. Danoe Indonesia, in partnership with Rural Technology Development Institute, built large-scale biodigester for communal sheds to process the cow dung into the quality fertilizer for forage production.  However, there are also some potential challenges such as finance and low technology adoption. Emphasis should also be focused on investments in the right digital technology so that farmers can improve their food production.

Dr. Sirinya Phulkerd, Mahidol University, Thailand (S2-3): To improve food systems for healthier diets, effective policies and actions that address key determinants of the food systems are needed. A study on the Thai government’s 42 policies and actions for food systems for healthy diets showed that the Thai government implemented 31 policies and actions, especially in the domains of agriculture, supply chain infrastructure, education, public awareness, and national guidelines. The policies and actions that are not available in Thailand include trade policies to prioritize the supply of nutritious foods, mandatory large-scale food fortification programs, and lower prices of nutritious foods. The findings of this study suggest that continued attention to promoting policies and actions related to sustainable agriculture is part of a healthy diet policy.

Dr. Hardinsyah Ridwan, IPB University, Indonesia (S2-4): The criteria for sustainable healthy diets (SHDs) should consist of low emission foods that have accessible, affordable, equitable, safe, nutritious as well as culturally acceptable, and when they are consumed adequately over time, it can reduce the risk of diseases and adverse effects on the environment. Almost all dietary guidelines in Asian countries promote plant-based foods with low quantity of meat and other high emission foods – like Flexitarian Diets. SHDs could be achieved for Asians by adopting and promoting their own country dietary guidelines like Flexitarian Diets for each country. For this, some implications are required for policies and programs on food production, supply, consumption and education in each country in Asia.

Session 3 – Practical innovation and policy action to boost transition and scaling-up process of viable circular agri-food systems for sustainable healthy diets in Asia

Dr. Nguyen Thi Minh Hien, VNUA, Vietnam (S3-1) : The main drivers for the application of circular agriculture in Vietnam are : (1) global trend; (2) government policies to change the growth model towards sustainability; (3) science and technology development; and (4) high consensus and support from the society. However, the development of circular agriculture also faces many obstacles: (1) policy framework for circular agriculture has not been completed; (2) inadequate awareness of circular agriculture; (3) no real economic incentives to develop circular agriculture; (4) limited capacity to recycle and reuse agricultural by-products and wastes; (5) limited investment in scientific and technological research; and (6) low labor quality. Some key solutions to develop circular agriculture include: (1) build a legal corridor and standardize the circular economy in agriculture; (2) promote scientific research and technology transfer; (3) promote information and propaganda to raise awareness; and (4) emphasize the role of business in promoting circular agriculture.

Dr. Jamal Othman, University Kebangsaan, Malaysia (S3-2): In view of the increasing awareness on sustainable development (e.g. climate change issues, holistic well-being), the multi-functionality aspects of agriculture will feature more prominently in future agri-social and environment policy discourses. It is clearly consistent with the circular economy on a macro level. The major difference between agricultural circular economy and multifunctionality is that the former focuses more on the technical aspect of the bio-economy while the latter is cross-sectoral and is therefore broader. Agricultural multifunctionality requires strong coordination and/or the realignment of the jurisdictional scope and functions of the various line ministries affecting agriculture, plantation crops (the case of Malaysia), rural development, and the environment. This will ensure that the agriculture sector serves the broader interest of the country to include food security and sovereignty, as well as the vitality of rural areas including its socio-cultural and environmental attributes. 

Dr. Jeong Hak-Kyun, KREI, Korea (S3-3): The integrated crop livestock farming system (ICLFS) is an innovative agricultural method that preserves the agricultural environment and creates economic benefits by using agri-food by-products and livestock manure as feed and fertilizer resources. The Cost-Benefit Analysis was applied to analyze the benefits and both cases showed economic benefits. The higher the initial investment cost, the later the benefits came. Based on this result, it is possible to promote the general public's perception of the benefits and support policies of ICLFS.

Suggestions and conclusions
  • Find the innovative value of agricultural wastes with low-carbon technologies, build low-carbon agricultural circulating system, and integrate agriculture wastes.
  • Make the most efficient use of natural resources through the recycle and reuse of agricultural residues and their concentrated products, which can close the loop in nutrient cycling, and bring new income to farmers.
  • Use the dietary NFP as a simple scientific indicator or communication tool among consumers, producers, retailers, policy makers, etc., to have a dialogue and/or discussion on how to develop sustainable food system while considering nutritional balance of the diet.
  • Invest in circular agriculture that is supported by appropriate digital technology which could be easily used by farmers.
  • Adopt and promote the dietary guidelines which are more plant-based and with low-carbon footprint like Flexitarian Diets to achieve sustainable and healthy diets for each country. For this, some implications are required for policies and programs on food production, supply, consumption and education. 
  • Build a legal corridor and standardize circular economy to promote scientific research and technology transfer, to promote information and propaganda to raise awareness, and to emphasize the role of business in promoting circular agriculture.

163 people registered for the workshop, including participants from the Philippines (28%), Vietnam (16%), Malaysia (11%), Taiwan (7%), Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Among the registrants, 111 were from the public sectors, 35 (about 21%) from the private sectors, and others from research institutes, universities, and international organizations. The online workshop was livestreamed and broadcasted on two platforms, the Cisco Webex Event (Max. 1,000) and the FFTC Facebook pages. The Facebook video stream reached 127 views during the workshop. The Feedback form was circulated to the registered participants immediately after the workshop. Nearly all respondents were very satisfied with the workshop on all aspects (content, relevance and logistics). Overall, the workshop was regarded as successful in terms of planning, coordination, and execution.

Workshop videos can be watched at:

More information can be viewed on the workshop website:

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Circular approach in agricultural production: Case study on Rice Bio Park in Myanmar
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