March 26, 2021   •   News

Circular Food Systems Network kick-off workshop – call for abstracts

In order to explore the potential of circular food systems (CFS) as a way to contribute to food security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Integrative Research Group (IRG) of the Global Research Alliance (GRA) has taken the lead to setup a global CFS network, where knowledge on CFS can be shared, developed and disseminated. The network aims to mobilise agricultural scientists working at field and farm level to explore circularity within agricultural systems focussing on GHG emissions. The results will provide practitioners, policy makers with the evidence-base of proven methodologies and system designs for climate smart actions.

The CFS network will start with developing an active international network and making an inventory of relevant aspects of circular food systems in divers regions. We therefore launch a kick-off workshop entitled ‘Circular Food Systems: regional opportunities to mitigate GHG’. As the definition and context of circularity and CFS may vary across regions, and different themes within circularity of agri-food systems can be explored, the main objective of the kick-off workshop is to find common ground and objectives from where the network can formulate activities and focus points.

For this, we would like to call upon your collaboration in this development process. The online kick-off workshop on the 22nd and 23rd of June aims to formulate:

  1. A common ground on the definition and diversity of circular food systems
  2. A workplan with (region-specific or thematic) research projects for 2021-2022

The common ground will be discussed and illuminated through presentations at this conference. These presentations will address the broad range of aspects of circular food systems across the globe.

Call for Abstracts

We now invite groups and individuals to submit an abstract about aspects of circular food systems of relevance for their country or region to mitigate GHG (see Annex 1 for background information on circular food systems). These abstracts should be submitted before April 30th 2021.

The organising committee will select 8 to 10 abstracts to invite for elaboration in 15-minute presentations during the kick-off workshop and associated short communications of 2500 words. Information about selection of the abstracts can be expected around May 3rd 2021. The short communications should be complemented with main research questions for developing knowledge on increasing understanding and/or advancing circularity in food systems in a specific global region.

During the kick-off workshop the presentations and short communications will be used as starting point to develop case studies together with interested parties wherein region-specific or thematic research questions and objectives are formulated. This could be short- or long-term studies. Please note that abstracts that were not selected for presentation, could still serve as valuable input for these case studies. In this way, the network is looking for a variety of ideas and regions where CFS research can be addressed.  

The network has funding available to fund part of the case studies that will be developed during the workshop. Preference is given to case studies with co-financing and which have close collaboration with the policy arena.

Abstracts and short communications will be published in an open access publication about circular food systems and GHG mitigation.

Terms of Reference
Abstracts have a maximum of 500 words. Short communications have a maximum of 2500 words.

The abstract of max. 500 words should clearly indicate the region, the food system or elements thereof and the aspect(s) of circularity in the food system(s). Furthermore, it should include what key elements define the circularity of the system and how it contributes to mitigation of GHG emissions in the system. Circularity aspects potentially to be addressed are: closing nutrient cycles within agricultural systems, recycling of nutrients, upgrading by-products, the role of C-sequestration, role of livestock in circular food systems, rice farming, agricultural waste streams in value chains, living labs of circular food systems, crops in circular food systems and silvopastoral systems, circularity in relation to GHG accounting.

The GRA-IRG-CSF network will cover circularity in food systems all across the globe so representatives from all continents are requested to contribute. In this way, the variety of CFSs can be determined during the workshop and common objectives and collaboration between regions in the network’s research activities can be established.

The organising committee will select 8 to 10 presentations making sure that together they are covering all global regions, relevant food systems and circularity aspects. Formats for 15-minute presentations and short communications will be provided to the selected abstracts. See Table 1 for deadlines and activities.

Abstracts should be submitted no later than April 26, 2021, 10:00AM (CET), through: [email protected]

Table 1. Deadlines and activities for the first GRA-IRG-CFS conference

Abstract for presentation and associated short communicationAbstract maximum 500 words. Should address relevant Circular Food System and GHG mitigation aspects for a global region or countryApril 26th 2021 By e-mail to: [email protected]
Organising committee will select 8 to 10 abstracts for elaboration into a presentationCFS core group will choose abstracts based on region and  CFS-aspectMay 3rd 2021
Selected short communication to be submittedMaximally 2500 words, no abstract.June 8th 2021
First GRA-IRG-CFS workshopOnline, to be organised by the core group of GRA-IRG-CFSJune 22-23rd 2021

Annex 1: Circular Food Systems background information

Food systems comprise all processes and infrastructure involved in feeding the human population: growing, harvesting, storing, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption and disposal of food and food-related waste streams. Such food system activities are driven by socio-economic and environmental drivers. Outcomes of a food system are food security and socio-economic and environmental outcomes. The interactions between these elements of a food system are depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Drivers, activities and outcomes of food systems (Van Berkum et al. 2018).

Circular food systems are food systems in which waste streams are minimized and inevitable waste is utilized in processes of production of food, energy or non-food products. Such circular food systems apply practices and technologies that minimize the input of finite resources (e.g. phosphate rock, fossil fuel and land), encourage the use of regenerative ones (e.g. wind and solar energy), prevent leakage of natural resources from the food system (e.g. nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P)), and stimulate recycling of inevitable resource losses in a way that adds the highest value to the food system (De Boer and Van Ittersum, 2018; Van Zanten et al., 2019).

An example of how circularity in food systems can be achieved was described by adhering to the following number of principles (De Boer and Van Ittersum, 2018; Van Zanten et al., 2019):

  1. Use arable land and water bodies primarily to produce food for direct human consumption.
  2. Avoid or minimize food losses and wastes.
  3. Recycle by-products (such as crop residues, co-products from processing, manure, excreta) and inevitable food losses and waste streams in the food system.
  4. Use animals for unlocking biomass unsuitable for human consumption into value food, manure and other ecosystem services.

These principles are indicative for strategic developments towards circularity and need operationalisation in local contexts. For instance, with respect to the 3rd principle, biomass in residues and waste streams may be used to improve soil quality or to feed livestock. Organic matter in such plant and animal residues, but also in waste produced further downstream in the food cycle may also be converted to valuable products such as bioplastics, protein, volatile fatty acids or other platform chemicals, or as organic soil amendments or as an energy source. Nutrients (both macro- and micro-nutrients) in the waste streams may be recovered and re-used in food production. De Boer and Van Ittersum (2018) suggested an order of prioritization for the use of biomass streams in circular food systems (i.e. plant production first, followed by soil quality improvement, animal feeding, and use as fertilizer and energy source; see Figure 2).  The order of prioritization, however, depends on local contexts, and on prioritisation of  higher level objectives e.g. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) vs food security. Also, the scale at which circularity is best operationalized is context specific and depends on objectives. Hence, the nexus of circularity, food security and greenhouse gas emission reduction is a complex playing field and it requires a broad representation of stakeholders to address. Dependent on local conditions and local policies the concept of circular food systems may be differently defined, and practices and outcomes may differ. There is a knowledge gap regarding the variety in concepts and practices that exists, possible synergies and trade-offs within the various concepts, and about strategies how to implement circular food systems.

This implies need for a science-based development of the concept of circularity in a wide variety of food systems across the world, fitting to local environmental and social conditions. But also the need for practical extension of these concepts in living labs as good practice hubs. Hence, global knowledge exchange is key, and collaboration between institutions globally with a focus on sustainable food security is essential to have impact on a larger scale. This requires a good governance, with different stakeholders come together. For it is not just about food, but also about health, ecosystems, international trade regimes, jobs and social security. The Circular Food Systems network within the Integrative Research Group of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases is established to develop knowledge, to facilitate application in living labs, to exchange knowledge and to take up the governance role.

Figure 2. The concept of circularity with priority given to animal feed use of biomass unsuited for direct human consumption, with secondary use for soil improvement and fertilization (Van Zanten et al., 2019).


   De Boer, I.J.M. & Van Ittersum, M.K., 2018. Circularity in agricultural production. Mansholt lecture, 19 September 2018, Brussels, Wageningen University & Research, 71 pp. https://www.wur.nl/upload_mm/7/5/5/14119893-7258-45e6-b4d0-e514a8b6316a_Circularity-in-agricultural-production-20122018.pdf

   Springmann, M. et al. 2018. Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature 562: 519-525

   Van Berkum, S, Dengerink, J. and Ruben, R, 2018. Sustainable solutions for a sufficient supply of healthy food. Wageningen Economic Research, The Netherlands.

   Van Zanten, H.H.E., Van Ittersum, M.K., De Boer, I.J.M., 2019. The role of farm animals in a circular food system. Global Food Security 21, 18-22.