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EU-China international cooperation on unlocking the potential of agricultural residues and wastes for circular and sustainable bio-based solutions

Agriculture generates co-products, by-products and waste streams that are often not treated adequately in environmental and economic terms. In crop cultivation, losses can be observed at farm and post-harvest levels and downstream along the value chain. Co-products or by-products are generated, for instance in the wine, fruit and vegetable, olive oil, starch and sugar sectors, which offer potential to further valorise the resources. In livestock production, and in particular in large-scale production systems, appropriate management of manure and other waste sources from livestock production and transformation is a challenge. Therefore, this topic addresses opportunities for new processes and concepts that enable innovative uses of these materials while quantifying the impact of deviating biomass streams from their current flow (e.g. in terms of biodiversity impacts, soil fertility, etc.).

Proposals will:

  • Evaluate existing techniques and develop new innovative approaches for the efficient use of agricultural wastes, co-products and by-products, thereby contributing to the creation of sustainable value chains in the farming and processing sectors.
  • Address, if applicable, innovative solutions for protein recovery and/or microbial protein production from agricultural wastes/by-products for food and feed applications to meet the demand for new protein-based products at local and global levels.
  • Examine the safety and risks of circularised substance flows, particularly the reutilisation of food waste and (animal) by-products, and prevention of the creation of pathogen/toxin enrichment cycles and introduction or reconnection of epidemiological pathways.
  • Demonstrate environmentally-friendly and economically viable approaches in sector-specific case studies and test the possible practical take-up of proposed approaches and technologies.
  • Examine the synergies/conflicts and interdependencies between the different agri-waste feedstock and develop coherent indicators to evaluate their quantity, quality and sustainability attributes, as well as the costs associated with their production, collection and processing.
  • Consider environmental, economic and social safeguards, such as the sustainable extraction rates of residues, with a view to maintaining low emissions, soil health and fertility, as well as possible conflicts with alternative uses.
  • Address, if applicable, nutrient and energy recovery and the overall minimisation of environmental impacts in the context of good agricultural practices and possible sanitary implications.
  • Improve data collection (e.g. data on residue quantities, residue management and feed requirement) at farm-level, link them with relevant information systems (e.g. the Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN)) and improve knowledge on the availability, demand and market prices of agricultural waste and residue streams.
  • Develop training material to endow primary producers and workers with the right skillset in order to adapt to the proposed viable approaches.

Actions will contribute to implementing the EU-China Food, Agriculture and Biotechnology (FAB) flagship initiative, which aims to ensure sustainability of agri-food systems, catering for the needs of a growing population, the reduction of food and agricultural losses and waste, and the provision of safe and healthy foodstuffs.

Due to the scope of this topic, international cooperation is strongly encouraged, in particular with China. This topic is envisaged to be implemented as a coordinated call but if no agreement is reached with the Ministry of Science and Technology China (MOST) on the co-funding of Chinese partners, it will be implemented as a normal call. Updates will be published on the Funding & Tenders Portal.

Proposals must implement the 'multi-actor approach’ and ensure adequate involvement of the farming sector.

In this topic the integration of the gender dimension (sex and gender analysis) in research and innovation content is not a mandatory requirement. This topic should involve the effective contribution of SSH disciplines.

Proposals should consider the development of learning resources for the current and future generations of employees, with the possibility to integrate them in existing curricula and modules for undergraduate level and lifelong learning programmes. The projects should provide contributions to relevant standards or best practices.