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Horizon 2020: SOCIETAL CHALLENGES - Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research, and the bioeconomy

Programme Type
Funding programme
European (European)
European Union
STRIA Roadmaps


Strategic Objectives

Specific Objective

The specific objective is to secure sufficient supplies of safe, healthy and high quality food and other bio-based products, by developing productive, sustainable and resource-efficient primary production systems, fostering related ecosystem services and the recovery of biological diversity, alongside competitive and low-carbon supply, processing and marketing chains. This will accelerate the transition to a sustainable European bioeconomy, bridging the gap between new technologies and their implementation.

Over the coming decades, Europe will be challenged by increased competition for limited and finite natural resources, by the effects of climate change, in particular on primary production systems (agriculture including animal husbandry and horticulture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture), and by the need to provide a sustainable, safe and secure food supply for the European and an increasing global population. A 70 % increase of the world food supply is estimated to be required to feed the 9 billion global population by 2050. Agriculture accounts for about 10 % of Union greenhouse gas emissions, and while declining in Europe, global emissions from agriculture are projected to increase up to 20 % by 2030. Furthermore, Europe will need to ensure sufficient and sustainably produced supplies of raw materials, energy and industrial products, under conditions of decreasing fossil carbon resources (oil and liquid gas production expected to decrease by about 60 % by 2050), while maintaining its competitiveness. Biowaste (estimated at up to 138 million tonnes per year in the Union, of which up to 40 % is land-filled) represents a huge problem and cost, despite its high potential added value.

For example, an estimated 30 % of all food produced in developed countries is discarded. Major changes are needed to reduce this amount by 50 % in the Union by 2030 (7). In addition, national borders are irrelevant in the entry and spread of animal and plant pests and diseases, including zoonotic diseases, and food borne pathogens. While effective national prevention measures are needed, action at Union level is essential for ultimate control and the effective running of the single market. The challenge is complex, affects a broad range of interconnected sectors and requires a holistic and systemic approach.

More and more biological resources are needed to satisfy market demand for a secure and healthy food supply, biomaterials, biofuels and bio-based products, ranging from consumer products to bulk chemicals. However, the capacities of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems required for their production are limited, while there are competing claims for their utilisation, and often not optimally managed, as shown for example by a severe decline in soil carbon content and fertility and fish stock depletion. There is under-utilised scope for fostering ecosystem services from farmland, forests, marine and fresh waters by integrating agronomic, environmental and social goals into sustainable production and consumption.

The potential of biological resources and ecosystems could be used in a much more sustainable, efficient and integrated manner. For examples, the potential of biomass from agriculture, forests and waste streams from agricultural, aquatic, industrial, and also municipal origins could be better harnessed.

In essence, a transition is needed towards an optimal and renewable use of biological resources and towards sustainable primary production and processing systems that can produce more food, fibre and other bio-based products with minimised inputs, environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions, enhanced ecosystem services, zero-waste and adequate societal value. The aim is establishing food production systems that strengthen, reinforce and nourish the resource base and enable sustainable wealth generation. Responses to the way food production is generated, distributed, marketed, consumed and regulated must be better understood and developed. A critical effort of interconnected research and innovation, as well as a continuous dialogue between political, social, economic and other stakeholder groups, is a key element for this to happen, in Europe and beyond.

Rationale and Union added value

Agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture together with the bio-based industries are the major sectors underpinning the bioeconomy. The bioeconomy represents a large and growing market estimated to be worth over EUR 2 trillion, providing 20 million jobs and accounting for 9 % of total employment in the Union in 2009. Investments in research and innovation under this societal challenge will enable Europe to take leadership in the concerned markets and will play a role in achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy and its flagship initiatives 'Innovation Union' and 'Resource-efficient Europe'.

A fully functional European bioeconomy – encompassing the sustainable production of renewable resources from land, fisheries and aquaculture environments and their conversion into food, feed, fibre bio-based products and bioenergy as well as into the related public goods - will generate high Union added value. In parallel to the market-related function, the bioeconomy sustains also a wide range of public goods functions, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Managed in a sustainable manner, it can reduce the environmental footprint of primary production and the supply chain as a whole. It can increase their competitiveness, enhance Europe's self-reliance and provide jobs and business opportunities essential for rural and coastal development. The food security, sustainable agriculture and farming, aquatic production, forestry and overall bioeconomy – related challenges are of a European and global nature. Actions at Union level are essential to bring together clusters to achieve the necessary breadth and critical mass to complement efforts made by a single Member State or groups of Member States. A multi-actor approach will ensure the necessary cross-fertilising interactions between researchers, businesses, farmers/producers, advisors and end-users. The Union level is also necessary to ensure coherence in addressing this challenge across sectors and with strong links to relevant Union policies. Coordination of research and innovation at Union level will stimulate and help to accelerate the required changes across the Union.

Research and innovation will interface with and support elaboration of a wide spectrum of Union policies and related targets, including the Common Agriculture Policy (in particular the Rural Development Policy, the Joint Programming Initiatives, including "Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change", "A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life" and "Healthy and Productive Seas and Oceans") and the European Innovation Partnership 'Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability' and the European Innovation Partnership on Water, the Common Fisheries Policy, the Integrated Maritime Policy, the European Climate Change Programme, the Water Framework Directive (8), the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (9), the EU Forestry Action Plan, the Soil Thematic Strategy, the Union's 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, the Strategic Energy Technology Plan, the Union's innovation and industrial policies, external and development aid policies, plant health strategies, animal health and welfare strategies and regulatory frameworks to protect the environment, health and safety, to promote resource efficiency and climate action, and to reduce waste. A better integration of the full cycle from basic research to innovation into related Union policies will significantly improve their Union added value, provide leverage effects, increase societal relevance, provide healthy food products and help to further develop sustainable land, seas and oceans management and bioeconomy markets.

For the purpose of supporting Union policies related to the bioeconomy and to facilitate governance and monitoring of research and innovation, socio-economic research and forward-looking activities will be performed in relation to the bioeconomy strategy, including development of indicators, data bases, models, foresight and forecast, and impact assessment of initiatives on the economy, society and the environment.

Challenge-driven actions focusing on social, economic and environmental benefits and the modernisation of the bioeconomy associated sectors and markets shall be supported through multi-disciplinary research, driving innovation and leading to the development of new strategies, practices, sustainable products and processes. It shall also pursue a broad approach to innovation ranging from technological, non-technological, organisational, economic and social innovation to, for instance, ways for technology transfer, novel business models, branding and services. The potential of farmers and SMEs to contribute to innovation must be recognised. The approach to the bioeconomy shall take account of the importance of local knowledge and diversity.

Broad lines of activities

(a) Sustainable agriculture and forestry

The aim is to supply sufficient food, feed, biomass and other raw-materials, while safeguarding natural resources, such as water, soil and biodiversity, in a European and world-wide perspective, and enhancing ecosystems services, including coping with and mitigating climate change. The activities shall focus on increasing the quality and value of agricultural products by delivering more sustainable and productive agriculture, including animal husbandry and forestry systems, which are diverse, resilient and resource-efficient (in terms of low-carbon and low external input and water), protect natural resources, produce less waste and can adapt to a changing environment. Furthermore, the activities shall focus on developing services, concepts and policies for thriving rural livelihoods and encouraging sustainable consumption.

In particular for forestry, the aim is to sustainably produce biomass and bio-based products and deliver ecosystem services, with due consideration to economic, ecological and social aspects of forestry. Activities will focus on the further development of production and sustainability of resource-efficient forestry systems which are instrumental in the strengthening of forest resilience and biodiversity protection, and which can meet increased biomass demand.

The interaction of functional plants with health and well being, as well as the exploitation of horticulture and forestry for the development of urban greening, will also be considered.

(b) Sustainable and competitive agri-food sector for a safe and healthy diet

The aim is to meet the requirements of citizens and the environment for safe, healthy and affordable food, and to make food and feed processing, distribution and consumption more sustainable and the food sector more competitive while also considering the cultural component of food quality. The activities shall focus on healthy and safe food for all, informed consumer choices, dietary solutions and innovations for improved health, and competitive food processing methods that use less resources and additives and produce less by-products, waste and greenhouse gases.

(c) Unlocking the potential of aquatic living resources

The aim is to manage, sustainably exploit and maintain aquatic living resources to maximise social and economic benefits/returns from Europe's oceans, seas and inland waters while protecting biodiversity. The activities shall focus on an optimal contribution to secure food supplies by developing sustainable and environmentally friendly fisheries, on sustainable management of ecosystems providing goods and services, on competitive as well as environmentally friendly European aquaculture in the context of the global economy, and on boosting marine and maritime innovation through biotechnology to fuel smart "blue" growth.

(d) Sustainable and competitive bio-based industries and supporting the development of a European bioeconomy

The aim is the promotion of low-carbon, resource-efficient, sustainable and competitive European bio-based industries. The activities shall focus on fostering the knowledge-based bioeconomy by transforming conventional industrial processes and products into bio-based resource and energy efficient ones, the development of integrated second and subsequent generation biorefineries, optimising the use of biomass from primary production including residues, biowaste and bio-based industry by-products, and opening new markets through supporting standardisation and certification systems as well as regulatory and demonstration/field trial activities, while taking into account the implications of the bioeconomy on land use and land use changes, as well as the views and concerns of civil society.

(e) Cross-cutting marine and maritime research

The aim is to increase the impact of Union seas and oceans on society and economic growth through the sustainable exploitation of marine resources as well as the use of different sources of marine energy and the wide range of different uses that is made of the seas.

Activities shall focus on cross-cutting marine and maritime scientific and technological challenges with a view to unlocking the potential of seas and oceans across the range of marine and maritime industries, while protecting the environment and adapting to climate change. A strategic coordinated approach for marine and maritime research across all challenges and priorities of Horizon 2020 will also support the implementation of relevant Union policies to help deliver key blue growth objectives. 


Institution Type
Type of funding
Public (EU)
Total Budget
€ 3851.40 million


Contact Organisation
European Commission
Rue de la Loi 170, 1040 Brussels, Belgium

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