UN Food Systems Summit

UK-China Critical Zone Observatory Programme along with the Global Food and Environment Institute at the University of Leeds  hosted a UN food Systems Summit dialogue. Is a Circular Economy approach a ‘risk free’ means of meeting future global food demand in a sustainable manner?


The event was done in partnership with multiple universities that were part of the UK and China’s Critical Zone program. These included University of Sheffield, Queens Belfast University, Nanjing University, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Research Center for Eco-environmental Sciences and Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences.  The dialogue built on previous work done in the UK China CZO Project and by researchers at the University of Leeds.

The main focus of the event was about how our drive to increase agricultural production has been at the expense of long term sustainability. Under a circular economy the production of agricultural commodities uses a minimal amount of external inputs and nutrient loops are closed to reduce discharges to the environment. By creating an economy in which waste is reused and pollution is mitigated, natural systems can recover.The potential benefits for food security under a circular economy approach are enormous. However, this can result in changes to greenhouse gases and other N discharges, as well as inadvertently introducing a suite of emerging contaminants into agricultural systems, such as antimicrobial resistance determinants, pharmaceuticals, and plastics.

As part of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, the dialogue explored the concept of a circular economy, with a focus on Chinese agricultural systems. China has rapidly transformed their food production systems to meet a “Zero Increase Action Plan” for fertilizers and pesticides, and therefore provides an excellent case study to explore the concept of a circular economy in sustainable food system further.

The aim of the dialogue was to: Share knowledge on the feasibility and risks of using organic fertiliser in agricultural production through adoption of a Circular Economy approach.

Discussions focused on the three key themes:

  1. Current policy frameworks and future policy drivers
  2. Technical adaptions in waste recovery and use of resources
  3. Potential risks and mitigation measures

The session opened with Prof. Steven Banwart setting the scene and outlining the Global Climate – Food –Sanitation Challenge. This was followed by 3 flask talks from Prof Yongguan Zhu, Dr Laura Carter and Prof. Jeremy Guest each talking on one of the 3 key themes. This provided great stimulation and food for thought to open the discussion sessions.  

A report for the UN Food System Summit will be submitted by middle of June, 2021. This will be assimilated with reports from multiple other dialogues happening globally with the results to be presented at the UN Food System Summit meeting in September 2021 in New York. The team plan to work on a policy paper following this Dialogue. We will share updates and links to the report and paper once they are produced.