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Knowledge Based Bio-Economy

Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry

European agriculture and forestry must deal with dwindling natural resources, the effects of climate change, the changing global demographic and the need to provide a sustainable, safe and secure food supply for its citizens . The goal is to provide agriculture and forestry with the required knowledge and tools to support productive, resource-efficient and resilient systems that supply food, feed and other biobased raw-materials without compromising ecosystem services, while supporting the development of incentives and policies for thriving rural livelihoods. [Read more...]

In 2008 the total land cover of EU 27 was around 420 million hectares with approximately 43% dedicated to agricultural production and 40% to forestry. Concerning non-food production only 5% was dedicated to industrial usage (mostly biofuel oilseed) while another 5% was potentially available as unutilised land. Economically the use of this arable and pasture land for the combined agricultural and food sector accounts for 17 million jobs (7,6% of total employment) and for 3,5% of total Gross Value Added in the EU-27. In addition world food demand is expected to increase by 70% by 2050 (FAO). A dramatic increase in global food demand will go together with a steep increase in the demand for feed, fibre, biomass, and biomaterial. This will and must trigger a supply reaction of EU agriculture, being one of the biggest suppliers to global agricultural markets. EU agriculture has a share of 18% in world food exports, worth € 76 billion. In production values, EU agriculture provides more than 40% of total OECD food production.

The EU has a total forest area of approximately 177 million ha (around 40 % of the EU territory), of which 130 million ha are available for wood supply and the production of non-wood goods and services (cork, resins, berries, mushroom, hunting for example). The forest-based industries are a very important EU economic sector (woodworking industries, pulp and paper, printing industries), with a production value of € 365 billion, and an added value of around € 120 billion create more than 3 million jobs. They play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle and the fight against climate change. The demand for wood, and for wood fuel in the context of increasing renewable energy demand, is a strong stimulus for increasing forest growth and productivity and for improving management practices.

Agriculture is a significant contributor to climate change and is in return dramatically affected by climatic instability. Agriculture and food production represent 40% of the total global industrial energy demand, while global agriculture represents 14% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock ruminants alone provide a major portion of these emissions. Indeed nitrous oxide and methane emissions are projected to increase by 50% by 2030 due to the growing global demand for meat and biomass for industrial and energy purposes. Research and innovation will aim at increasing the adaptive capacity of plants, animals and production systems to cope with rapidly changing climate conditions and environments, as well as increasingly scarce resources. This will include dealing with diversification and specific adaptation, mixed farming systems and land use practices, adaptation of plants, animals and cropping systems to biotic and abiotic stress, conservation and use of biodiversity, as well as specific climate change mitigation and stress adaptation measures at farm, forest and landscape level to water scarcity, heat, highly saline soils, new diseases and pests, etc, and in deploying different agricultural practices including biotechnology as an enabling technology (from marker assisted breeding to GMOs) In addition research will promote the sustainable management of soils, exploit advances in conservation agriculture and reduce green house gas emissions from agriculture and forestry activities.

Food demand is expected to increase by 70% before 2050 and many of today's food production systems already compromise the capacity of the planet to produce sufficient future food supplies. Meat consumption, for example, in both the developed and developing world, is projected to double from the 229 million tonnes produced worldwide in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050. In the future, livestock production will increasingly be affected by competition for natural resources particularly land and water, by the need to reduce fossil energy dependency and environmental impact, and by societal concerns concerning animal welfare. Developments in breeding, nutrition, and animal health will contribute to increasing potential production and further efficiency and genetic gains. In this respect the tools of molecular genetics are likely to have considerable impact, in particular marker assisted selection for traits that are difficult to measure, such as meat quality and disease resistance. The availability of increasingly annotated genome sequences of most livestock species and the decreasing price for sequencing offer unprecedented opportunities for advances in evolutionary biology, animal breeding and animal models for human diseases.

Agriculture and forestry are unique systems delivering commercial products but also wider non-marketed ecological and societal public goods. Research will address these manifold roles and explore their non-market value, thus supporting the provision of important non-material benefits to society (landscapes and recreation) as well as of ecological goods and services (functional and in-situ biodiversity, pollination, prevention of nutrient leaching, enhanced carbon sequestration, water and climate regulation, control of soil erosion). Research will provide the necessary tools to policy makers and other actors to support the implementation and monitoring of relevant strategies, policies and legislation. Research will include socio-economic and cost-benefit analysis, support to cross-sectoral agro-meteorological models for short-term harvest forecasts linking to climate change modelling as well as comparative assessment of farming systems, including aspects of multifunctionality and interactions with forestry.

DG AGRI website


Research areas

Agriculture, crops, natural resources and forestry

Agriculture remains central to the economy of rural areas and therefore plays a major role in all aspects of rural development. Multifunctional agricultural systems, producing food, other goods and services, are important elements in the strategy of environmental integration and sustainable development and should be fully integrated in rural development policies.


Animal production and breeding, health and welfare

EU supported research in KBBE recognises the global changes and drivers concerning the international markets of animals and animal products, the increase in international trade including the animal protein and new food products demand, competition between products for food and for energy; effects of climate change.


Direct policy support

The overall objective of Theme 2 is to assist in the transition towards a “European Knowledge-Based Bio-economy”.



  • QUANTOMICS - Advanced genetics for improving livestock
  • EADGENE_S - Strengthening the implementation of durable integration in FP6 Networks of Excellence
  • LOWINPUTBREEDS - Adapting livestock to low-input farming

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A World without bees?

More and more beekeepers all over the world are witnessing a sharp drop in the number of bees they keep.

In the United States, 25 percent of honeybees vanished in 2006 and 2007, and in several European countries the situation is possibly even worse.

SCAR - Standing Committee on Agricultural Research