Bioeconomy: from a complicated word to a familiar place

“We are moving the bioeconomy from being a very complicated word to being a very familiar place” stated John Bell, Director at the European Commission in charge of bioeconomy, during his opening speech at the Bioeconomy conference held on October 22nd 2018 at the European Commission in Brussels.       

This high level event, held under the Austrian Presidency, focused on four thematic sessions: (1) ensuring environmental, social and economic balance of the bioeconomy co-chaired by Erik Mathijs (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven); (2) key strategic research priorities co-chaired by Monique Axelos (INRA); (3) local development co-chaired by Sveinn Margeirsson (Matis); (4) investments, markets and the bio-based sector co-chaired by Christine Lang (German Bioeconomy Council).

In Europe, the bioeconomy is to become the “next economy”, which will deploy innovative ways of using food and natural resources. It aims to federate Europeans, as a people, on key environmental challenges the world is already facing today and help build a fair society where “farmers are not tenants but people who co-created and built it” (John Bell).

For the next EU budget (spanning 2021-2027), the Commission is proposing 100 billion € for Horizon Europe. Of this, 10 billion will be devoted to the primary sectors including the bioeconomy, with the ambition to centrally involve farmers, foresters and other rural economic actors to lead from the front in finding solutions to problems that affect society.

With an increasing demand for feed, food and fibre comes the need to look for more innovative and sustainable uses of our natural resources. Phil Hogan, Commissioner of Agriculture & Rural development, brought to the public’s attention that the bioeconomy gives Europe “an unprecedented opportunity to show the world how to build modern thriving rural communities that combine existing traditions and modern ways of innovating”. The bioeconomy is expected to encourage rural economy, contribute to climate change mitigation and beyond, also “create new integrated value chains which will boost rural economic cohesion” he further stated.

The importance of policy to successfully federate individual, local actors and to implement the bioceconomy was also raised several times throughout the day-long conference. As Orla Feely, Vice-President for Research, Innovation and impact at the University College of Dublin noted: “we need policymakers to join the conversation on the bioeconomy, particularly those who do not yet see it as a priority” and to show how “the imperatives of the bioeconomy reinforce the traditional policy drivers of competitiveness, prosperity, growth, security”. 

In his opening statement, Carlos Moedas, Commissioner of Research, Science and Innovation recognized one of the main challenges as linking the untapped potentials of the bioeconomy “to the hearts and minds of the Europeans”. He went on to say that: “the future success of our strategy depends on how we show our citizens that the bioeconomy is a way to create solutions (…) that will improve our environment, that will give us more and safer food, and that will create jobs”. The idea that the bioeconomy is a means to many ends must indeed connect with European citizens, to that end communication will be key.     

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