Working together towards a bio-based economy
If we are to achieve a bio-based economy, various parties in the food production chain need to work together on innovation. This project describes what needs to be done to achieve this.
Keywords for the transition to a bio-based economy are sustainability, naturalness, credibility and justice. These values can inspire and provide direction, but they can also cause division because they are open to so many different interpretations. Trust between stakeholders is essential for successful innovation to take place. Meaningful dialogue helps achieve this trust, and makes it clear what the expectations are. A behavioural code or knowledge broker can enable such dialogue.
Thes project partners gave direction to the research, acted as a sounding board and provided case studies that were analysed by the researchers. The case studies examined were a high-rise pig farm, a biomass plant and a synthetic biology application. Biogas is made by fermenting animal manure or other waste materials such as vegetable, fruit and garden waste. Synthetic biology includes the genetic modification of animal or plant cells.
Dialogue between the stakeholders helped clarify concepts such as sustainability, naturalness, credibility and justice. It also provided an opportunity for the different parties to build trust, and to consider how the cooperation required in the agri-food industry could be achieved. According to the researchers, such dialogue – which gives the parties the trust they need in one another to work successfully together – should not be a one-off event but a continuous process.
The policy report Naturally sustainable; The social aspects of the transition to a sustainable bio-economy shows that policymakers and other parties can take the following actions to encourage trust between partners in the food chain:
- ensure that new players in the bio-based economy make it clear what they stand for;
- draw up behavioural codes, possibly at the local project level, to clarify the expectations of all stakeholders;
- employ a third party such as a knowledge broker to help build mutual trust.
The researchers recommended the following actions be taken to encourage the transition to a bio-based economy:
- Place the emphasis on values and/or ideas that are shared by all parties, such as “nature has a lot to offer” or “recycling is efficient”.
- Develop the bio-based economy together and in accordance with shared values by focusing on these values in the product design.
- Ensure a process that gives all participants a say, for example by listening to people who live near a new bio-economy plant.
- Respect the distinction between industry and agriculture. It is better to work together than to “secretly” integrate industry into agricultural businesses.
- Initiate a more in-depth debate on advanced technological opportunities such as synthetic biology and genetic modification. Note that the emphasis must be on the distribution of the costs and benefits in society.
- Consider making more use of cooperative structures to guarantee quality and spread risk.
The researchers described the core values of the bio-based economy as follows:
- Sustainability: to provide perspective for future generations, we need to make the transition to environmentally-friendly and renewable products and processes.
- Naturalness: this concept is set to remain a source of both inspiration and contention for some time. Engineers, for example, are inspired by the “smart solutions” found in nature, which they can copy. However, others experience this as an undesirable attempt to rule over nature.
- Credibility: investment in people’s trust in science is essential in the transition to a bio-based economy and requires transparency, responsible innovation and shared learning.
- Justice: much more attention is required for the costs and benefits of the transition to a bio-based economy for population groups in a single country and between countries. Justice is a value that should be included pro-actively in innovation processes.
Please also read the ‘Partnerships for a bio-based economy’ project.
What is a bio-based economy?
Biodegradable raw materials, residual materials and waste products are called “biomass”. In a bio-based economy, biomass is reused to make a range of new products such as medicines, food, chemical materials, fuels and energy. A well-known example is the use of rapeseed to make fuel.Official project title: