The running clock of the bioeconomy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas attends the plenary session at the Lower Chamber of the Spanish Parliament in Madrid, Spain, 22 April 2020. The Spanish government expounded the results of the latest European Council meetings and the reasons for the third extension of the state of emergency and the strict lockdown in a bid to slow down the spread of the pandemic COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. [EPA-EFE/MARISCAL / POOL]

There will soon come a time when the coronavirus will be nothing more but a bad memory in our lives and in our society. The conservation of our environment and our sustainable production of energy and food will continue to be key challenges for the future of the planet, writes Luis Planas.

Luis Planas is Spain’s minister of agriculture, fisheries and food

The outbreak of the coronavirus has disrupted the lives of European citizens and our daily tasks, including the agenda I had planned to attend to as minister of agriculture, fisheries and food

Nevertheless, and while we are making every effort to stop the pandemic that our country and the rest of the world are suffering from, it is positive that we are maintaining, as far as possible, the usual activity and work through the means at our disposal.

Therefore, I am pleased to participate in this initiative which, through written texts and other telematic means, maintains its proactive and decisive will to make progress in the reflection on the potential of the “Bioeconomy and Agriculture”, despite the fact that a temporary, unprecedented and unexpected situation has forced the cancellation of the Forum sponsored by Efeagro, Euractiv and the European Union’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development.

There will soon come a time when the coronavirus will be nothing more but a bad memory in our lives and in our society. The conservation of our environment and our sustainable production of energy and food will continue to be key challenges for the future of the planet.

The clock of the Bioeconomy

The bioeconomy clock is part of the solution to ensure that a health circumstance like the present one does not happen again.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, bioeconomics has been one of the cross-cutting disciplines that will enable us to meet the need to double agricultural production by 2050, but with less land and less water use. In other words, the bioeconomy offers answers for a more inclusive, secure and sustainable agricultural and rural model without sacrificing growth and efficiency.

In this sense, its strategic relevance is shown by the fact that it is associated with the achievement of at least 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (UN) Agenda 2030. For this reason, it is essential to advance in the processes of its implementation, whatever the situation of our present reality may be.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wants to lead, from a core and transversal approach, the initiatives to promote the Spanish Bioeconomy Strategy and its corresponding Action Plan, in coherence with the impulse that the European Union is giving, through the European Bioeconomy Strategy, to the role of the agro-food sector as a protagonist of the change towards this sustainable production model, which gives the primary producer much more prominence.

Furthermore, in Spain, the bioeconomy has an enormous potential, so we must deepen in the opportunities it offers to the agro-food sector and the rural environment.

Spain’s enormous potential

Agricultural and livestock production, as well as their processing industries, generate a significant volume of by-products and/or waste that, for the most part, can be used to create value where previously there was none.

Thus, the bioeconomy integrates broad sectors of primary activity such as the agrifood sector, including agriculture, livestock, fishing, aquaculture and food processing and marketing, in addition to industrial by-products, bioenergy from biomass and services associated with rural environments.

For example, according to a study by the Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving (IDAE), 30,5 million tons of woody and herbaceous agricultural waste are produced annually in our country. And, from the livestock point of view, this sector originates 79% of the agro-industrial biogas and 67% of the total biogas potentially available in Spain.

And, according to the global data available for our country (according to the latest available data), the sectors that comprise the bioeconomy generate a turnover of 198,000 million euros (9% of the EU-28 total), 57,982 million euros of added value (9% of the EU-28 total), and 1,34 million jobs (7% of the EU-28 total).

In terms of turnover, added value and employment, the agri-food, beverages and tobacco sector stand out, representing, in all three aspects, around 77% of the total contributed by the bioeconomy.

This enormous potential of our country, along with the fact that one of the distinguishing features of the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is its greater environmental ambition, materialized in the fact that 40% of its funds will be allocated to this concept, shows us a path that does not admit hesitation.

In this sense, from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food we are working on the new strategic planning of the CAP, which, within the nine specific objectives, includes one related to the bioeconomy that advocates the promotion of employment, growth, social inclusion and local development in rural areas, including the bioeconomy and sustainable forestry.

We will, therefore, develop interventions with the aim of exploiting the existing potential of the bioeconomy in order to generate employment and wealth in rural areas.

European forums

We also participate in forums at the European level, such as the thematic group on bioeconomics and climate action sponsored by the European Network for Rural Development.

In addition, through aid for the creation of supra-autonomous operating groups of the National Rural Development Programme (PNDR), between 2014 and 2020, 1.3 million euros have been granted to 27 operating groups related, in one way or another, to the bioeconomy and which have tackled initiatives as diverse as the development of agro-composites, biomass for thermal purposes, slurry management, reduction of food losses, recovery of waste and by-products, forest biomass, etc.

And, in the 2018 and 2019 calls for innovative projects by supra-autonomous operating groups of the PNDR, seven projects within the framework of the bioeconomy, which undertake both forestry activities and the revaluation of by-products and waste, have received a total of 3.2 million euros.

Finally, it should be mentioned that there is a close connection between the bioeconomy and the circular economy. So much so that, in many cases, the bioeconomy is considered to be the renewable segment of the circular economy.

Both European and Spanish strategies emphasize that the success of the bioeconomy depends on it being circular and sustainable. This is why the concept of “circular bioeconomy” is increasingly used and why it has an impact on extending the life cycles of materials and products.

The reorientation of the production pattern towards a circular model based on the bioeconomy is therefore a fundamental asset for strengthening the connection between the economy, society and the environment, in other words, for consolidating the three inescapable axes of sustainable development.

And, now more than ever, spaces like this are necessary in order to encourage reflections that help us to go deeper and learn about success cases, as well as to promote, disseminate and train the population about the enormous opportunities that the bioeconomy offers us when it comes to tackling the challenges of the near future in the agro-food sector.

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