2013 ICA Rectors and Deans Froum
Engagement of Life Science Universities in Supporting the Growth of the Bioeconomy – the social, environmental and economic implications
was held on Wednesday 30 and Thursday 31 October 2013
at The Pand, Ghent University Onderbergen 1, Gent, Belgium
FORUM FOCUS 2013
Supporting the development of the bioeconomy is a major initiative of the European Commission who in 2012 published a Strategy for Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe. To this end the ICA Rectors and Deans Forum 2013 will focus on how universities in agricultural and life sciences should innovate to fully address the development of the bioeconomy, the bio-based economy, and the need to develop degree programmes which will deliver graduates with the necessary skills for a career in the bioeconomy. The Forum follows the APLU-CFAVM-ICA Conference held in Canada in 2012 .
The bioeconomy encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into value added products, as food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. Its sectors include agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and pulp and paper production, as well as parts of the chemical, biotechnological and energy industries (EU, 2012).
This forum will mainly focus on the development of the non-food uses of biomass and the development of new innovative chains as basis for the development of a bioeconomy which is less dependent on fossil resources. This raises a number of technological questions with respect to the resourcing of the feedstock, the exploitation and processing of the biomass, the transformation using biotechnology and other techniques, and the development and management of the whole chain and so called bio refineries.
However, besides these technical aspects, the development of the bioeconomy creates new societal challenges with respect to the interrelationships and competition between food and non-food applications of biomass, sustainable management of natural resources, the effect on land use and natural ecosystems and the reduction in dependence on non-renewable resources.
Open questions are whether the bio-economy helps to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and whether it has the potential to support the growth of new industries, regional development and the multifunctionality of rural areas.
Many life science universities are innovative players in the technical developments of the bioeconomy. However if the bioeconomy is to grow it is not sufficient to address only the technical and technological issues. Our universities must also play their part in solving the above mentioned social, environmental, economic and policy challenges framing the introduction of these developments. These dynamics will determine the long term viability of such technical developments.