Implementing bioeconomy principles a ‘win-win’ for agriculture

ICOS is to establish a “co-operative framework” for Irish co-ops to share information and best practice on sustainability and the bioeconomy.

The announcement comes as members of industry gather on Friday at a national bioeconomy workshop organized by ICOS in Co Laois.

Speaking about the announcement, ICOS bioeconomy executive John Brosnan said that implementing projects centered around bioeconomy principles “will allow greater value to be unlocked from the food, feed, fibres, chemicals, fuels and energy that we can derive from our land, crops and natural resources”.

“What was once considered a ‘waste’ is now a valuable by-product or co-product,” Mr Brosnan said.

“By moving towards these new business models, the ‘win-win’ of helping climate, biodiversity and water quality can be coupled with greater economic return.”

ICOS also announced a research project on farmer attitudes to upcoming challenges and opportunities, funded with support from the Golden Jubilee Trust.

The results of the research will be combined with the recommendations of the national bioeconomy workshop and the ongoing co-operative framework that is being established to drive the strategy and series of measures that ICOS will deliver in 2023 and onwards.

Unprecedented pressure

The event in Co Laois heard from ICOS president James O’Donnell who spoke of agriculture being set for a “very considerable transformation” over the next decade.

“Our food system is coming under unprecedented pressure to deliver ever-increasing interlinked services and benefits,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“A secure supply of safe, nutritious, and affordable food has been a cornerstone of food production in the EU since its foundation.

“However, our production systems are now under sustained pressure to deliver on these accepted benefits while delivering improvements in air and water quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“There is also the necessity to commit more land to biodiversity, carbon sequestration and more broad ‘ecosystem services’.”

Mr O’Donnell said the co-op ethos means that “we will step up to the plate to provide leadership and vision” during this period of change.

“The outcome of this should be that our co-op members retain control and benefit from the opportunities rather than be economically disadvantaged in any way by a new era of production,” he said.

“A food system approach will help ensure this, taking into account the closely linked challenges and opportunities that exist in the broader bioeconomy, in both de-carbonising and producing energy, chemicals and materials alongside food and feed.

“The application of science and the measures outlined in the Climate Action Plan provide a roadmap that will bring about a considerable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from Irish agriculture by 2030.”

He added that Irish agriculture is “part of the climate action solution”.

Bioeconomy consultation

The Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Environment, Climate and Communications have launched a consultation to inform the Bioeconomy Action Plan 2023-2025.

The bioeconomy covers all sectors and systems that rely on biological resources, such as animals, plants, micro-organisms and derived biomass, including organic waste.

It extends from farming and the agri-food businesses, marine-based industries, forestry, waste management, and energy suppliers, to pharma and biotechnology products.

Speaking at the ICOS bioeconomy workshop in Co Laois on this action plan, Minister of State Martin Heydon said that the co-op movement is “already leading the way” in this space.

“We must work together on the bioeconomy, and the bioenergy initiative to unlock and realize the full value of the biological resources of the agricultural industry,” Mr Heydon said.

He added that co-ops and their members have a “crucial role to play” in meeting agriculture’s climate targets.

“This is going to be a decade of really significant change for Irish agriculture, I’m absolutely convinced that it’s also a decade of huge opportunity.

“Through cooperation, collaboration and collective responsibility, we can build an impressive, economically viable sector underpinned by environmental sustainability that will deliver for each and every one of our farmers, foresters and fishers.

“The Irish agri-food industry has shown through challenges over the last number of years that it can be agile, and responsive when change and transformation is required.”

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