From the European Network for Rural Development, Laura Jalasjoki outlines the opportunities in bioeconomy for rural development, as well as the policy context around rural bioeconom From the European Network for Rural Development, Laura Jalasjoki outlines the opportunities in bioeconomy for rural development, as well as the policy context around rural bioeconomy in the EU.
Europe is envisaging a shift to a circular bioeconomy, a model of production and consumption based on the sustainable use of renewable, biological resources. The bioeconomy is expected to remediate global environmental challenges, from climate change to plastic pollution, while sustaining economic growth.
In 2012 the European Union adopted a bioeconomy strategy, updated in 2018 with an Action Plan defining three concrete axes. Bio-based sectors will be strengthened and up-scaled by unlocking investments and markets. The deployment of the bioeconomy to all EU regions will be supported through the development of adapted innovations and strategies.
Finally, the EU will ensure that the bioeconomy is genuinely sustainable by developing knowledge and tools to track its ecological impact.1 Both public and private sectors invest massively on research and innovation on bio-based solutions for food, manufacturing, chemistry, and energy sectors. Traditional industries are competing to decarbonise their business models and conquer new markets through bio-based products and services.
Multiple benefits for rural areas
The bioeconomy is closely connected to the production and management of natural resources and, consequently, to rural areas. Many predominantly rural regions in Europe see the shift to a circular bioeconomy as an opportunity to answer their multiple economic and social needs and aspirations. Essentially, the bioeconomy offers rural regions pathways for diversification and value addition, with possible social, economic and environmental benefits.
Growing demand for biomass is an opportunity for primary producers. In addition, the incentives for greater resource efficiency, modernisation and value addition associated with bioeconomy can contribute to increased farm competitiveness.
New bio-based value chains and commodities create new needs for pre-processing, processing, logistics and numerous supporting services that should take place where biomass is sourced, often meaning rural areas.
Circular and cascading models valuing by-products and wastes require collaboration between diverse stakeholders and sectors, creating new business ecosystems and providing opportunities for rural SMEs and micro-entrepreneurs. Rural areas have a lot to gain through their integration into new value chains established by bio-based industries, as well as through the creation of locally sustained models of circular bioeconomy.
Existing public support
Public funding and political support are needed to enable rural actors to seize these opportunities. Producers, rural SMEs and local communities need specific support to be able to retain a fair share of the added value created by the bioeconomy in rural areas. Through information, advice and targeted funding the playing field can be levelled out for rural actors, ensuring that the benefits of the bioeconomy are widely distributed along the value chain.
Several existing funding and support instruments can be used to this end. The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development offers a panoply of measures that are relevant for promoting the development of an inclusive rural bioeconomy. A Thematic Group of the European Network for Rural Development, including representatives from various EU Members States, regions, Local Action Groups and rural organisations, mapped these existing measures and their potential to support rural bioeconomy value chains.
The group also recommended to programme Rural Development measures in a complementary way with other EU Structural Investment Funds to upscale public support to rural bioeconomy initiatives.2
Mainstreaming the rural bioeconomy
While funding and tools are available, the way they are targeted depends on the policy framework. The lack of coherent policies and a weak understanding of the bioeconomy at all levels – national, regional and local – can prevent a coordinated development of rural bioeconomy. It is essential to ensure that the potential benefits of the bioeconomy can be understood in the frame of local specificities and people’s concrete needs. Therefore, bioeconomy strategies and their expected results should be defined based on the specific territorial context. Awareness-raising activities should support a shared understanding of the concept and its practical applications.
The EU Bioeconomy strategy dovetails with numerous EU-level and regional initiatives that support the design of bioeconomy strategies and programmes. The national preparation of EU’s Common Agricultural Policy for the 2021-2027 period includes extensive analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the Member States’ agricultural and rural development sectors. This work is an excellent opportunity to define the bioeconomy in a rural context.
European Network for Rural Development (ENRD)
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