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What Knowledge for Sustainable Agriculture? What Bio-Economy for Europe? Brussels workshop 8 June 2010.

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Presentation on theme: "What Knowledge for Sustainable Agriculture? What Bio-Economy for Europe? Brussels workshop 8 June 2010."— Presentation transcript:

1 What Knowledge for Sustainable Agriculture? What Bio-Economy for Europe? Brussels workshop 8 June 2010

2 Preliminary results from the FP7 project, Co-operative Research on Environmental Problems in Europe (CREPE) Funded by Science in Society programme, 2008-10. Discussion today will inform further development of the research and report.

3 Sustaining what development? Nowadays most policies and innovations are promoted as sustainable development. Different accounts of what is to be sustained. Tension between the three pillars – social, economic, and environmental sustainability – is widely acknowledged. But each pillar has multiple interpretations, so the tension runs more deeply. Sustainable development has become an ambiguous concept – even a contested one.

4 Which Sustainable Agriculture? Likewise sustainable agriculture has various accounts. As agri-industrial systems have had to address sustainability challenges, diverse remedies are being called sustainable agriculture. This encompasses divergent accounts of progress, innovation and relevant knowledge Some accounts prevail over others in policy frameworks. In each account, current problems are diagnosed in ways favouring a specific future Europe as desirable – or even as necessary. Key terms are used in different ways, corresponding to different paradigms.


6 Questions What are various accounts of sustainable agriculture in the European policy context? What is to be sustained? How do these accounts inform research priorities and knowledge production? How do EC research agendas favour some accounts of biological resources, knowledge and economy? What other knowledges contribute to sustainable agriculture? How can research agendas accommodate or reconcile divergent accounts?

7 Sustainable Development Strategy For sustainable development, EC policies emphasise eco-efficient innovation, thus diagnosing inefficiency as the fundamental problem. EUs renewed Sustainable Development Strategy calls for Gaining and maintaining a competitive advantage by improving resource efficiency, inter alia through the promotion of eco-efficient innovations. Such diagnoses are often turned into expectations for technological remedies. Eco-efficiency perspective also in EU 2020 – a new strategy to make the EU a smarter, greener social market. More efficient forms of growth are labelled as green, even prospectively, as means to mobilise policy commitments and financial investment.

8 European Research Area (ERA) As means towards a more sustainable Europe, the European Research Area (ERA) promotes a Knowledge-Based Society, especially aiming to enhance global competitiveness through technoscientific advance. Research ministers: ERA should strengthen European cohesion with a positive vision of the future, shared among the EU citizens by: strengthening a competitive economy, in agreement with the European social model, by creating the Europe of technology (EU Council, 2008). Lead markets are foreseen to give Europe a global economic advantage through a more competitive knowledge-based economy. Bio-based products offer many economic and environmental benefits, but Europe lags behind the US, so we must catch up quickly. We must anticipate future competition and race ahead. Indeed, we must catch the future before it overtakes us


10 Imperatives as master narratives Such warnings and hopes function as master narratives, especially by conflating innovation, technoscientific advance and societal progress. Such narratives are founded in collective imaginations and institutional practices around technoscience. Future technological innovations are staged as the solution to a range of social ills, including the problematic identity of Europe itself. Technoscientific imaginaries project specific visions of future Europe (Taking European Knowledge Seriously, 2007). To remedy the innovation deficit, we must create an Innovation Union, towards a new Renaissance.


12 Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy EU-level research agendas have combined several sectors under the novel title, Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE). KBBE = the sustainable, eco-efficient transformation of renewable biological resources into health, food, energy and other industrial products. Key terms – knowledge, biological resources and economy – have many different meanings. KBBE vision links agriculture with energy and other industrial sectors, most prominently through designs for an integrated biorefinery. Agriculture gains greater importance through horizontal integration linking diverse sectors – e.g. food, feed, energy and other industrial products.

13 KBBE as horizontal integration

14 Bio-economy as value chains Value chains concept plays a promissory role. Helps to mobilise various investments for converting biological resources into commercially valuable products. Some priorities are called pre-competitive research – generic knowledge helpful for eventually commercialising products, especially proprietary knowledge.. Research agendas have rival priorities for value chains. Efficient conversion has proven technically more difficult than some anticipated, especially for next-generation biofuels and valuable co-products. Necessary to realise the EU goal of significantly reducing GHG emissions from transport fuel by 2020: needs 8bn Euros over the next decade?

15 Biomass factory? KBBE vision changes the meaning of agriculture. Future farm is imagined as a factory for biomass. Its components are to be identified, mined, decomposed and recomposed in new ways. Converging technologies become essential for identifying and validating characteristics of components. Farms become oil wells of the 21st century. Some organic residues are essential for maintaining soil fertility, so studies also attempt to identify how much. Biorefineries and related processes are being designed to recycle waste, but technological designs expand the definition of waste and could even generate extra waste for new industrial processes.

16 Rebound effect? Efficient techno-fixes have a long history of similar promises to minimise resource usage Yet such expectations often have been contradicted in practice. Greater resource usage is a predictable consequence of financial incentives to supply expanding markets. Economists have theorised the rebound effect, whereby more efficient or higher-quality energy production has often stimulated greater usage. Despite that long historical experience, EU policy makes optimistic assumptions about techno-fixes conserving resources. Some innovations are promoted for sustainably increasing resource availability and economic growth – most recently green growth. Innovations are rarely held accountable for sustainability promises.

17 European Technology Platforms: Harvesting the Potential

18 Stakeholder involvement Such agendas have been strongly shaped by European Technology Platforms (ETPs). EC had originally invited industry to establish ETPs as means to involve all relevant stakeholders in developing a common vision for future Europe & research priorities. Responsibility for stakeholder involvement is effectively outsourced to ETPs, which are not held accountable for how they play that role. Stakeholders relevance is defined by their prospective contributions to future value chains, e.g. in linking the agri-input supply industry with commercial outputs. CSOs have a marginal role, as in FP7 overall. Indicates differences in future visions, not simply a procedural problem.

19 Alternative diagnoses DG Research hosts EU Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR), representing member states. Appointed expert group to carry out foresight exercises. Problem: member states have been dismantling the institutional basis for disinterested science, public good training and agricultural extension services, thus undermining farmers knowledge and disconnecting it from agricultural research. Solutions: agroecological approaches, in situ genetic diversity, producer-consumer links, etc. Farmers knowledge of biodiverse resources for reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience. 2008 report questioned remedies based on lab science, e.g. agbiotech and genomics.

20 Agricultural Knowledge Systems SCAR report proposed to expand networks called Agricultural Knowledge Systems (AKS). AKS for instance would focus on ways to reduce the length of food chains, encourage local and regional markets, give more scope for development and marketing of seeds of indigenous crop varieties and foodstuffs, and restore the diversity of within-field genetic material, as well as of farming systems and landscape mosaics. Resilient agri-food systems rely on ecosystem services that are generally public goods produced and reproduced jointly in the course of economic activity (SCAR CEG, 2008). SCAR proposals have been taken up by the KBBE programme, e.g. Knowledge systems for farming in the context of sustainable rural development, and a working group on Agriculture Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS). Short food-supply chains can enhance and spread farmers knowledge about reducing environmental impacts of agricultural practices. Such improvements could be implemented quickly.

21 Conclusion: dominant paradigm Sustainable agriculture has divergent accounts, each inspired by narratives of progress for a future Europe. In the context of KBBE, they also have divergent accounts of biological resources, economic relations, knowledge and research priorities. Different accounts borrow and use similar terms – each in its own image – corresponding to distinct paradigms. EU-level research agenda largely follows dominant paradigm – e.g. framing sustainability problems as inefficiency to be remedied through lab knowledge and efficient techno-fixes. Little scope for farmers knowledge, agroecology and relevant CSOs – which have potential contributions to research agendas.

22 Ways forward? According to research ministers, the ERA should democratise decision making, for a Science operating as a service to Society (EU Council, 2008). To fulfil that promise, the EU system would need different procedures and imaginations. Agricultural Knowledge Systems (AKS) provide a basis for promoting and linking plural forms of knowledge. Co-research relation among all knowledge-producers, including farmers, towards experimenting sustainable agriculture in its diverse forms. AKS may also provide a common space for interchanges between conflicting paradigms.

23 Questions: In various accounts of sustainable agriculture, what is to be sustained? How can research agendas accommodate divergent accounts of sustainable agriculture? Do research agendas have a governance problem? If so, then for whom? What would be means for improvement?

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