VMU hosted a conference about sustainable development of bioeconomy

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On May 20-21, the second online conference Sustainable Bioeconomy Development 2021: Adaptation to Climate Change took place in Vytautas Magnus University (VMU). The event was organised by the Faculty of Bioeconomy Development of VMU Agriculture Academy in cooperation with the Faculty of Economics and Social Development of Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies. The plenary and panel discussions and seminars welcomed the experts of social sciences from Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, and Slovakia.

This diversity of participants once again demonstrates the urgent need to find sustainable solutions for the development of the bioeconomy, so it can better adapt for the response to climate change and the challenges related to it. The conference sought to answer the questions of why it is necessary for everyone who uses the natural resources to be socially responsible, understand the importance of the bioeconomic processes and choose the most sustainable solutions. Moreover, it also raised questions why, in the light of global trends and guidelines, it is always of the utmost importance to consider the local context first, and to look for the ways to improve the conditions in it. One of the most important sponsors of the conference, a representative of the society that sees the importance of the bioeconomic processes and directly experiences their changes – the Lithuanian Rural Network, also significantly contributed to the search for these answers (LRN; Project No. PLKT-KK-20-1-01801-PR001, the measure is financed in accordance with the activity area “Lithuanian Rural Network” of the measure “Technical Assistance” of the Lithuanian Rural Development Program 2014–2020. The project is supported by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the budget of the Republic of Lithuania).

According to the participants of the conference, in order to properly implement the objectives of the European Union’s Green Course Strategy, this topic is extremely relevant on the local and global levels. The European Union’s goal for 2050 to ensure the climate neutrality can only be achieved through major complex changes of the European society and the economy. An unprecedented 30% of the EU budget is dedicated to combating climate change. Thus, in response to these globally pressing problems, it is essential that these processes are cost-effective, balanced and fair from the social perspective. This highlights the need to share the best practices from around the world and to analyze such topics as policy and public investment in bioeconomy research, consumer and producer behavior in the context of climate change, business and place models for the circular bioeconomy or accelerating the bioeconomy through investment and financial decisions.

When welcoming the participants of the conference, VMU Rector Prof. Dr. Juozas Augutis noted that looking for sustainable ways to use limited resources, it becomes clear that the importance of this conference reaches beyond the academic interests. Prof. Dr. Irina Pilvere, Rector of Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies, noted that changes must start from knowledge and cooperation. According to Prof. Dr. Astrida Miceikienė, Chancellor of VMU Agriculture Academy, not only the developers of the bioeconomy and agricultural sectors, but also each of us must contribute to sustainable, resource-efficient solutions, and better understanding how food reaches our table, and what agricultural systems can be the most sustainable, especially in Lithuania, where agriculture plays a major role in the economy.

“Science can use the fact-based knowledge basis to meet the big ambition of the Green Deal in Europe,” claims Dr. Martin C. Th. Scholten, a scientist from Wageningen University & Research, during the plenary presentation about the system of food resistant to the effect of climate change and its importance in the future. The researcher shared insights on the versatility and adaptability of the bioeconomy addressing the challenges of climate change, helping farmers to adapt to the climate change, ways to sustainably increase the agricultural production and income from this sector, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sustainably use extremely limited resources. Dr. Scholten also pointed out that each of us leaves an ecological footprint, and spoke about the ways to avoid wasting resources and the promotion of recycling and reusing resources. “We have one planet to resource the food production,” reminded Dr. Scholten. According to the scientist, this topic is highly relevant not only globally, but especially in countries like Lithuania, the Netherlands and Latvia, where agriculture makes up an inportant part of the economy.

Dr. Gerald Schwarz, a researcher from Thünen Institute with 15 years of experience in agroecology and rural policy analysis, spoke about the transitions in the field of agroecology. The researcher identified the links between the conventional agriculture and organic farming, initiatives addressing the question how to produce sufficient public goods in agriculture, while supporting the development of private goods that ensure economic and social sustainability on the farm level. He emphasized the importance of increasing agricultural productivity on small family farms that are not overly dependent on the public support, and of replacing inefficient practices with more efficient, agro-ecological ones, ensuring greater involvement of farmers and end-users of these goods in the system, raising their awareness and understanding the food path from farm to fork already at school. The researcher also noted the importance of lifelong learning to ensure the sustainability of the entire agricultural and food system and the preservation of biodiversity, using best agro-ecological practices in different countries, as well as to promote conscious and active involvement of local agriculture and related participants of the system.

During the first day of the conference, the parallel sessions featured comprehensive and in-depth discussions of questions related to the bioeconomy-focused research of various policies, public investment and the financing thereof. In this session, a great part of the presentations addressed the tax policies. Researchers discussed how tax instruments can contribute to the promotion of the bioeconomy, the introduction of CO2 and other taxes related to technological progress, which directly contribute to the mitigation of climate change effects. The discussion dealt with food security issues in African countries, as well as how to find the optimal crop production model by assessing the emissions generated, the condition of the soil and other environmental aspects. Other topics discussed included the case of Latvia and the activities of the support for food producers, as well as the price of certification that promotes the development of organic products and how to insure the smooth course of this process. Participants also discussed the generation of animal waste, shared good practices on how waste generation can be reduced, and how various types of waste can be utilized by changing technological processes and at the same time saving energy resources.

A broad scope of topics discussed during the parallel sessions also covered the areas like the production of renewable energy sources (wind, water, solar power) and the impact of national policies on the changes in energy products, national economic development, regional socio-economic development, and reduction of energy costs. The session also featured introduction on some really interesting projects like the bioeconomy platform dedicated to deepen one’s knowledge in various areas of bioeconomy, and follow important solutions of the local government in terms of the development of green and blue areas. Researchers introduced the best practices and provided insights on how the environmental design should be developed to meet the goals of bioeconomy.

The second day of the conference started with an expert discussion on the initiatives related to the European Green Deal. Researchers from Lithuanian and foreign universities as well as the representatives from Lithuanian and foreign businesses looking for sustainable and innovative solutions shared ideas and analyzed how the fuel, fertilizer and plastics sectors could be (and already are) contributing to tackling climate change in Europe and around the world. Dr. Vincent Eijsink, Professor of the Faculty of Chemistry, Biotechnology and Food Science at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, introduced his research field of industrial biotechnology and the biofuel as its part, as well as further research prospects in this field. According to the researcher, the current research in Europe has great potential to contribute to sustainable, bio-based solutions and is globally competitive. Ahto Oja, Member of the Board of “Balti Biometaan”, shared his insights about the positive environmental impact of using biomethane as an alternative to conventional fuels and the obstacles to the development of the sector, such as the poor knowledge of the public and policy makers about the benefits of using biomethane. Dr. Audrius Gegeckas, Head of R&D Department at “Bioenergy LT”, presented holistic and sustainable high biotechnology solutions that can ensure high yields and maintain biological soil activity, the importance of plant biostimulants and operational guidelines in line with the goals of the European Commission’s “Farm to Fork” strategy. Dr. Gustaf Forsberg, a representative of the Swedish company “ThermoSeed Global” spoke about innovative and highly efficient and environmentally friendly seed processing technology. Dr. Inga Matijošytė, Senior Researcher and Head of Applied Biocatalysis Sector at the Institute of Biotechnology of Vilnius University Life Sciences Centre presented the trends, future possibilities, benefits and the importance of bioplastics production and the use thereof in the pursuit of sustainable solutions. The session was closed by Dr. Irena Vitkauskienė, Business Development Consultant at “Plastiksė”, who presented the trends of plastic use from the business perspective.

During the second part of the plenary session, Dr. Ants-Hannes Viira, Director of the Institute of Economics and Social Sciences at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, introduced research on the good practice business models for sustainable bioeconomy development in the Baltic Sea Region. This presentation provided a detailed analysis of bioeconomy business models that allow self-assessment of the current situation and opportunities to develop sustainable and innovative bioeconomy business in the context of the circular production.

The last part of the conference, the Friday afternoon session, welcomed the scientists from Poland, Lithuania and Azerbaijan. Their presentations shed light on the currently pressing issues: the impact of corporate social responsibility on employee behavior, as well as the results of research on young people’s motivation to work in the agricultural sector and the social dimension of short food supply chains. Most of the presentations focused on analyzing consumer attitudes in the context of climate change, towards the environment, biodiversity and other ecosystem services and the use of renewable energy sources. It has been observed that the interest of scientists in the economic assessment of the environment in the context of consumer and producer behavior opens up new research opportunities.

In the third section of the conference dealing with the business and place models for the circular economy, participants actively discussed such relevant aspects of the circular bioeconomy as food supply chains, business and science models, climate change, business and science success stories from Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Nigeria and other countries.

The workshop “Food Systems: My Power in Enhancing Sustainable Consumption” which concluded the conference received a lot of attention from the participants. It included stimulating discussions about the local food, local food chains and responsible consumption. The workshop started with a presentation by Prof. Dr. Vilma Atkočiūnienė on food systems and sustainable consumption in the future, followed by various interactive tasks that connected the theoretical knowledge of participants with their practical skills. When completing the tasks, participants explored the origins of their commonly used food products, calculated the “food miles”, considered their own relationship with the consumption of local products and what can be done by every one of us for the sake of sustainable consumption. The active involvement of foreign participants carrying out the tasks enabled a comprehensive analysis of a variety of questions related to sustainable food consumptions and issues related to it.

The variety of presentations delivered during the two-day conference and the interdisciplinary discussions of experts from different fields perfectly reveal the potential of the bioeconomy in finding sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions. It has also become an excellent platform for exploring new synergies and cooperation opportunities between business, science, politicians and other stakeholders. The importance of communicating these processes to all groups of the society and their involvement in the ongoing changes, as well as the need for continuity of this dialogue, have also been emphasised as well.

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