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Communicating the bioeconomy through maps

What is the bioeconomy? Is it relevant to me, my sector, my business, the place where I live or my farm? What is unique about it? How does Ireland compare relative to other European countries? And how can I get involved? These are questions that a series of maps, released by Teagasc each day from Monday 19th to Friday 23rd of October as part of Irish Bioeconomy Week, seek to answer.

The bioeconomy concerns and links together environmental, agricultural and industrial activities and includes nature, farmers, industrial processes, new value-added bio-based products, and services such as energy and waste. It seeks to address challenges that are key to our livelihoods and where we live ranging, from climate change to regional development.  Thus the maps address different elements each day.

Day 1, Monday, 19th October, focuses on the relevance of the bioeconomy to Ireland.  The first map shows that Ireland is among the European countries that have developed a strategy at national level to proactively support its development. Ireland’s national policy statement, led by the Department of the Taoiseach, was developed in 2018.  A second map shows the significance of the bioeconomy to different regions across Ireland as indicated by share of the overall labour force working in the bioeconomy.  “With the need to achieve sustainability, the Bioeconomy offers a strong opportunity to modernise our agri-food industries and to reinforce Ireland’s position in a highly competitive global economy, thus ensuring the prosperity of our farmers and industry in tandem with nature,’ indicated Patrick Barrett, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) & cross-government Bioeconomy Implementation Group secretariat.  

The maps on Day 2, Tuesday, 20th October, look at opportunities in the bioeconomy by focusing on available feedstock. It highlights that some feedstocks may be purposely grown, however, many arise from streams that may be currently under-utilised or even considered waste. These provide opportunities for both the producers of these feedstocks, as well as new and existing businesses, who may use them for new business opportunities. “Ireland’s terrestrial and marine biomass provides opportunities for developing new sustainable bioeconomy value chains in urban, rural and coastal regions. Understanding the distribution and availability of this biomass is a key starting point in identifying and evaluating these new opportunities,” according to James Gaffey, Circular Bioeconomy Research Group, Shannon ABC, IT Tralee.

On Wednesday, 21st October (Day 3), the map highlights that the bioeconomy is not just about economic opportunities.  It is also very much positioned to address the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. The bioeconomy both benefits from, and can improve the provision of, ecosystem services.  Some of these services are not always directly obvious and remain unaccounted for, but their value is increasingly being recognised through wider benefits. Commenting on the work to date by the EPA-funded INCASE project, Dr. Catherine Farrell, TCD, observed: “Cultural services, such as amenity and landscape aesthetics  - directly linked to health and wellbeing and tourism -  are strongly associated with High Nature Value farmland in Ireland. Using Natural Capital Accounting we can highlight these synergies and mutual benefits to enhance and work with nature in a more sustainable way”.

The theme of the map on Day 4, Thursday, 22nd October, is “Investments in the bioeconomy”.  The map shows that significant investments flow towards novel projects in Ireland but also more broadly within Europe funded by the European Union and industry.  Many of these initiatives focus on developing infrastructure that will be of benefit to Irish companies.  Such investments give confidence that technologies that have been developed will be able to be scaled up beyond the lab.

The maps on Day 5, Friday, 23rd of October, identify some of the players in the bioeconomy.   The first map, produced by PhD candidate Kieran Harrahill, is a different kind of map; it is a social network map which identifies key players in the bioeconomy in Ireland and how they are connected to each other.  Such a map helps to identify entry points to the bioeconomy and the range of actors that are available to support farmers, entrepreneurs and others on bioeconomy related initiatives.  The second map is an all-island map. “The All – Island Biomap Project, funded by InterTradeIreland, maps many of the organisations relevant to the bioeconomy, with categories on their feedstocks, waste streams, by-products, organisation type and employment, where relevant.  The Biomap Project will be used to promote collaboration between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by helping businesses to explore new cross-border markets, develop new products, processes and services and identify overlaps and synergies between companies as well as potential joint funding opportunities,” reported Stephen Napier, CEO of Irish Bioeconomy Foundation.

The maps were produced by Teagasc, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM), IT Tralee, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, the Irish Bioeconomy Foundation, BiOrbic and the Bord Iascaigh Mhara. They directly address one of the key actions identified in the National Bioeconomy Policy Statement, which is to highlight its relevance for a wide range of stakeholders across many sectors.

Commenting on the initiative Dr. Jesko Zimmermann from Teagasc said; “It’s been great producing such a variety maps.  However, the exercise has also made it clear that significant data gaps need to be filled as the bioeconomy develops”.  Professor Maeve Henchion, Teagasc and BiOrbic, said; “The national bioeconomy policy statement, and those of us involved in the bioeconomy on a day-to-day basis, recognise that what the bioeconomy means, and its relevance for everyone ultimately, is not always clear. I believe these maps help to explain it; as they say a picture says a thousand words”.

For further information contact Jesko Zimmermann (Jesko.zimmermann@teagasc.ie) or Maeve Henchion (maeve.henchion@teagasc.ie)

View the maps here

The Bioeconomy Week is an annual event. The theme this year is “Build Back Better.

The national bioeconomy policy statement, published by the Department of the Taoiseach in 2018, is implemented by the Bioeconomy Implementation Group, co-chaired by the Depts of Agriculture, Food & Marine and Environment, Climate & Communications.  Available at:

https://assets.gov.ie/2244/241018115730-41d795e366bf4000a6bc0b69a136bda4.pdf

This series of maps builds on Teagasc’s Map of the Month series 

BiOrbic is the SFI-funded bioeconomy research centre