Agricultural food systems are at a crossroads. As the bioeconomy develops, technology is becoming integrated into all aspects of food production, while, at the same time, farmers themselves are increasingly looking towards marketing products based on qualities such as naturalness, place, and cultural origin. The Government 2016 white paper proposes agriculture will be made more efficient by biotechnology. However, concern has recently been expressed that, left unchecked, the bioeconomy will damage and/or compete with regional food systems – making short local commodity chains and local production difficult to maintain and placing farmers at the bottom of the value chain.
This leads to a pressing problem. We know there is considerable environmental, social, and economic value to the maintenance of regional food systems. We also know that there are substantial sustainability benefits to developing a technologically advanced bioeconomy. But how do we integrate the two systems to preserve the positive values of existing food systems and boost the prospects of a thriving rural economy?
SYNAGRI will address this question using case study examples from Norway, Portugal and Austria. Each case study will explore how the bioeconomy and regional food systems are interacting by examining the behaviour of actors across the value chain. From this knowledge it will seek to develop strategies to promote integration, assess the sustainability implications, and contribute to theoretical development in systems thinking. The main outcome will be to advance a systems perspective on Norwegian food systems and to assist stakeholders to identify and manage the opportunities available through food system-bioeconomy integration.
The development of a technologically advanced bioeconomy promises a more sustainable society through a shift from processing non-renewable mineral resources to renewable bioresources. But where does this leave agriculture? Concerns have been raised that the future bioeconomy will place farmers at the bottom of value chains as suppliers of low-value biomass for processing and conversion. Adding to these concerns, advances in the last 2 years have demonstrated that biotechnologies can transform simple biomass directly, and increasingly cheaply, into food. Synthetic animal products (inc. milk products created by yeast fermentation and chicken via cellular agriculture) have been produced and sold directly to consumers in the US and Singapore. The future bioeconomy may be a serious competitor to established food systems.
This creates a challenge. One the one hand, there is significant environmental, social, and economic value to maintaining regional food systems, and on the other, key benefits to be gained from developing a technologically advanced bioeconomy. But how do we integrate the two systems such that the bioeconomy is able to drive future sustainable economic growth, preserve the positive values of existing food systems and boost the prospects of a thriving rural economy?
The aim of SYNAGRI is to understand the capacity for integration between an emerging bioeconomy and regional food systems, and develop strategies to promote an integrated, sustainable food system. The project will contribute to theoretical developments in systems thinking, understand how food systems can be transformed through integration and its implications for social, environmental, and economic sustainability. Scenario evaluation will identify desirable trajectories and policy options to achieve them.
The main outcome will be to advance a systems perspective on Norwegian food systems and assist Norway in identifying prospects for value creation through food system-bioeconomy integration.