After waking myself up with the first dose of coffee of the day, I headed to the session on knowledge based bioeconomies at the Agri4D Conference 2017. I looked forward to this session because I was not familiar with the topic yet and could not really imagine what my take-home message would be.
The session leaders, Ivar Virgin (SEI) and Antony Chapoto (IAPRI), did a wonderful job in guiding the audience towards a common understanding of what bioeconomy is about. Appears, this approach to natural resource management has the potential to transform our agriculture and economy as we know it today. Bioeconomy is about making the best of our resources, it is about innovation, efficiency and sustainability. The examples presented at this session did not disappoint: There is a scope for bioeconomy at the nanoscale across smallholder farming as well as at a scale of national planning.
Hiep le Ngoc (An Giang University) explores how, with the help of black soldier fly, also known as BSF, food waste can become feed for farm birds and livestock. BSF larvae feed on organic waste, transforming it into compost. At the same time, larvae itself can be fed to, for example, chicken. These insects have global distribution, including moist tropic and subtropical regions, and can tolerate extreme temperatures. In fact, research from SLU shows that BSFs deactivate pathogens and chickens fed with black soldier fly larvae show lower rates of salmonella. It is also a more natural feed for farm birds than, for example, corn.
Moving further on a pathway to sustainable feed, Ramy Elgendy (University of Padova) demonstrated that there are other ways to avoid competition for food between humans and livestock by shifting to animal feed that is derived from agro-industrial by-products, such as grape leftovers during wine making. Indeed, it does sound strange to feed cows with soy and corn, while millions of people go hungry. “We are free to choose what we feed to our livestock and thereby we make a choice what kind of animals we want to breed and with which impact and footprint” said Ramy Elgendy.
Another bioeconomy manifestation is bioenergy. Innovation in this sector is particularly important for the African continent. 70% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa relies on biomass for energy. It means that most of the population burns firewood, charcoal, agricultural residues and animal dung for cooking food and for getting done with other day-to-day routines. Although bioenergy is a renewable energy source, over-exploitation can lead to deforestation & soil erosion. In this respect biochar can offer an accessible and affordable source of energy and improve soil fertility and sequester carbon at the same time. Biochar is a form of charcoal and it is made through a process called pyrolysis which involves burning of biomass in an oven with little or no oxygen.