The Natural Resources Institute Finland and the Finnish Environment Institute are preparing a Finnish roadmap for blue bioeconomy with the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. It is believed that there is great potential in water-related expertise.
According to Timo Halonen, Senior Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, due to population growth and lifestyle changes, it is imperative that we find new solutions in global water supply and primary production. Fish farming has already exceeded the volume of beef production, and aquaculture is the fastest-growing form of primary production in the world.
– We should emphasise the significance of water in bioeconomy because Finland has a wide range of possibilities in that field. In the EU, blue growth is defined as maritime economy. Here in Finland we see that clean water as a natural resource and water-related expertise are important also in the wider context, Halonen says.
Roadmaps for Finland and the Nordic countries
In addition to a national roadmap, Timo Halonen and Asmo Honkanen, manager of the Blue Bioeconomy thematic programme at the Natural Resources Insitute Finland, are also working on a Nordic roadmap for blue bioeconomy.
– Different Nordic countries and, on the other hand, various actors in Finland, too, have slightly differing perceptions of blue bioeconomy, Honkanen explains.
– It is important to define what blue economy actually means and what is not part of it. The roadmaps will clarify the common objectives and measures in the sector. Sustainable utilisation of aquatic resources could be a connecting factor, in which the Nordic countries are genuinely the best in the world. It is important in the EU and in FAO that we have a strong country team that highlights issues and has an impact on research funding and policies. The Nordic roadmap will provide a long-term structure for these activities, Halonen sums up.
The objective is to send the national roadmap out for consultation at the end of June, and the Nordic map will be completed by the end of the year.
Blue economy means smart combining and a risk of failure
The Natural Resources Institute Finland is building a blue future with joint pilot projects in research and the business sector. According to Programme Manager Asmo Honkanen, all production that utilises water, from fishing to well-being services and industrial symbioses, is considered in the development of the sector. Dismantling of sector thinking and the use of knowledge resources are posing a challenge.
– Blue bioeconomy does not mean that we have invented something completely new, it means that we are examining matters from a new angle.
The pilot projects of the Natural Resources Institute Finland emphasise experimentation. The time span of research, from identifying the problem to the publication of results, is often too long for the business sector. In the pilots, ideas are tested in practice straight away, in which case provisions are also made for any failures, providing an opportunity to take a step back, if necessary.
– Putting research results into practice is no longer a by-product of research, carried out with extended financing if there is time, but practical measures and enterprises are involved in the projects from the word go. And when we combine different scientific fields and methods of implementation, the interfaces may bring up something that is called innovation, Honkanen describes.
How to develop cooperation between the public and private sector?
Honkanen is happy that the debate with all stakeholders has gone well.
– Blue bioeconomy has a lot in common with Finland’s environmental administration, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. A big concrete change that has taken place over the past five years is the improved communication between all of us. Researchers and officials are drawing the roadmap in perfect harmony, Honkanen says.
Halonen points out that the public sector is not able to develop blue bioeconomy on its own.
– Finland is a superpower of brackish water and we have world-level expertise, but a large part of it is in the public sector, in research institutions, water supply companies and administration. Therefore, it is important to develop new operating models to utilise public sector expertise in increasing business operations and exports, Halonen considers.
– The business sector must also come out of its comfort zone. Will many listed companies continue their operations based on basic raw materials or will they join new biological production methods that would provide an opportunity for making major breakthroughs? Honkanen reflects.
Sustainable development as a starting point
Bioeconomy has been a subject of criticism in Finnish media and the research field over submitting sustainability to economic growth. The developers of blue bioeconomy assure that the objectives of environmental policy and business operations can be reconciled.
– Water-related operating pressures are emphasised in all global challenges, e.g. in population growth or climate change. Only sustainable methods offer long-term competitive advantages to companies, and we agree on that with the Ministry of the Environment. We cannot compromise over basic research and achieving a good water status, otherwise we cannot create sustainable solutions, Halonen says.
Honkanen and Halonen are expecting good results from the blue frontiers as soon as in ten years’ time. At that time, Finland would be recognised as an international water expert, the trade balance in the sector would be positive, and the public and private sector would act in cooperation.
– The targets are ambitious, and there is a serious risk that we will not succeed. However, the problems will be even greater if we don’t even try to achieve growth, Halonen concludes.