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Source: NABU – Naturschutzbund DeutschlandPlanetary borders as a framework for future design

The bioeconomy harbors a number of opportunities for nature conservation and the preservation of biological diversity. In addition to the advantages of a bio-based economic system, the risks must also be identified and managed in accordance with the precautionary principle.

In “Precision Farming”, drones with artificial intelligence are used to monitor the plant population. Photo: pixabay / clarrycola

Knowledge and innovation are central components of the bioeconomy. New environmentally friendly and resource-saving production and processing methods can contribute to a sustainable bioeconomy in a variety of ways. The application of innovative agricultural and forestry management methods offers opportunities for improved environmental and climate protection, for example in the context of digitization with precision farming: digital infrastructures such as automatic irrigation and supply systems or drones with artificial intelligence are used to monitor the plant population. These technologies enable needs-based, location-adapted and at the same time more efficient management of the areas. Fertilizers and pesticides can be applied site-specifically and thus used more economically in conventional agriculture in the long term. New forms of management in agriculture such as agroforestry systems (a combination of woody trees with arable farming and / or animal husbandry) ensure an improvement in local biodiversity, the nutrient balance and soil and groundwater quality. Agroecological concepts could represent resilient alternatives in the future in view of the higher and unsteady temperatures Rainfall. The increased cultivation of old varieties and native species could establish a varied and seasonal diversity in food production. But also social innovations such as the establishment of self-sufficient concepts or community gardens in urban areas and the creation of networks of solidarity agriculture can contribute to a new awareness of nature in civil society. It is also possible to adapt bioeconomy concepts to characteristic raw material availability and location conditions and to develop new value creation potential. By identifying and using locally specific biomass potential, not only can new and demanding jobs be created, but the attractiveness of rural regions can also be increased.

The wood component lignin is a particularly promising raw material. Photo: Helge May

Furthermore, through the use of cascade and circular economy technologies, raw material potentials can be used as efficiently as possible in terms of materials and energy. In this way, the need for cultivated biomass could be reduced. Research is being carried out into methods for the development and utilization of new types of raw materials (especially lignin, production waste, but also microorganisms, fungi, microalgae). In biotechnology, the possibilities of genetic engineering mean that microorganisms are used as producers of flavors, antibiotics or enzymes. Animal and vegetable components can also be processed into new products. The examples range from bioplastics in the health sector to microalgae as an alternative fish feed to chemicals made from lignocellulose. But all technical innovations do not save us from the basic knowledge: We live beyond our means. Only social rethinking and changed consumer behavior can lead to a long-term relief of the ecosystem in the context of the bioeconomy. Risks The basic idea of ​​the bioeconomy is based on the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable, bio-based raw materials. Terms such as renewable or renewable suggest unlimited availability of raw materials. However, the ecological limits of biomass production are already being exceeded. Germany imports a large part of the land it needs from abroad in order to be able to cover the current biomass demand with a fossil-based economy. The expansion of the bioeconomy will inevitably go hand in hand with a growing demand for bio-based raw materials. In order for there to be sufficient bioenergy and biomass available for industry in addition to healthy food and feed in the future, the pressure on available (natural) areas is also increasing. The expansion of industrial biomass production is leading to increased pressure on natural landscapes and further loss Species and habitat diversity. In order to achieve high yields on the limited area, the consumption of fertilizers and pesticides will increase and thus damage water and soil

Depleted soils

The soil has a variety of functions: it is not only the habitat for countless animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms, it also regulates natural cycles, is the basis for the cultivation of food and renewable raw materials and has an important filter function for groundwater. Soils are of central importance for our ecosystems and our well-being. Depleted soils are a major problem for intensified agriculture. Monocultures remove important nutrients from the soil. Natural cycles no longer work in them. The application of pesticides harms soil biodiversity. The soil organisms are indispensable for a variety of functions in the ecosystem. They provide nutrients for plants and other living beings, bind nitrogen, filter water and create a fertile and water-storing soil structure. Heavy agricultural machinery ensures compacted soil in which rainwater can no longer seep away. This results in poor growth conditions for the plants and reduced yields.

Water as a critical raw material

About 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water. However, only about one percent of this is available as drinking water. The availability of water is influenced on the one hand by precipitation and on the other hand strongly by temperature-dependent evaporation. In the course of climate change, the amount of precipitation in the regions of the world will change, and with it the availability of water. In Germany, irrigation has so far only played a subordinate role. This may change in the coming years with increasing weather extremes. In the course of the growing world population, water consumption by humans has roughly tripled over the past 50 years. At the same time, the groundwater reserves are increasingly being used up and the existing water resources are becoming more and more polluted. Water scarcity will worsen and worsen over the next few decades. At the same time, agriculture has a high demand for water.

A 1: 1 substitution of petroleum-based raw materials cannot and must not be the goal of the bioeconomy at the level of our current consumption and economic activity. The implementation of the bioeconomy cannot be achieved in the long term by using intelligent technologies alone, but also requires a drastic change in existing consumption and lifestyle habits. Biomass is scarce and sustainably produced biomass is still much scarcer – therefore a bioeconomy must always be geared towards producing and consuming significantly less, extending the lifespan of products and leaving a smaller ecological footprint overall.



EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and / or sentence structure not be perfect.

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