Beahrs ELP Blog

Ravello: Experiencing and contemplating bioeconomy

David Zilberman photo

By Professor David Zilberman, Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC, Berkeley
This article was originally published on The Berkeley Blog.
Read the original article.


I returned this week from Ravello, Italy where I participated in the 19th Applied Agricultural Bio-Economy Research (ICABR) conference. Ravello is one of the “100 places you must see before you die”. Located atop Amalfi Bay and near Naples, it is a village full of colorful gardens, magnificent palacios, great restaurants, and a modern conference center where our meeting was held.

ravello-1   ravello-2

The conference focused on the bio-economy, the environment, and development. There were many interesting presentations during our meetings, but I want to concentrate on the remarkable keynote speakers we had: Sir Partha Dasgupta, Dr. Chris Patermann, Professor Guiseppe Novelli and professor Matin Qaim.

Sir Partha Dasgupta is one of the important economists of the post World War II era. He is the leading thinker on environment and development, and started a journal with this title. He is alarmed by current rates of environmental degradation—in particular, we extract 30% more biomass (living matter) than is regenerated by nature. This rate of extraction is not sustainable. He suggests that the excessive depletion is resulting from externalities—the unintended consequences felt by others as a result of the actions taken by individuals and organizations. These externalities may result from over consumption in the developed world and high rate of population growth in developing countries. Sir Partha suggests a mix of remedies including collective action and moral persuasion that will lead to eliminating the excess depletion of biomass.

Technological improvement must also contribute to the immense effort required to eliminate depletion of biomass, especially when we realize that we must also pursue strategies that enable developing countries to grow. We need industries that will increase the rate of biomass regeneration and reduce the rate of its extraction, and bioeconomy can make major contributions to this end. The term bioeconomy has many definitions. My working understanding is that bioeconomy includes the segments of the economy that rely on biological processes to produce industrial products.

According to another keynote speaker, Dr. Chris Patermann, who for many years, was in charge of the environmental research program of the European Commission, and is considered the “Father of Bioeconomy in Europe”, the knowledge based bioeconomy will replace chemical processes with more environmentally friendly biological technologies—and will provide improved solutions to medical problems, climate change, depletion of raw materials, and environmental resources. According to Dr. Patermann, the bioeconomy is producing 9% of the EU’s GNP, but it is in its infancy and the EU needs to invest significantly in research and development and incentives for investments that would further build this sector. The EU bioeconomy policy is influenced by political considerations. The definition of bioeconomy in Europe does not include agriculture, which is surprising. Many of the future products of the bioeconomy will be farmed, including fuels and industrial oils. Genetic modification and gene editing have been major enabling tools for the bioeconomy. Unfortunately, banning their use in the EU will reduce the effectiveness of the bioeconomy there. As usual European politics have prevented countries from taking full advantage of a new capability created by human knowledge.

Professor Giuseppe Novelli, President of University of Rome Tor Vergata also gave a compelling keynote presentation in which he explained the significance and potential of new biological knowledge. According to Professor Novelli, a noted biologist, the new tools used for molecular biology discovery of DNA provide a basis for transition from ad-hoc to systematic methods of development of solutions to problems of living systems. According to Professor Novelli, genetic mapping and new genetic tools (GMOs, gene editing, and gene silencing) increase the precision of solutions for medical and agricultural problems. The greater precision of the molecular tools allows us to achieve our goals with fewer undesirable side effects. Furthermore, as our knowledge improves, we are witnessing something akin to Moore’s Law, where the cost of biotechnology research processes declines significantly over time. Professor Novelli doesn’t see the rationale for the much heavier regulatory burden placed on agricultural biotechnology compared to medical biotechnology. He suggests that sound, but lighter, regulation of agricultural biotechnology can significantly enhance human welfare.

Professor Matin Qaim’s presentation provided an overview of the performance of biotechnology thus far. The results of a recent study suggest that GMO varieties increase yields, reduce pesticide use, and increase farmer profitability in corn, soybeans, and cotton. The benefits were greater in developing versus developed countries; in India, much of the benefits of adoption of GM cotton have accrued for the poor, subsistence farmers. There is evidence that adoption of GMO seeds reduced diseases and saved lives of farm workers. Finally, the use of GMO varieties didn’t reduce crop biodiversity over time as measured by number of distinct varieties.

ravello-3  ravello-4

The debate over the future of GMOs and biofuels are only part of the many emerging applications of biotechnology. We learned, for example, that improved geographic information systems and monitoring technologies would allow for better utilization of biological controls that address plant diseases and invasive species. There a growing number of applications that use algae to produce food and fuel simultaneously, as well as, attempts to use various organic methods to produce natural gas. Finally, while the conference emphasized the potential of the new bioeconomy, we enjoy, during our stay in Italy, pleasure of the old bioeconomy: great wines, cured meats (prosciutto), fine cheeses…and wonderful bio-resources (vistas) of Ravello and Capri.

Help for Nepal

Please find below information on the suggested disaster relief fund for Nepal as recommended by ELP Alums.

Fund Name: Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund for the Earthquake on 25th April 2015

The Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund is purely a relief fund set up by the Government of Nepal. The fund is used for rescue, treatment, relief, rehabilitation of victims and restoration of physical infrastructure damaged by natural disaster and calamities. Money received from the Government of Nepal or from any other national and international sources for the purpose of relief is deposited into this Fund and is solely used for the purpose of providing relief to the affected people.

The fund cannot be spent on any other overheads including facilities and allowances to civil servants or used to provide donations. At the Central Relief Fund level, a committee headed by the Vice Chairperson of the National Planning Commission and comprising of Secretaries of eight different ministries coordinate the Fund activities. The funds are released to the office of the Chief District Officer, who is the Coordinator of the District Relief Fund, through the Ministry of Home Affairs only after a unanimous decision is made by this committee.

All expenditure under both the Central Relief Fund and the District Relief Fund, are regularly and annually audited by the Auditor General of Nepal, which ensures maximum accountability and transparency.

NTC and NCELL Subscribers can contribute for Earthquake victims 2072
Type HELP & Send to 15025 to donate Rs. 25
Type HELP & Send to 15050 to donate Rs. 50
Type HELP & Send to 15100 to donate Rs. 100

Donors and contributors can choose to directly deposit funds in the following bank accounts.
Bank of Kathmandu, A/c No 010000062888524, SWIFT Code: BOKLNPKA
Citizen’s Bank International Limited, A/c No 0010002562CA, SWIFT Code: CTZNNPKA
Everest Bank Limited, A/c No 00101102200012 and 00100-105200270, SWIFT Code: EVBLNPKA
Global Banks Limited, A/c No 0411010000005, SWIFT Code: GLBBNPKA
Himalayan Bank Limited, A/c No 01905631210011 and 01905631210027, SWIFT Code: HIMANPKA
Nabil Bank Limited, A/c No 1710017505285, SWIFT Code: NARBNPKA
Nepal Bangladesh Bank Limited, A/c No 01-035141C, SWIFT Code: NPBBNPKA
Nepal Bank Limited, A/c No 002-11-053313, SWIFT code: NEBLNPKA
Nepal Investment Bank Limited, A/c No, 00101010315562, SWIFT Code: NIBLNPKT
Nepal SBI Bank Limited, A/c No 17725240200640, SWIFT Code: NSBINPKA
NIC Asia Bank Limited, A/c No 3240374916524001, SWIFT Code: NICENPKA
Rastriya Banijya Bank Limited , Singha Durbar, A/c No 113000376201, SWIFT Code: RBBANPKA
Standard Chartered Bank Nepal Limited, A/c No 01-0132438-01, SWIFT Code: SCBLNPKA

ELP 2015 Webinar: Net Zero Energy Design – Advancing Concepts to Reality

As part of the ELP Alumni network activities, the Beahrs ELP team organized a webinar on “Green Buildings” on April 8, 2015. This was the first ever webinar hosted by the ELP! The webinar was led by Greg Kight, the National Director of Sustainable Design at Jacobs Engineering, USA.
To learn more about Greg, please click here:
Topic: Net Zero Energy Design – Advancing Concepts to Reality

In this webinar, Greg Kight evaluated the achievements of several net-zero energy projects his firm has contributed to over recent years and explores some of the key considerations to increasing energy efficiency in buildings. The session focused on the design and implementation of net-zero energy buildings and advancing innovative design concepts into operational reality.

Duration: 60 mins (Approx. 40 mins of presentation followed by QnA)

View the recording of the webinar below.

ELP Newsletter Summer 2015 – Introduction by David Zilberman

IMG_0536This year we are celebrating our 15th anniversary! When we started in 2001, there was a strong sense of hope. The Cold War was over and people expected growing cooperation among nations. Climate change has been recognized as a big global threat and the Kyoto protocol was viewed as a key for an integrated coordinated solution. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established and plans to achieve them (by 2015) were introduced.

Things did not turn out as expected. First, conflicts between nations intensified. After 9/11, the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are now vicious wars in the Middle East. The honeymoon between Russia and the West is over, and stability in Eastern Europe threatened. There are growing tensions between China and its neighbors in Asia, and civil wars continue in some parts of Africa. Resolving human conflicts and wars are necessary conditions for pursuing sustainable development strategies.

Second, we have made minimal progress in addressing climate change. The Kyoto protocol has ended—it did not deliver much and has not been replaced. Finally, while some progress has been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, hunger and disease among the very poor and the challenges of controlling them continue. Moreover, we have learned again how vulnerable we are to the forces of nature. During the last 15 years we have experienced devastating tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts and floods. Our hearts break for the Nepalese people who experienced two earthquakes during the last few weeks, and we sensed the pain of the millions whose lives were ravaged by floods in Pakistan, the earthquake in Haiti, and tsunami in Thailand. Thus, science policy makers and the global community are challenged to enhance peace, address global environmental problems, solve poverty, and develop means to avert and respond to natural disasters.

Given these developments, the value of the experience provided by the ELP is more important than ever. We make our small contribution to build mutual understanding between people from different nations and backgrounds, and provide them with leadership and conflict resolution skills. We aim to introduce our participants to skills and tools to solve complex policy challenges and to foster collaborative discussion that will hopefully lead them to develop creative solutions to the challenging problems they may encounter today.

One of the most rewarding activities associated with the ELP was the development of a curriculum because it was really an interactive process with the students. Every year we tried to develop a curriculum to suit the interests and needs of the participants. We continued to incorporate new topics such as water, sanitation and climate change every year. Over the years we learned that students are interested in developing their interpersonal skills and so we developed a workshop on conflict resolution with Susan Carpenter and late Bill Sonnenschein on leadership. Unfortunately we haven’t recovered from the loss of Bill and developing a good training on leadership still remains a challenge. Another development over the years is the increased interest in Impact Assessment. This became an important area of emphasis at Berkeley and Max Aufhammer became a significant contributor in this subject at the ELP. The success of the ELP also inspired us to start a two-year masters program called the Master of Development Practice (MDP) in 2012. In fact, MDP students such as Madhyama Subramanian and Renata Koga have been part of the ELP staff.

Furthermore, the College of Natural Resources is developing the International and Executive Programs that aims to offer short professional trainings, and will to some extent complement the ELP. We encourage students to apply when appropriate.

This Summer 2015 newsletter is the kick off to our 15th anniversary celebrations that will take place over the ELP summer course that will be held from June 27 to July 18 this year. It is heartening to read about the experiences of our illustrious alumni from different parts of the world and to learn how their careers and lives have proceeded. Our next newsletter issue will further evaluate the journey of the ELP and our plans for the future.

Use of ELP Newsletter as a Framework for Blogging

by Denis Sonwa (ELP 2010), Cameroon

Hauling fuelwood in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR photo

Hauling fuelwood in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR photo

Nowadays, as a scientist, you need to go beyond peer-reviewed publications and make yourself accessible in different formats to a broader audience including non-scientists, among whom some are decision makers. This can be done by publishing in a public journal, newsletter, blog, etc. The writing can be related to one or several scientific publications with the objective of popularizing the findings of these papers. The writing can also be related to development/political events taking place nationally, regionally or internationally. The content of the writing can be enriched by incorporating scientific evidence and referring to statements by decision makers, public personalities and so on. It is evident that besides receiving formal training on how to communicate scientific findings to a broader audience, practice is the best school. Besides the contents, looking for the ideal time to produce your blog is also very important. This is where the ELP Newsletter and Blog platform has proven very useful for me.

After the important multidisciplinary training that we received at UC Berkeley during the Beahrs ELP, members were welcomed into the alumni community. Here, the alumni newsletter is one of the main links between ELPers, where the editorial team regularly asks members to provide contributions/blogs for the newsletter.  The team generally defines topics for newsletters and when possible, ties it to an important event/agenda. The call for contributions generally comes as a ring, reminding me that I need to blog!  With the call, I then see how to fit the newsletter’s theme in my own professional/regional context. My audience for my writing is generally my ELP peers, the UC Berkeley community, and the broader audience that may be interested by the region and the topic covered.

If my memory is true, my first experience with making a contribution for the ELP newsletter was for Rio + 20. My contribution that was published in the ELP newsletter was seen by the CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) Communication department and viewed as a document that could be edited  and included in Polex. Polex is an online blog by forest policy experts. The blog was therefore edited and published on the CIFOR website with a mention that it was first published in the UC Berkeley ELP Newsletter. From there, generally the blog is retweeted (or shared using social media) to a broader audience.

Thus, the ELP alumni newsletter for me is not just an important tool to keep in contact with ELP, but also a framework useful in my professional life. I want to thank the editorial team for their good job in defining the contents and the appropriate frequency of the newsletter.

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