An exclusive interview with Julius Ecuru, BioInnovate Africa Programme

Julius Ecuru

“Governments and development partners should provide policy and economic incentives to industry to transition into smart manufacturing that meets our needs and decarbonizes our world”. Julius Ecuru, programmemanager at BioInnovate Africa Programme, talks to Il Bioeconomista. BioInnovate Africa supports scientists and innovators in the region to link biological based research ideas and technologies to business and the market. It is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and is based at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya. Current BioInnovate Africa partner countries are: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

You were one of the key note speakers last April at the Global Bioeconomy Summit organized by the German Bioeconomy Council in Berlin. The emerging bioeconomy has the potential to transform primary production, especially in agriculture, aquaculture, forestry, health and industry. How are African countries seizing this opportunity?

Sub Saharan African countries have made commitments to transform agriculture through value addition and agroprocessing. The missing middle now, in my view, is to utilize the growing body of scientic knowledge and scientists in universities and research institutes to innovatetogether with their counterparts in the private sector, and bring new and improved bio-based products to market.

The IMF estimated the global subsidies on fossil fuels in 2015 at 5.3 trillion USD, or 6.5 percent of global GDP. In this scenario, how can we accelerate the transition to a bioeconomy?

This is clearly a policy mismatch between our global aspiration of a green and sustainable world on the one hand, and the strong urge to meet our short term economic interests, on the other. It is a dilemma, and a difficult one, indeed. We should renew efforts, both in the rich and emerging economies, to provide incentives to develop a bioeconomy.

Without the people on board, it’s really difficult to deploy across the board everything you need to do to really de-carbonize. How can we bring the bioeconomydown to earth, linking it to practical opportunities in important sectors of the economy like agrifood, marine, cities, or key industries where technology will deliver a sustainable future?

This is a very good question. I think we should have candid citizen dialogues about transitioning to a bioeconomy. We should bring the bioeconomyconsciousness to everyone – the consumers. We, as consumers, should change our practices, and be willing to experiment with new biobased products. Industry, in my view, plays a key role of bringing equally good and satisfying renewable products to our use. Governments and development partners should provide policy and economic incentives to industry to transition into smart manufacturing that meets our needs and decarbonizes our world. We should support more research into green chemistry, which is central in this transition.

What are the African countries that have already a National Bioeconomy Strategy?

Apart from South Africa, no other Sub Saharan African country has a well-developed national bioeconomystrategy. We only find bits and pieces of it in a few countries, e.g. national biotechnology policies in Ugandaand Namibia or biosafety legislations in Kenya and Nigeria. These, however, have a special focus on genetically engineered organisms. I, therefore, see a realopportunity here for partnerships with African countries not only to develop national bioeconomy strategies, but also in actively researching and developing new biobasedproducts and linking these to the global bioeconomy.


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