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International Bioeconomy Research Agreement to Support Rural and Farming Communities in Ireland and USA Announced by An Taoiseach

Wednesday, 14 March, 2018 

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, has announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between BEACON, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Bioeconomy Research Centre, headquartered at University College Dublin (UCD), and HARVEST (Helping Agriculture Remain Vital through Engineering, Science and Technology), a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Coordination Network based out of Virginia Tech.

The new partnership will support strategic collaborations and create a network to support the development of vibrant sustainable communities, including small and mid-level farms.

The MoU will see both BEACON and HARVEST sharing knowledge and expertise with the objective of developing vibrant sustainable communities that benefit from using both disruptive and established technologies.

A bioeconomy can provide farmers with access to a greater share of the value created from their activities and by-products. It enables industry and farmers to work together to develop and embed new technologies and education within farming communities to deliver more consistent produce, providing farmers with greater access to the full value of their outputs, beyond initial production.

Prof Nicholas Holden, Deputy Director of the BEACON SFI Research Centre for Bioeconomy, Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, and Prof Divya Srinivasan, Principal Investigator on the NSF Research Coordination Network HARVEST.

At an SFI event in Washington DC to celebrate and build scientific collaboration between Ireland and the United States, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD welcomed the announcement and said, “The bioeconomy provides an important opportunity for the sustainable harnessing of our natural resources to produce value-added products. I am delighted to see the SFI Research Centre BEACON leading in this strategic and highly relevant area. With the support of the Government of Ireland through Science Foundation Ireland, the establishment of an international partnership with HARVEST in the US will help to accelerate the development of best practice and innovation in this sector.”

Rural and farming communities across the world are facing ever-increasing challenges. In the United States the farm economy is experiencing rapid technological change, rising costs of production, and the increasing profitability of large corporate farms. Small to mid-level farms face serious pressure and risk disappearance within the next decade, along with the many social and environmental benefits they provide.

Rural Ireland faces similar challenges, with total farm numbers decreasing. An expected increase in the Irish population of one million people by 2040 presents a critical need to develop a sustainable economy that supports growth in rural and farming communities, as well as urban communities.

“I am delighted to welcome this international collaboration to promote the sharing of data, ideas and technologies in support of our mutual investments to address the grand challenges of our time,” said NSF Director France Córdova.

“The National Science Foundation provides fundamental support for the best ideas from science and engineering research to advance the nation’s prosperity and welfare and we value our continued partnership in propelling science forward.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General, SFI and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said, “This agreement enhances the international standing of our world-leading SFI Research Centre Beacon, and illustrates the excellence and impact of their research on the circular bioeconomy.”

Professor Nicholas Holden, Deputy Director of BEACON and Principal Investigator, UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering said, “As an outward-facing Research Centre, BEACON is delighted to partner with HARVEST; and our collaboration will allow us to harness global expertise. There are clear synergies in our approaches, with opportunities for strengthening the convergence of science, social science, economics and policy in both Centres.”

Professor Divya Srinivasan, Principal Investigator, HARVEST at Virginia Tech said, “We are very excited to be strengthening our network through this collaboration with the BEACON Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre. The example of Ireland’s developing bioeconomy is something we can take learnings from here in the United States and globally. We look forward to working closely with Professor Holden and the wider BEACON team.

BEACON, the SFI Bioeconomy Research Centre was developed to research sustainable novel processes and products using bio-based resources, creating clusters for new industry partnerships and delivering the expertise and trained workforce to translate new technologies into new sustainable products, processes, markets and industries.