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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Announces International Bioeconomy Research Agreement to Support Rural and Farming Communities

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Announces International Bioeconomy Research Agreement to Support Rural and Farming Communities

SFI Research Centre BEACON signs international agreement that will help small and mid-level farms access greater value from their produce


Pictured at the United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC, on 14th March 2018, (left to right): Prof Nicholas Holden, Deputy Director of BEACON, the SFI Research Centre for Bioeconomy, with Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, and Prof Divya Srinivasan, Principal Investigator on the Research Coordination Network HARVEST.


Washington D.C., 14th March 2018 – 

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, today announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Irish-based BEACON SFI Research Centre for Bioeconomy and the US-based HARVEST (Helping Agriculture Remain Vital through Engineering, Science and Technology). HARVEST is a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Coordination Network (RCN) based out of Virginia Tech.

A bioeconomy can provide farmers with access to a greater share of the value created from their activities and byproducts. 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. 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.

At a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) event in Washington DC to celebrate and build scientific collaboration between Ireland and the United States, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD welcomed the announcement saying: “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.

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.

“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.”

Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland 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. The development of a modern and sustainable circular bioeconomy in Ireland will see innovation and cutting-edge technologies deployed to address global challenges of sustainable, environmentally friendly, food production and enhanced rural employment and quality of life. I am pleased that rural communities in Ireland will continue to benefit from Science Foundation Ireland’s consistent investment in excellent and impactful research involving collaboration with outstanding scientists in the USA.”

Prof Nicholas Holden, Deputy Director of BEACON 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.”

Prof Divya Srinivasan from Virginia Tech, Principal Investigator on HARVEST said, “We are very excited to be strengthening our network through this collaboration with the BEACON Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre. A key objective for us is to diversify, broaden and expand the community of researchers engaged in human-technology innovations targeted towards the farming community for sustainable development outcomes. 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.”

The BEACON Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre in Ireland 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.


Editor Notes

The BEACON Bioeconomy Research Centre is an SFI Research Centre funded by Science Foundation Ireland and formed through collaboration between small and large industry and research partners from University College Dublin, Teagasc, Trinity College Dublin, University of Limerick and National University of Ireland, Galway, working in partnership to develop a sustainable circular bioeconomy in Ireland.

HARVEST is a research coordination network titled ‘Enhancing small and mid-level farm viability through a systems-based research network: Linking technology and sustainable development and practice’. It is funded by the National Science Foundation US with a vision to enable the embedding of technology development in the context of a human-centered design process involving the relevant stakeholders of the farming community, understand and evaluate the risks and benefits of emerging technologies through a socio-technical systems modeling approach, and finally facilitate and inform the education and lifelong learning through partnerships with universities and established rural rehabilitation networks in order to achieve an organic research and practice implementation plan for future.

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