YBhg Dato’ Dr Mohd Nazlee Kamal, CEO
Climate change, environmental issues and sustaining growing population are some of the problems faced by not only our nation but the whole world. Tackling these demographic changes is one of the greatest tasks facing our generation and our presence bio-based economy need new injection of ideas in responding to current challenges. We need to increase our agricultural productivity per acre, we need to replace processes that are environmentally damaging to more ‘green’ processes and we need to relook at the way we deal with our resources.
With biotechnology, we could rejuvenate our bio-based economy and unleash its great potential as our new engine of growth. I am confident, as the new engine – bioeconomy, will evolve ultra-modern industrial processes and agricultural practices that will see the rise of a new breed of industrial entrepreneurs as well as agripreneurs.
However, before I delve into the molecular depths of our bioeconomic verve, it will be in good order to examine the historical snapshots that brought about this new ideal that is currently in the national blueprint of developed and developing countries.
The term, “bioeconomy”, was first defined by Juan Enriquez and Rodrigo Martinez (Founders of Harvard Business School’s Life Sciences Project) during a genomic seminar in 1997.
Bioeconomy essentially is the result of the advances in biological sciences and its development and use in human health, wellness, manufacturing, agriculture, aquaculture, and livestock. The concept of bioeconomy covers the agricultural industry and all manufacturing sectors and their respective service areas, which develop, produce, process, reprocess or use them in any form biological resources such as plants, animals and microorganisms. Thus, it achieves a variety of industries such as agriculture, forestry, horticulture, fisheries and aquaculture, plant and animal breeding, food and beverage, wood, paper, leather, textile, chemical and pharmaceutical industries up to branches of energy industry.
Bio-based economy or bioeconomy refers to all economic activity derived from biotechnology – in other words it is the breakthroughs in agricultural productivity, discoveries in healthcare and adoption of sustainable industrial processes, having the effect of both enriching our society and nation through wealth creation besides securing our future.
In June 2012 President Barack Obama of the USA announced intentions to encourage biological manufacturing methods by rolling out the National Bioeconomy Blueprint. The US bioeconomy blueprint outlines strategic objectives with the potential to generate economic growth and address societal needs which focus on the activity of research and innovation in the bioscience area.
In Germany, The National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030 lays the groundwork for the development of a knowledge-based and internationally competitive bioeconomy. On the basis of this vision, Germany is set to be become a leading research and innovation centre in the bioeconomy and holistic approached is identified to ensure the priority fields of action to be integrated in terms of sustainable solutions.
Back in Malaysia, the Bioeconomy Transformation Programme (BTP) was announced by the Government in November 2012. A strategy to further enhance and strengthen the country’s existing National Biotechnology Policy, the BTP serves as a platform for the private sector to channel and maximise commercial opportunities in the bio-based industry by applying biotechnology for the benefit of agriculture production, industrial manufacturing and improving human health.
Biotechnology research and innovation in the past few decades has brought us closer to the threshold of a previously unimaginable future that have a great potential in improving livelihoods: engineered plants as biofuel, biodegradable plastics made from renewable biomass, tailored food products to meet specialized requirements to address food security and stem cell therapy to treat a wider variety of diseases.
A notable innovation in the industry by Ecovative Design uses of fungal mycelium (mushroom “roots”) bonding together with agricultural by products to produce a cost competitive material that can replace plastic foam. During Mushroom Insulation, the material’s shape can be moulded into various products including protective packaging, building products, apparel, car bumpers, or surfboards. The environmental footprint of the products is minimized through the use of agricultural waste, reliance on natural and non-controlled growth environments, and home compostable final products.
A BioNexus status company EntoFood Sdn Bhd, intends to market their latest innovation of insect-based high protein feed meal and bio fertilizer through bio conversion technology using beneficial microorganism. The protein feed-meal is a supplement added into aquaculture feed for the purpose of stimulating growth rate and productivity in various aquaculture species and the by-product from larvae rearing activities will be commercialized as bio-fertilizer for agriculture industry.
To accelerate the building of our bio-based ecosystem, BiotechCorp is mandated by the Government to spearhead the implementation of Bio-Accelerators. In essence, the Bio-Accelerators are comprised of 4 programmes, namely the Bioeconomy Community Development Programme, Bioeconomy Technology Development and Innovation, Bio-Entrepreneurship and the BioNexus Go Global Programme. These programmes are designed with a holistic bio-based value chain approach, with the Bioeconomy Community Development Programme as the main thrust of the Bio-Accelerators.
During the recent announcement of the 2014 Malaysia Budget, the Government has set aside specific incentives for Bioeconomy in which the Bioeconomy Community Development Programme has been identified as one of the main agendas to drive the country’s socio-economic position to greater heights.
The Bioeconomy Community Development Programme will realise this by driving the adoption of biotechnological tools into current agriculture practices to increase both productivity and efficiency. Additionally it will also introduce the farming and cultivation of high value crops, fisheries and livestocks to the rural farming communities. Malaysia is rich in biological diversity and offers a myriad of novel raw materials ready to be tap on.
All in all, the programme is designed to bring about societal and economic benefit to the country. While unlocking the value of more than 100, 000 hectares of idle land across the country, the introduction of an innovative business model will also ensure guaranteed income and at the same time improving the livelihoods for farmers. Subsequent production of agricultural produce will ensure a quality supply of raw material for processing into high value added products by BioNexus companies.
BiotechCorp is currently working closely with the Ministry of Finance Incorporated (MoF Inc) to finalise the strategic action plans and the necessary documentation for the programme implementation. At the same time, buy-in strategy with various stakeholders has also started, among which are the Ministry of Agriculture and Ago-based Industries (MOA) and Ministry Rural and Regional Development (KKW) in which various collaboration programmes to improve agricultural practices are being undertaken.
There is no doubt the need to further expand our existing research and innovation capability. With the support extended by our parent Ministry, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), we will continue to look into all possibilities for growth in order for Malaysia to become a future global powerhouse in Bioeconomy.
With the global trend shifting towards a sustainable green bioeconomy, Malaysia is currently on the right track in pursuing bioeconomy as a new engine for economic growth. I will optimistically say that bioeconomy would contribute to an increasing portion of the economic pie and BiotechCorp is ever committed towards its realisation for our nation building agenda.