THE BIO-BASED ECONOMY HAS INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION
YBhg Dato’ Dr Mohd Nazlee Kamal CEO of BiotechCorp
The ASEAN Bioeconomy Conference held recently is aimed at fostering a strong regional bioeconomy network in Southeast Asia. Held in concurrent with Malaysia’s chairing of the ASEAN organisation, efforts are channelled into intensifying cooperation and coordinating efforts into addressing regional developmental challenges by leveraging on strength of member countries and to establish priorities areas for bioeconomy development.
In line with its regional theme, it is a great recognition for BiotechCorp to have the presence of many senior officials from Malaysia, and ASEAN in attendance. The Honourable Minister Datuk Madius Tangau, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation has notably remarked at the opening ceremony, that Southeast Asia has enormous growth potential, leading to ASEAN being an economic powerhouse in the making. With the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) sets to come into effect by the end of 2015, the anticipation for a single market in the region has captured the attention of businesses and investors alike.
I strongly believe that ASEAN countries could further leverage on this development and to work collectively towards the bioeconomy agenda. To do that, the immediate strategic move would be to build more linkages by promoting government to government (G2G) cooperation. The presence of a good number of international dignitaries to BioMalaysia and ASEAN Bioeconomy 2015 demonstrate BiotechCorp’s commitment and effort into making these advancement. This year, we are honoured to host His Excellency Dr. Sourioudong Sundara, Vice Minister of Science and Technology, Lao PDR, and His Excellency Dr. Tung Ciny, Under Secretary of State and National COST Chairman, Ministry of Industry and Handicraft, Cambodia.
To further elaborate, the ASEAN Bioeconomy platform has made good progress in putting forward the idea and capturing regional stakeholders’ interest for a shared bioeconomy vision. The bioeconomy is seen by many as a strategy for sustainable growth, and ASEAN members have many common interest that can be addressed in a more constructive and productive manner by working collectively.
Taking farming into consideration, the whole region has a strong foundation in agriculture with it being a major engine for growth in many countries, supporting the economies. Further emphasizing its importance in the ASEAN economy, agriculture provides employment for up to 33% of the population and contributes to 14% of the ASEAN GDP. Bio-based technologies has the potential to add value by increasing crop and animal productivity. Yet, more importantly it is the economic component and social benefit in which bioeconomy can further enhance.
Thailand for example has four major economic crops, which are rice, rubber, sugarcane and cassava. These crops are central and play an important role to the livelihood of a sizable population. I recently had a meeting with the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in Thailand, the core agency responsible for promoting and developing farmers to be self-reliant, to produce agricultural products with good quality, and to engage in their farm occupation in a sustainable manner. Among the strategies taken by the DAE includes but not limited to transfering agricultural production technology to farmers, to promote and develop farmers and farmers’ organisations, as well as to provide services and agricultural occupational training to farmers.
In essence, the initiatives conducted by the DAE is very similar to the Bioeconomy Community Development Programme (BCDP) here in Malaysia, which represent how bio-based solutions can add value to empower farmers through the adoption of technology into farming practices. The amalgamation of initiatives and biotechnology will eventually increase the socio-economic standing of the farmers, in particular the bottom 40% (B40) of the population.
Apart from enhancing the agricultural sector, another area of mutual interest to be explored within the ASEAN Bioeconomy would be on healthcare. On one part, bio-based innovations could leverage on the region’s biodiversity to address the need to access to affordable medicines in a growing population. Medicinal plants and herbs for example, have tremendous opportunities as a source of alternatives natural remedies. These remedies are cheaper and affordable to the underprivileged group, and farming the plants generate income and job opportunities in return.
On the other hand, there are also opportunities and capacities of ASEAN community to collaborate on the development of biopharmaceuticals, for instance in vaccine manufacturing. Burden from infectious diseases is high and one of the key challenges faced by the region is to keep in control the outbreak of emerging infectious diseases such as avian flu and SARS. Since the last outbreak of H1N1, vaccine security has become the watchword for ASEAN. It is clear that ASEAN countries must take control of their healthcare systems entirely. Having national or regional stockpile of vaccines guarantees access to these medicines in times of emergency.
Opportunities for collaborations are abundance, such as the ASEAN Vaccine Initiatives that aims to increase and improve the region’s capacity in discovery, development, regulatory and vaccine manufacturing capability of member states. Moving forward, we need to come together to work on the models and mechanisms for innovation, sharing of knowledge, cooperating on the management of expertise and resources at regional level.
All in all, I supposed we can all agree that regional cooperation is a key component for growth, and for advancing the bio-based economy to achieve ASEAN developmental goal. And in order to spur collective growth in ASEAN, a bioeconomy framework that takes care of the entire value chain needs to be put into place jointly with our Southeast Asian neighbours. As of now, the next step is to really start thinking about all the details, to work more closely together and to identify more areas of mutual interest.
Following up from ASEAN Bioeconomy conference this year, the Lao PDR, as the upcoming chair for ASEAN 2016 will play a crucial role in moving the agenda forward. Conceivably, we could all make good use of the opportunity presented by Lao, as chair of ASEAN 2016, and also subsequent chairs thereafter, to have some follow-up regional programmes relating to the development of the bio-based economy. Over time, it is hope that the initiative will gain momentum and to attract the interest of the rest of ASEAN. Efforts are already on its way.